Manaksha Memon appreciates the contribution of a qawwal duo
The fame and approbation earned by the Sabri Brothers and Qawwali, associated with the Chishti order of Sufism, in the realm of qawwali hardly ever came to be showered on any other duo performing in the same genre. Theirs was a unique pair not only in performance but also in style with older brother playing harmonium with his right hand and the younger playing it with the left. The unmatched baritone (kharaj) of the Ghulam Farid Sabri was an equal match for the cultured classical voice of Maqbool Sabri. Most of their tunes were original and credited to be composed by Maqbool Sabri who was acknowledged to be the musical mind behind the entire party. They often followed the musical yardstick bestowed to shrine music by Amir Khusrau who is credited with inventing this genre. However, they are simultaneously credited with giving modern ring to Qawwali and introducing multiple musical instruments which hitherto was sung only with the accompaniment of harmonium and table.
Sabri brothers belonged to the long line of ‘qawwal-bacchhas’ who for generations were engaged in the professions of rendering devotional numbers on the shrines of Sufis throughout the subcontinent. They were trained in their trade by their father Inayat Hussain Sabri and the younger brother, Maqbool was further trained in classical music by Ustad Fatehdin Khan, Ustad Ramzan Khan and Ustad Latafat Hussein Khan. It was actually the more-talented Maqbool who first formed a qawwali group with the assistance of his father. Ghulam Farid in the meanwhile was part of the renowned Kallan Khan Qawwal as part of his chorus. It indeed proved fortunate for qawwali when both brothers joined together and started their group as Ghulam Farid Sabri and Maqbool Ahmad Sabri Qawwal Party (humnawa) that was later shortened to Sabri Brothers by Beate Gordon, their American promoter.
The duo hit the stands with a bang in 1958 when EMI first released their qawwali mera koi nahin hain tere siwa that was scooped up by the flourishing film industry for film Ishq-e-Habib. It is very energising number with plenty of flourish. Sabri brothers soon became household names as their performances on national television became very popular. 1970s proved their heyday as number after number they produced proved popular: Tajdaar-E-Haram (1975), O Sharabi Chorr De Peena (1976), Kawaja Ki Deewani (1976) and Balaghal Ula Be Kamalehi (1977). These numbers were exceptional compositions and they turned qawwali into the most popular form of singing of the times.
The number that gained immortality was Bahiravi-based composition Tajdar-e-Haram that is still considered the most famous rendition in qawwali genre. It is indeed an ornamental composition doing justice to the personality of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) it was written to praise. The lyrics are poignantly woven into music and every part is very well interconnected. Sabri brothers provided so many melodic surprises in the number that they catch the listener unaware and he is usually awestruck. The pathos of the composition is unmatched and invariably impacts the listeners. It is the standard item for singers to perform in private gatherings and has been sung by countless singers.
Sabri brothers were warmly welcomed by film industry and they performed memorable numbers such as Aaye Hain Tere Dar Pe Tau Kucch Lay Ke Jaen Gay in the 1972 film Ilzam, Bhar Do Jholi Meri Ya Muhammad in the 1975 film Bin Badal Barsaat and Teri Nazr-e-Karam Ka Sahara Milay in the 1976 film Sachaii. All these numbers substantiated the wonderful talent of Sabri brothers and made them legends during their lifetime. The film industry also was benefitted by their talent.
Sabri brothers not only gave a durable angle to qawwali but they also took it to the West where it was received with open arms. It was their initiation that later witnessed Nusrat Fateh Ali become an international star. They practically toured every corner of the world and performed to packed audiences. The New York Times described their renditions as “The Aural Equivalent of Dancing Dervishes” and the “Music of Feeling.” Their performance was so unique that in 1977 they recorded the album ‘Pakistan: The Music of the Qawwal’ for the UNESCO Collection of Traditional Music which was later released in CD form by Auvidis in 1990.
The greatest contribution of Sabri brothers was to resuscitate the dying art of qawwali and to convert it into a popular musical genre in Pakistan. Their unmistakable control over their art provided them with a unique opportunity to experiment with this traditional form of rendition and their experimentation gave a new lustre to the art. It was primarily due to their contribution that qawwali became a cultural symbolism of the Muslims of the subcontinent. The much appreciated traditions of the practice of Sufi Islam such as naat, qasida, manqabat and salaam gained wide acceptability as they were the essential parts of compositions of Sabri bothers. Sabri Brothers and Qawwali are a valued legacy of Pakistan and their compositions are part of Pakistani national culture. TW