On Wednesday evening, the world of music was in for a rude shock with the assassination of young Amjad Farid Sabri in Karachi. The entire music fraternity has been grieving since this gruesome incident. The 45-year-old singer belonged to the famous Sabri Brothers who have not been clearly understood.
The title of ‘Sabri Brothers’ first belonged to the senior brother Ghulam Farid Sabri (1930 -1994) and Maqbool Ahmed Sabri ( 1945 -2011). Both these brothers were born in Kalyana in Punjab. Their families were Sufis and belonged to the Sabriya order which is a sub-sect of the more famous Chishti order. The name ‘Sabri’ was attached to them when they began performing as a duo. After India’s partition in 1947, they migrated and settled down in Karachi in Pakistan. Together the ‘Sabri Brothers’ pioneered the art of Qawwali making it an art form to reckon with.
(Sabri brothers on the cover of an old gramphone record)
In fact, several singers like Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan were inspired by these bothers. However, year after year, they made it a point to visit the Dargah of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer in Rajasthan, which is the headquarters of the Chishti order of Sufis. They kept the sacred writings of Sufi saints like Hazrat Amir Khusrau alive in public memory through their singing and popularized them across the world. Listen to this rendering of the famous ‘Man Qunto Maula’ rendered by the Sabri brothers.
Among the top hit songs of the senior Sabri brothers were several numbers like ‘Taajdaar e haram’, ‘Zehal e miskin’ and ‘Bhar de jholi’.
Ghulam Farid passed away in 1994 leaving behind his musical legacy to his five sons. The other brother Maqbool Sabri too died 2011 in South Africa while on a music tour. Among all of Farid’s sons the one that shone bright was Amjad Farid Sabri. Born on 23rd December 1970, Amjad was initiated into music by his father. Before he entered his teens, Amjad was already accompanying his father and uncle in their Qawwali party. Amjad was seen as the young dynamic face of an ancient musical tradition. He not only revived a lot of his fathers and uncle’s famous Qawwalis but also set to tune new Sufi songs. Listen to Amjad’s version of ‘Bhar De Jholi’, the Qawwali his father and uncle made popular. He became famous as the ‘Rock Star’ of the Qawwali genre over a period of time.
However, everything was not a happy song and dance for those practicing Sufism. The Sufis have come under threat from Islamic extremists time and again. The extremists believed that music was not an Islamic tradition and taking the name of the holy Prophet Mohammad’s family members was a sin. The blasphemy laws supported by the courts make it worse for everyone. In the past several Sufis were attacked by various groups of extremists. Sufi shrines and gatherings have been bombed. In 2010 the shrine of the Sufi saint Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi was bombed. The same year an attack by the Taliban on the famous Data Darbar shrine in the eastern city of Lahore left forty-two people dead. In 2014, Amjad Sabri was sent a court notice from the Islamabad Hight Court in a case of blasphemy for the playing of a qawwali during a morning show on two channels. The traditional Qawwali sung by Amjad Sabri had mentioned religious figures, which was deemed offensive. That did not stop Amjad from continuing to sing the songs he liked.
In fact, a few hours before Amjad was shot dead in Karachi on Wednesday, he mesmerized the public in a special Ramadan transmission on TV. Pakistani TV channel SAMAA TV aired the programme ‘Sehri Live’ on Wednesday morning where Sabri is seen getting emotional with his soulful rendition of Mai Kabr-e-Andheri Mein. This is form of poetry called ‘Na’at’ that praises the holy prophet Muhammad. It was written by Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi, a famous scholar from Bareilly. The video has gone viral on youtube and you can watch it here :
This is the holy month of Ramzaan for scores of devout Muslims across the world. A time for peace and prayer. Sufis are peace-loving people. They believe in the religion of love and spread that through the songs of Sufi mystics. Amjad was an inheritor of that rich legacy.
The Hakimullah Mehsud faction, a group of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the murder saying Amjad Sabri was a “blasphemer”. These are a group of hate mongering religious bigots. With this gruesome murder they proved they have nothing to do with religion and are enemies of all humanity. We hope the government of Pakistan punishes the culprits. The government must also ensure safety and security to everyone from the artiste community, be they musicians, dancers, painters or designers.
Amjad Sabri is survived by his wife and five children. For his wonderful music and service to the cause of Sufism, one can be sure Amjad’s spirit reached heaven and is blessed by the gods.
(Veejay Sai is an award-winning writer, editor and a culture critic. He writes extensively on Indian performing arts, cultural history, food and philosophy. He lives in New Delhi and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)