The Sabri Brothers Ensemble
The Sabri Brothers are regarded as the first artists who introduced the art of qawwali to global audience by unshackling it from the limits of local shrines, thereby bringing it global fame with their soulful, transcendental rendition. The champions of this cause were the two brothers Ghulam Farid Sabri and Maqbool Ahmed Shah Sabri who were the lead vocalists in their ensemble and renowned for their original style of rendering in traditional qawwali repertoire.
The intoxicating voices added to their unique style of traditional music made the spiritual experience of the audience wholesome. It was seen many a times that the hypnotized audience went into a frenzy as the brothers continued with their rendition. This kind of hysteric trance is a side-effect of pure sufi music which they revived and exposed to the modern, urban audience.
Though the name Sabri Brothers relates to the lead singers Ghulam Farid and Maqbool Ahmed Sabri, the ensemble comprised of two more brothers from the same family, Kamal Sabri and Mehmood Ghaznavi Sabri. All four brothers were the permanent members of the group and contributed to its success in their own capacity with full dedication.
The original qawwali group of the Sabri Brothers was initially started by Maqbool Ahmed in Karachi with the name ‘Bachcha Qawwal Party’ when he was just eleven years old. Few months later, on the insistence of their father, elder brother Ghulam Farid left Ustad Kallan Khan’s group with which he was associated and joined his brother. As the elder brother, he subsequently started leading the group and the name was formally changed to ‘Ghulam Farid Qawwal and Party’. The two brothers were very high quality singers even from their young years and when they got together produced an unique celestial style that took them to such heights as no other qawwals could have even dreamt earlier.
The group started performing in musical and religious gatherings and this made them a household name in Karachi. They performed in other cities too and got much acclaim in religious congregations as well as in classical music circles. The turning point in their career came up when the EMI Group (EMI Ltd.) approached them to release a record in 1961. They recorded “Mera Koyi Nahi Hai Tere Siva” which became one of their biggest hit numbers till date ( It was also later featured in the Pakistani movie ‘Ishq E Habib’ in 1965). This qawwali made them famous throughout the country and a major portion of consumers of that vinyl were those people who were not even religious music enthusiasts. It was soon evident that a new wave has started in qawwali music.
The EMI Ltd. which was still not a record label at that time was not frequent in its releases of music records and so very few records came out from them like ‘Sar E La Makan Se Talab Hui’ and ‘Bhardo Jholi Meri’. Because of royalty issues the names of both brothers were mentioned in the records as Ghulam Farid Sabri, Maqbool Ahmed Sabri Qawwal & Party instead of their band name which had the name of only Ghulam Farid Sabri. After the formation of EMI Group’s record label EMI with their own pressing division in 1973, the release of LP and Vinyl records took a major step up in Pakistan. They kept on releasing the records of these brothers nearly every year under their label which could be counted to few hundreds during their peak years. EMI also licensed these records to other labels outside Pakistan, especially India, where the popularity of Sabri Brothers was as high as in their own country during the 1970s and 1980s.
It was not only through these records that they became celebrities, it was with their radio and television appearances also that they became familiar with classy, urban audience. Due to a government policy of encouraging folk arts through television and radio in 1967, being the dominant artists in qawwali, they were approached to record qawwalis for television and radio. As the television in those days was a luxury of only the rich and urbanized citizens, they were also exposed to this kind of music which was till then regarded as an art of the masses. The Sabri brothers’ mastery over the vocals and the exotic music made them a favourite with such category of classy viewers too. They became particularly famous with a weekly programme called Lok Virsa on PTV during the 1970s, so much that they commanded a huge fan following through it which kept on sending requests to PTV to feature Sabri Brothers every week.
