Amjad Sabri — The man behind a towering legacy

Published June 23, 2016
The 45-year-old qawwal was known particularly for his energy and spiritual fervour during his performances. —Photo courtesy of YouTube
The 45-year-old qawwal was known particularly for his energy and spiritual fervour during his performances. —Photo courtesy of YouTube

I first met Amjad Sabri during the month of Ramazan. The year was 2011. On a quiet Friday afternoon at FM 101 — a channel of Radio Pakistan where I then worked — I walked in to find one of the radio jockeys wrapping up her broadcast with Amjad.

I stopped in my tracks; here, in the flesh, was the man who had long mesmerised me by his powerhouse vocals.

The schedule didn't matter to me; I had to go up to him. “My show is next,” I said, introducing myself. “I would be honoured if I could discuss Qawwali, Sufism, and the artistic contributions of your gharana....”

In response to my expectant question, Sabri acquiesced. He had just come off air, but he didn't mind going right back on again.

Also read: ‘He had no enemies, who would kill Amjad Sabri?’

Inside the studio, our conversation moved quickly and deeply towards his one, singular passion: Qawwali.

Midway through the stimulating conversation, my mind wandered to the numerous times his expression of Sufi kalaam had utterly transfixed me.

I had to keep bringing myself back to the air-conditioned studio where we were sitting, and I couldn't help but feel humbled as I began to learn about the man behind the voice.

Amjad Sabri’s late father Ghulam Farid Sabri (R) and uncle Maqbool Sabri (L) at a live performance. — File photo
Amjad Sabri’s late father Ghulam Farid Sabri (R) and uncle Maqbool Sabri (L) at a live performance. — File photo

The Sabri brothers descend directly from one of the four original Qawwal gharanas, and Amjad took great pride in belonging to the celebrated Qawwal family — to a home where Qawwali was practiced day and night.

He talked about his early Qawwali training. His father Ghulam Farid Sabri and his uncle Maqbool Ahmed Sabri (the original Sabri brothers) were his mentors. At the age of nine, he was taken under their wing.

And from the beginning, Amjad never took Qawwali for granted; for him, it was much more than an inherited art from his family.

Qawwali was the vehicle that activated Amjad's soul

Even today, my first interaction with Amjad feels surreal. With each meeting subsequently, I learned to respect this simple man behind a towering legacy, who despite being diabetic, never let his own discomfort deter him from carrying on with his grueling routine.

He lived a life above worldly emotions, and did not consider his contemporaries as rivals. When singer Atif Aslam showed interest in singing the famous Qawwali 'Tajdar-e-Haram', which was originally sung by Amjad’s father, Amjad not only permitted it, but also praised Atif for delivering a powerful and befitting rendition.

Examine: Remembering Amjad Sabri: 5 of the legendary qawwal's most memorable performances

But his soulful rendition of ‘Karam maangta hoon, ataa maangta hoon’ is what moves me the most — this single hymn written in praise of God has extraordinary depth and artistry.

It was this rendition that prompted me to ask him how he managed to bring so much soul to his Qawwalis. His reply was short and absolute:

"It is merely my attempt at seeking forgiveness."

Today, as I sit grasping for words to explain the effect of a man over an entire generation, not just within Pakistan, I am reduced to asking what Mustafa Zaidi once did:

Main kis ke haath pe apna lahuu talaash karuun
Tamam shehr ne pehne huey hain dastaaney

On whose hands should I find my blood,
Everyone in this city is wearing gloves

Translated by Bilal Karim Mughal from the original in Urdu here.


Long arm of Big Tech
20 Jan 2021

Long arm of Big Tech

How many people would still be alive if Twitter and Facebook had denied Trump a platform to spread lies about Covid-19 a year ago?
Words, words, words
19 Jan 2021

Words, words, words

There was little in terms of contributions in our own language as we wrestled with the pandemic.


Updated 20 Jan 2021

Broadsheet judgement

There are plenty of skeletons in the Broadsheet cupboard and they must be brought out into the open.
20 Jan 2021

Unequal justice

IT seems no one wants to testify against former SSP Malir, Rao Anwar. At least five prosecution witnesses, all ...
20 Jan 2021

Schools reopening

THE disruptive impact of Covid-19 on education will be felt for years to come. For countries like Pakistan, where...
Updated 19 Jan 2021

LNG contracts

It is important for industry to reconnect with the national grid and for gas to be allocated for more efficient uses.
19 Jan 2021

Murdered judges

THE continuous violence in Afghanistan has raised serious questions about the sustainability of the peace process, ...
19 Jan 2021

K2 feat

A TEAM of 10 Nepalese mountaineers made history over the weekend as they scaled the world’s second highest peak K2...