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Infocus: The Sabri experience

Updated March 14, 2010

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<!-- BODY TEXT START--> Come March and things seem to be drifting towards a pleasant change as theatrical plays, concerts and musical events are picking up momentum in Karachi. For me, there is no more inimitable an event than an evening of live, soulful traditional qawwali — and better still when it is Amjad Sabri, the illustrious scion of (father) Ghulam Farid Sabri and (uncle) Maqbool Sabri.

Amjad Sabri and his entourage started their performance almost immediately after dinner was served, and carried on into the wee hours of the morning complimented by a flawless sound system, farshi nashist, gao takiyas, and a steady supply of paan and espresso coffee. The moment Amjad came up on stage he was overwhelmed with requests for popular renditions. However, he started with sazina which tuned the mood of the audience for better things to follow. He started his performance with the famous Maula Ali.

Amjad Sabri has been enthralling music aficionados with his brand of spirituality, mysticism and ecstasy for years. He is not only well-versed with the structure and aesthetics of qawwali but also knows how to make it adaptive to the contemporary music keeping its essence alive. By accommodating the all time favourite Bhar do jholi, he lifted the crowd with reverberating and resonant vocals.

In his own improvised style of paying tribute to Maqbool Sabri and Ghulam Farid Sabri, two legendary figures in qawwali whose musical careers have left an indelible mark on sufi music, Amjad surprised the audience when he imitated their vocal style and sang a few verses, garnering applause for his expertise and display of vocal variation.

With Azmat Sabri and Raza Hussain on the harmonium, Pervaiz on dhol and Islamuddin on the tabla, Amjad Sabri rendered a non-stop three-and-a-half hour performance. The presence of Amjad's sons Aun Mohammad, Bilawal and Talha on the stage amongst the troupe made me question him about it after the performance had ended. “It's part of their training,” he said. “Aun is only three and I remember that my father used to take me along when I was his age. It's a family tradition and that's how we train and teach our next generation.”

Earlier, adding to the impressive lineup of renditions were a few ghazals such as Chaap tilak sub chen, Hum raaton ko uth uth kar, etc. Towards the end he performed Tajdar-i-haram followed by the dua, Karam mangta hoon.

In April Amjad Sabri will be touring America and Canada. He is also working on an album, a compilation of ghazals and qawwali. He appreciated Rahat Fateh Ali, Shafaqat Amanat Ali and Atif Aslam for making a name in India's entertainment industry as well as for Pakistan, and summed it up by saying, “Yeh hamare talent ki jeet hai.”

As part of the Rabi-ul-Awwal celebrations, the annual event was arranged and organised amid a plush black-and-white setting by Aliya Tipu of Alle'Nora, who is just back from London after doing an advanced course from Toni & Guy.