Ghulam Farid and Maqbool Sabri gave their first performance outside Pakistan in 1965 (they performed at some shrines in India earlier but that was not at the level of their exclusive concerts and was limited only to the devotional audience). They kept on performing frequently abroad and by the mid 1970s they covered nearly all the major countries in Europe and Asia. But the true fame overseas came with their first US tour of 1975 organized by the Asia Society, where they performed at the Carnegie Hall, New York, which is a prestigious venue for musicians worldwide. Till then, the western audience were not acquainted with devotional Sufiana qawwali. It was due to the quintessential performances of Sabri Brothers that the world came to know and appreciate qawwali as a transcendental music form. It is for their mystical and hypnotic rendering in its original form, the Sabri Brothers are considered as the undeniable commanders of pure qawwali even today. After this performance they got so busy with overseas concerts that they had to spend more time outside the country than their own. In 1978, when they again performed at Carnegie Hall, it was to a fully packed, houseful of admirers, who gave them a standing ovation. The reviews they got from newspapers were also tremendous.
In 1975 the brothers changed their band name to ‘Sabri Brothers’ as they were usually called during overseas tours since foreign audience had difficulty in pronouncing the names of the duo. This name stayed till the end and has become synonymous with qawwali.
Original members of the Sabri Brothers ensemble(Regular)
Ghulam Farid Sabri (Vocals, Harmonium)
Maqbool Ahmed Sabri (Vocals, Harmonium)
Kamal Sabri ( Supporting Vocals, Swarmandal (Zither), Flexatone, Bulbul Tarang(Indian Banjo))
Mehmood Ghaznavi Sabri (Supporting Vocals, Bongos, Tambourine, Harmonium (in later years))
Abdul Karim (Dholak)
Mohammed Anwar (Nal, Tabla)
Supporting Vocals & Chorus– Abdul Aziz, Umer Daraz
Chorus : All instrumentalists and clappers participated in chorus
Later Members (On and Off)
Amjad Farid Sabri (Supporting Vocals), Abdul Ghani (Dholak), Sarwat Farid Sabri, Azmat Farid Sabri, Javed Kamal Sabri, Ghulam Jalani, Faizal Islam, Zafar Islam Sabri, Shumail Maqbool Sabri, Muhammad Akram Warsi (Clapping & Chorus).
In the beginning the ensemble had a total of 16 members including the clapping boys . Later on, the team was reduced to 12 members and further on to 8 members and sometimes even 6 members. The instruments used in the starting years like tanpura, bulbul tarang were later put away and other instruments like bongos and swarmandal were adopted.
Ghulam Farid Sabri
The lead vocalist and the longest serving leader of the ensemble, Ghulam Farid was born in Kalyana (now spelled Kaliyana) in East Punjab of British India (today in Charkhi Dadri district of Haryana, India, at a distance of about 130 km from Delhi) in 1930 as the second son in the family. Born in a traditional music family, he had music in his blood and the lineage of great singers was noticeable in his voice from an early age. Though based in Kalyana, the family had roots in Gwalior, which is a haven for Hindustani classical music.
Ghulam Farid’s talent was obvious from childhood and his father, Inayat Hussain (also called Inayat Sen), who was also a qawwali singer, was his first teacher. His training was formally started in Gwalior after he was made to offer respects at the shrine of Ghaus Mohammed, who was a sixteenth century saint and who is said to be the trainer and mentor of the musical legend Mian Tansen. Ghulam Farid spent his growing years in both Kalyana and Gwalior as his father kept shuttling between these places. Ghulam Farid had the fortune to see and meet many great musicians in Gwalior. The inspiration and training received, coupled with his own hardwork perfected him into an ace musician.
Inayat Sen always took his son along to different parts of India while giving qawwali performances. This was a customary act in the family for children learning music to expose them to the subtleties and nuances that make up a great artist. Watching his father’s performances inspired Ghulam Farid a lot and his interest for singing grew more and more. He also started learning harmonium from the age of twelve as an instrumentalist, with which he was just familiar while learning vocals.
Ghulam Farid’s childhood was a happy one and he was well into all village sports besides learning music devotedly. He was a strong person and was regarded as a good wrestler and football player. At one time, he wanted to join the military as did most of the young men in his village, but that idea was shunned off by his mother who wanted him to continue the music legacy of the family.
