Main qabr andheri mein, ghabraunga
jab tanha; Imdaad meri karne, aa jaana Rasool allah
(When I shudder in my dark tomb, please be my patron, oh dear Prophet)
The last time noted Pakistani qawwal Amjad Sabri sang, it was on Pakistan’s private channel SAMAA’s special Ramadan transmission on the morning of June 22. While singing a naat (ode to the Prophet) by Owais Raza Qadri, Sabri welled up but continued. On Wednesday evening, the 45-year-old qawwal, also the torch bearer of the famous qawwal family from Pakistan, was gunned down in Liaquatabad in Karachi. He was only some metres away from his residence and near the underpass that was named after his father, famous qawwal Ghulam Farid Sabri.
Known for singing qawwalis of the famous Sabri Brothers — his father Ghulam Farid Sabri and uncle Maqbool Ahmed Sabri — Amjad had successfully carried on a legacy that traces its roots to Mian Tansen. His renditions of qawwalis such as Bhar do Jholi and Taajdar-e-Haram had acquired much popularity through his shows in India and Pakistan. Bhar do Jholi also found its way into the Salman Khan-starrer Bajrangi Bhaijaan in which it was sung by Adnan Sami. However, the singer had claimed that makers of the film had used the song without obtaining rights for it. This was not his only brush with Bollywood though — Amjad Sabri had sung the qawwali More Haji Piya in the Ajay Devgn-starrer Halla Bol.
His death has left the music industry devastated. Amjad’s friend and colleague, singer Javed Bashir, said, “I can’t forget the way he called out to Allah. Qawwals are Sufis and you don’t kill a Sufi. This is an act of terror on such a warm and fantastic artiste. Whether it’s a personal attack or one by hardliners who consider music un-Islamic, they’ve killed the idea of humanity. Artistes only want peace,” said Bashir.
Amjad followed the inimitable Sabri repertoire of singing, where he would elaborate the basic lead line and let the chorus follow him. His chanting of “Allah” in the middle of a piece, over continued beats and the straight melodic lines, just like his father, would add drama to the performance. One of his qawwalis, Taajdar-e-Haram, also featured in Coke Studio Pakistan, last year, when singer Atif Aslam attempted it. Aslam got much criticism for not singing it the way it had been in the past but Amjad supported Aslam and said he was happy this would go down in history as a “tribute to Abbajee”. He did point out problems with Aslam’s diction though. Thanks to this piece’s popularity, Amjad was listed as one of the artistes for Coke Studio Season 9 this year.
Credited with popularising qawwali amongst the new generation, Amjad also courted controversy with his music. In 2014, Islamabad High Court had issued notices in a blasphemy case to Amjad and two TV channels for playing a qawwali during a morning show, which mentioned religious figures and was considered offensive.
Ghulam Sabir Nizami, one half of Delhi-based Nizami brothers, who were gurubhais with Amjad’s father, also condoled the death of the musician. “One of the more talented voices in qawwali is gone today. There will never be another Amjad Sabri,” he said.
Amjad’s last performance in India was almost a year ago at the Pakistan High Commission. Rakesh Gupta, founder of a Delhi-based NGO, who organised Amjad’s shows in India, said the qawwal’s death was a huge loss to the world of music. “Qawwals mostly sing in pairs. He was one person sitting in and singing for two people and modulating the voice so well. He will be deeply missed,” said Gupta.
Bhar do jholi: The qawwali — written by Purnam Allahabadi — was first performed by the Sabri Brothers (Maqbool and Ghulam Sabri) in 1975, and became one of their most popular qawwalis. In 2015, a version of the qawwali sung by Adnan Sami (pictured) — for Kabir Khan’s film Bajrangi Bhaijaan — was in trouble for copyright infringement. EMI Pakistan and Amjad Sabri served legal notices to the film’s composer Pritam and other stakeholders.
Tajdar-e-haram: The first episode of the eighth season of Coke Studio Pakistan in 2015 began with Atif Aslam (pictured) revisiting Sabri Brothers’ iconic qawwali, Tajdar-e-Haram. Produced by singer-songwriter Shiraz Uppal, the version has 28,772,235 views on YouTube. For the upcoming season 9 of Coke Studio Pakistan, playback singer Shani Arshad had roped in Amjad Sabri for his episode.
Other Famous Qawwalis: Mera koi nahi teray siwa, Khwaja ki diwani and Ali mera dil, meri jaan Ali are some of the signature qawwalis of the Sabri Brothers, each reiterating mysticism.
More Haji piya: In Rajkumar Santoshi’s 2008 film Halla Bol, starring Ajay Devgn and Vidya Balan, Amjad Sabri (pictured) sang More Haji Piya, a qawwali with the backdrop of Haji Ali dargah in Mumbai. This is the only song he contributed to Bollywood.