Devotional music is something that has been common in the subcontinent and well beyond, for centuries. Amongst many voices here was one master at qawwali whom everyone recognized without any formal introduction. This one voice that was known for having spent his life singing the praises of the Prophet Muhammad. This very same voice was later gunned down after being accused of blaspheming the Prophet. 22 June 2016, that Ramadan evening when Amjad Sabri Shaheed was executed in Karachi Pakistan.
Being a Muslim, qawwali is a part of our religion. At times when Islam is supposedly portrayed as an intolerant faith, qawwali is evidence of something different. Alongside architecture, poetry and calligraphy, music, and particularly qawwali, also played a hand in the spread of Islam. Poetry in praise of God or the Prophet Muhammad is often set to music in Urdu or Punjabi. A band joins together and conveys the love of God in a deep, intoxicating manner. Qawwals are thus world famous. Young or old everyone is familiar to names like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and the one under discussion, Amjad Fareed Sabri.
Son of the legendary Ghulam Fareed Sabri, too many Qawwals he was too contemporary in his approach. Nevertheless, Amjad Sabri refused to succumb to the increasing profit-orientation of cultural music. Trying to prevent the art from dying, he formed a career over decades of work in reiterating famous kalams of his father. With aims getting bigger with the day, his life was unexpectedly cut short. His untimely death came as a reminder as to how short and unplanned life is. But also an eye-opener for the rest as to what Sabri was and how huge a gap had he left behind. Not only to the music and Sufi world but also to nations irrespective of borders.
The Cherished Voice of Amjad Sabri
A striking voice that transcended the realm of words, Sabri took no time in creating a large fan base for himself. But as it happens with most of the celebrities, the controversy did not leave him aside too. It was during the last year of his life that he got into a copyright battle with the makers of Bajrangi Bhaijan, starring Salman Khan, who featured his trademark qawwali ‘Bhar do Jholi’ without attributing it to its original masters. Therefore, this was put aside when a bigger blow hit him and a blasphemy case was put up against him in the Islamabad High Court that mentioned the names of sacred religious figures. This was when he was put under the radar of extremists and what lead to the tragedy of that day of June.
After Sabri, it was not only him who was mourned. It was a voice, a culture, an effective representation of Pakistan. Most of all a household name that had been lost. With his brothers, Sabri had managed to create an identity that defied all social boundaries and tackled diversities. His voice would leave anyone and everyone teary-eyed whenever and wherever he recited.
However, this is what they say happens when a person loved by God leaves. After all, a man who had spent an entire lifetime calling out the praises of God and His Beloved, would obviously be loved back by the Creator. Furthermore, he had pulled up the ability to unite various sects under his kalams by calling out for the sake of the love for Allah, his Rasool, and his Beloved family. This was a step in proving that co-existing peacefully was not that hard a task.
Famous Kalam’s of Amjad Sabri
- Bhar do jholi meri Ya Muhammad
- Aey Sabz Gumbad walay
- Ali kay sath hai Zehra ki shadi
- Karam mangta hoon
- Tajdar e Haram
- Sakhi Lajpal ho Sarkar
- Tulu e Sehr hai Sham e Qalandar
Despite being brutally killed for reasons whatsoever, the fact that Sabri shall continue to live forever overpowers all. Be it through CDs, online platforms, or any other memory of the down to earth person that he was, his smile still manages to move hearts. Above all his undying love for his heritage, culture, and beliefs always managed to make him stand proud out of the crowd. Time and again through vigils, tributes, and most of all in the face of his children, shall he manage to thrive. Every time each one of his kalams is said out, there is this unknown force that still manages to move hearts as it did on day one.
‘Mein Kabr Andheri Mein Ghabraoon Ga Jab Tanha – Imdad Meri Karnay aa Jana Rasool Allah.’
( ‘When I shudder in my dark tomb, my dear Prophet, look after me’ )Amjad Sabri Qawwal (Shaheed)
An Eternal Loss to the World of Qawwali
An eternal loss to Pakistani qawwali. You say his name and ‘Mai Qabar Andheri Main’ tarts playing on your mind, accompanied by a sense of peace and heartbreak all together. Although been four long years, it yet seems like yesterday when we lost him. We may never be as passionate, gracious, and loving as he was but all we know is that as long as we live and even after that, his voice shall live.