Ghulam Farid had no other choice than to obey his mother and concentrated completely on music. He gave his first solo performance in 1946 in Kalyana and later went on to join Ustad Kallan Khan’s qawwali party, which had a good reputation. He served as an accompanying vocalist there and at the same time he had the opportunity to learn the fine points of classical music. But things did not turn out well as the political situation in the country had its impact on their family too as it did on millions. During the partition of India in 1947, they moved to Pakistan and had to spend nearly one year in a refugee camp near Karachi and later on shifted to a populous area in Karachi where most of the refugees settled down. As the eldest surviving son in the family, he had to shoulder the responsibilities of the family, which consisted of his little brothers and sisters. During the initial two years he had to take up odd jobs and worked as a construction laborer, stone mason and even as a hawker which took much toll on his health during those hard days. But however difficult the times may be, he never gave up his passion for singing and always kept practicing, sometimes even forgoing the much needed rest. As he grew out of his teens, he attained a great energetic voice which stole the limelight when he started giving performances.
There is also a famous account of his love for singing and how he conquered his disability for it. It is said that he became weak with continuous hard work to earn a living and the doctors pronounced that he could never sing again as his lungs had become very weak. But his indomitable dedication and hardwork made him to do Zikr (remembering and praising God) aloud a few hours every night for over two years and that made his lungs strong again to be able to sing.
After about two years when things improved a little, he got married at the age of nineteen and had his own family also to take care thenceforth. He then took up work in a printing press which gave him some time to pursue his music interest. As Ustad Kallan Khan too had moved to Karachi, Ghulam Farid again joined his qawwali group and continued his singing which made him a known figure in local music circles. In addition to all this work, he sometimes worked in theatre and was a member of Karachi Drama Society. Acting was a hobby he loved and pursued when he was young.
As an obedient son Ghulam Farid always followed whatever his father instructed him to do. When younger brother Maqbool Ahmed started his own qawwali group at a very young age and was doing well, his father told Ghulam Farid to join that group. Though fifteen years elder to his brother, he left Kallan Khan’s group (which was being regarded as one of the best qawwali groups) and joined his brother. The love and respect for elders in the family was such that Maqbool Ahmed withdrew and made Ghulam Farid the leader of his group, as he was the elder one and also the more experienced one. The brothers supported each other much and had a great coordination which was one of the reasons for their success besides their individual high quality rendering.
Ghulam Farid Sabri had a powerful, magnificient voice which resonated to the tune of the harmonium played expertly with his magical fingers. His deep tones were the highlight of his rendition which mesmerized the audience and took them into a different world. Those deep tones complemented with the melodious verses of his younger brother who made the mesmerized audience to experience a pure bliss. With this heavenly vocal feast, together they used to get straight into the hearts of the listeners who could never forget that spiritual experience once they got into it. This feeling, typical to pure Sufi style is much different from other kinds of music, which, though beautiful are soon forgotten.
Ghulam Farid Sabri’s another speciality was his chant of ‘Allah’ during their performances. It was in a heavy, peculiar tone that he chanted which echoed above the music that would be going on. There was no special timing to chant it, but he did it whenever he felt like chanting it and sometimes when the audience requested him to do so. Sometimes, he even used that chant to hide any slight mistake by any member in the team or sometimes as a signal to the team members when they did any mistake in reading the correct lines. But whatever be the intention, the audience were always intrigued by that chant and it became a signature of their band.
In the starting years Ghulam Farid was the lead singer and Maqbool Ahmed acted as the supporting one. With the highly talented Maqbool Ahmed, who also composed most of their qawwalies, Ghulam Farid started sharing lead lines with him. By early seventies both of them played equal role by rendering the lines alternately. Those were the days when the voice of these brothers together was at the best and they gained such popularity as no other qawwal ever experienced earlier. Some lines, when they sang in unison resulted in the fusion of melody and musical mastery of the younger’s voice with energy and spirituality of the elder’s and culminated into an intoxicating rendering which was experienced as a trance-inducing feeling by the listeners. It is for this reason that their biggest hits are mostly those qawwalies which had lines they sang in unison.
