Overview: Sabri and the sublime

Published August 22, 2010

Amjad Sabri Qawwal appears to be the darling of the younger generation. Scanning the sea of faces that filled the huge rooftop area of a local club the majority seemed to be in their 20s and 30s. The boisterous expectancy seemed to gradually to die down as the clock slowly ticked away to add an hour and 45 minutes to the nine o'clock schedule.

When Amjad Sabri did make his entrance the crowd erupted into thunderous applause, which continued even after the excuse from him that there was a technical fault in the sound system. He then proceeded to invite his family to the front row and had his three-year-old son brought to his side, making it quite a family affair.

Once the programme started, the long wait became a past tense with the crowd even forgiving the restless wandering of Sabri's son on the stage. Beginning with the tarana that is the staple for all qawwals, Man kunto maula, Sabri deviated from the original style adding different ragas into it. Qawwali in its pure form has become rare as ragas have become popular with the qawwals of today.

Wearing beads like his late father Ghulam Farid Sabri, Amjad proceeded to sing his father's popular qawwalis, Bhar do jholi meri; Azaan-i-Bilal; Ali kay saath Zehra ki shaadi; Khawaja ki Dewani and Chaap tilak. It soon became obvious why Sabri, who is not very old himself, is popular with the younger crowd. His humorous bantering and jokes between the qawwalis endear him to them making the sitting an informal one. After some time when someone came forward to shower money on him as is the tradition of the qawwali, he quipped “now it seems like a qawwali atmosphere.”

Coming down from the sublime to human weakness, Sabri sang Sharabi Sharabi adding cheeky lines of his own to the qawwali and changing the mood of the listeners. And as is wont on such occasions, requests started pouring in, but as time was running out the organiser had to step in saying that the rules for the timing had to be observed, gently rebuking Sabri for arriving late. Taking the hint the qawwal sang a few lines each of the requests and ended the programme with Tajdar-i-Haram.

Though the programme was enjoyable, I couldn't help noticing that there were no original qawwalis by Amjad Sabri and his group. One can't survive for long on popular numbers of other qawwals. What was also noticeable was the fact that his chorus needs to practice and improve their style.

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