His killers haven't silenced him, Amjad Sabri's music will continue to live on

Mera koyi nahin tere siwa

(I have no one, but you)

Yet another voice was silenced on 22 June; a voice that will linger and echo in our ears and hearts forever. Amjad Sabri, the famous Pakistani qawwal, at the age of 45, was gunned down in Karachi. In recent times, the spectre of radicalism has not only loomed but aggressively removed some of the best known writers, thinkers, musicians or painters in the Indian subcontinent. Various forms of assault have come to the forefront. Dr Kalburgi, a scholar and a thinker, was shot point blank at his door step on 30 August 2015, which snowballed into a protest by the intellectual class of India returning awards instituted by bodies that operate at the behest of the state.

 His killers havent silenced him, Amjad Sabris music will continue to live on

Amjad Sabri. Image from Facebook

In February 2015, Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi blogger and activist was brutally killed by the Ansarullah Bangla Team. Earlier, in August 2013, the Amdavad Ni Gufa Art Gallery in Ahmedabad was ransacked and paintings of 11 Pakistani and seven Indian artists were destroyed by the members of the Bajrang Dal. Sabri is the latest victim of these forces that have, as if in unison, begun to raise their head throughout the subcontinent.

Sabri belonged to the renowned family of the Sabri brothers who are descendants of Mian Tansen, who played in the royal court of the Mughal emperor, Akbar. His father, Ghulam Sabri and uncle Maqbool Sabri held their first public performance in 1946, and went on to later record and release their qawwalis, reaching out to a wider audience in turn adding to their popularity. Their performance at Carneige Hall in New York in 1975 and at the Womad Festival in UK in 1989 took their name to the peak from which they never descended. Through their voice Qawwali found a place in world cutlure it had not held before.

Qawwali, in fact, is a classical-devotional genre, sung in praise of Allah and his Prophet. The world Qawwali comes from the Arabic word ‘qual’ which means ‘the words’ or the ‘utterance’ of the Prophet. Qawwali, historians have claimed to be a musical form for spiritual gathering. Amir Khusroe, of the 13th century is credited with bringing fame and and recognition to the artform, blending the Turkish, Persian and the Indian. In fact, qawwali is the one of the best examples of the ganga-jamuni tehzeeb of the country in terms of the content and the language it mingles and merges. Words from Urdu, Persian and Punjabi blended in a fashion that the qawwali comes to represent, quite uniquely, a singular face of the identity of the subcontinent.

Although, qawwali as a form has also seen it highs and lows, in the modern age, it has come to . On this side of the border its greatest exponent in the late Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan, took Qawwali to heights where at one point it had become popular enough to be considered pop.

In qawwali there are hand movements, clapping, and rhythmic repetitions – at times to a point of frenzy. The involvement of the audience is as much a contribution to the performance as the performer. But a qawwali is not religious. It is divine. It connects humanity with the spiritual; a form of worship that resonates with the soul, elevating one from the mundane world. Sabri, in the mould similar to that of his great uncle had carried the tradition of his family. But even the divine have their day in courts.

Sabri was a qawwal who could move people to tears. A number of his televised performances can be found online where he has the listeners and the audience wrapped in an invisible blanket, voicing their every tear and shift, through his own voice. His last piece invoked the Prophet to come and help him when he would be fighting the darkness of the grave. A grave that will now have to be dug, unfairly, before his time had come, because his was a voice that deserved to be heard in the many songs he was yet to sing. Sabri, though, will live on in our hearts and with his killing, his murderers have not quietened him, but only brought him closer to the Prophet he summoned in his last song.


Main qabar andheri mein ghabraonga tanha

Imdaad meri karne aajaana Rasool Allah

(When I would be scared, alone in the dark grave

Come to my aid, O Prophet)

Updated Date: Jun 23, 2016 18:29:42 IST