IN the last two decades, singer Najma Akhtar has risen to the forefront of the world music scene and worked with some of the most influential musicians along the way.

Jah Wobble, Andy Summers, Carol Grimes, Basement Jaxx, Maartin Allcock are all on her list — among many others.

She is held in high regard by the likes of Jimmy Paige and Robert Plant – singing harmony on their rendition of The Battle of Evermore on their 1994 MTV Unplugged special.

She made such an impression on the Led Zeppelin legends that she made several guest appearances on their No Quarter world tour.

Najma said: "I was recording in a studio their management called to say that Jimmy Paige and Robert Plant wanted to work with me. I was aware of Led Zeppelin but I didn't know their names, so I didn't get just how big this was.

"I asked someone who they were and everyone stopped in their tracks — they couldn't believe it. But I think in hindsight that was a good thing because I was not star struck when they came into the studio — it was normal.

"Looking back it was a great honour and I am very grateful and humbled that I was given such an amazing opportunity."

Although born in England, Najma has remained faithful to the music of her ancestral home, including Ghazal — traditional Eastern poetry — and has recently begun experimenting by infusing this with western influences to create her own unique sound.

Najma said: "I am a world music artist and I have collaborated with many people in the last 15 to 20 years. I remember doing an album which featured English many years ago. Some people said, why is she singing in English? But I thought, I'm a British born Asian — why shouldn't I be singing in English?"

"I came from a background where I explored traditional music in Urdu and on this tour I'm exploring the synergy between Urdu and western poetry.

"I'm also looking at doing covers of songs, which has been a great education for me. I have been so wrapped up with my own poems that it has been really good interpreting other classics."

She worked with Grammy nominated guitarist Gary Lucas who suggested she look at American blues songs, such as Skip James' Special Rider Blues.

Najma said: "I used to hesitate doing covers because you can't do better than the original, but that is because so many people try and copy songs to the hilt, where as I try to add something a little different. Or as someone once said, 'Najma it up'.

Surprisingly, Najma's first career choice could not have been further from singing — she studied chemical engineering at university before releasing her debut record Ghazals by Najma in 1986, followed by the groundbreaking Qareeb a year later.

She said: "Singing was more of a hobby while I was growing up, hence the degree choice. Growing up I was very enamoured by Ghazal. One year I told my mum I wanted an Indian harmonica like Ravi Shankar — I was really taken in by his music.

"It's been an amazing music journey for me — a young Indian girl coming out of obscurity. I hope my future will lead me to collaborate with other wonderful musicians and continue making music."

Najma will present her new sound at the Railway Venue in Bromley Cross on Friday, October 16.