Ghulam Farid was a deeply religious person and spent much time in prayers and remembrance of God. His family took bayt (allegiance) of the Sabriyya order (a branch of the Chishti order) of Sufism circa 1958 because of which they got the surname Sabri. Later on, Ghulam Farid Sabri got very much inspired by his spiritual guide, Amber Shah Warsi. Under his influence Ghulam Farid Sabri took oath of allegiance of the Warsiyya order (another branch of Chishti order) along with his brother Maqbool Sabri in the mid 1970s. The name he adopted therafter was Alam Shah Warsi, though with public his former name remained.
Ghulam Farid Sabri received many awards for his service to qawwali, both individually and collectively with brother Maqbool Sabri. He received the prestigious ‘Pride of Performance’ award given by the government of Pakistan collectively with his brother in 1978.
By the mid 1980s, Ghulam Farid Sabri mostly took up the role of secondary vocalist, repeating the lines rendered by Maqbool Sabri and also started leading the chorus. By that time Maqbool Sabri’s voice attained much dulcetness and energy as he gained a few years and some weight. It could be said as his peak time and he used to fascinate the audience with his melodious rendition and interesting conversations. At the same time, Ghulam Farid Sabri used to infuse the much needed energy with his powerful voice and also took lead of the chorus.
When everything was going well with their career, there seemed some lack of support and coordination between the brothers in the late 1980s. That was the time when cracks started in their success path.
The brothers who never had a single misunderstanding or discord between them for over thirty years showed signs of dissention between themselves. For the affection and love that existed between them for so many years, it was hard for anyone to believe, but it did happen and happened because of influences from other persons. Both had their own families with grown up and growing children respectively and each had their own individual worlds by that time and it was easy to get floated away by other influences. Finally, though on good terms with each other, they decided to perform separately and the first and last split in the Sabri Brothers ensemble happened in 1990-91.
They did well individually too but not as much as in their former days as a duo. It was during this period that a life-long dream of Ghulam Farid Sabri was fulfilled when he recorded an album ‘Jami’ in July 1991 on the poetry of the fifteenth century poet Mawlana Jami. The album which was completely in Persian was recorded at SFB Studios, Berlin and is considered as one of the best works by Ghulam Farid Sabri. Though the album mentions the artists as the Sabri Brothers, it was the only album that Ghulam Farid Sabri recorded without his beloved younger brother Maqbool performing along with him (the album was released in 1995 after Ghulam Farid Sabri passed away and hence was dedicated to him).
Luckily this split lasted only a few months and both the brothers realized their mistake and came together once again. It should be mentioned here that another Sufi singer Abida Parveen talked over the matter to the two brothers and helped them to patch up. But things have their effects much more than anticipated. Unfortunately, their disagreement and the resultant split took place at a time when they were facing stiff competition from other new qawwals who arrived on scene following the footsteps of the Sabri brothers themselves. Though the brothers never competed with anyone else, their career was being affected by these qawwals, some of who even moved out of the traditional path and resorted to new technologies to attract the young and modern audience. It was during this crucial time that their split had taken place. Though they patched up, it couldn’t make their golden time to come back again.
For the entire ensemble, the bolt from the blue came in 1994. In the early hours of 5 April, 1994 Ghulam Farid Sabri suffered a massive heart attack and passed away on the way to the hospital. Though he was 64 at that time, it was untimely for such a strong and active person who had much more left in his career. It was a shock to everyone as he was awake till 1 o’clock in the early hours, speaking normally with his family members. At around 1.30 AM he complained of chest pain and called upon his younger brother Maqbool Sabri to speak with him (though he had grown up children, he remembered and wished to speak with his beloved brother in his last minutes). He was immediately rushed to the hospital in a car, but on the way, passed away at around 2AM while his brother was holding his hands.
Ghulam Farid Sabri, who was regarded as a saint for his spiritual and noble nature moved out of this world suddenly leaving everyone in sorrow. The love towards him was so much that people came from even distant towns to pay last respects to him. His funeral was attended by over 40,000 people who thronged to have a last look at him which was never the case with any other musician.
So sudden was his death that everyone was left in a shock. More importantly it was his younger brother, Maqbool Sabri who lost a dear friend and companion. He always kept remembering his brother and as a mark of respect to him, continued his brother’s signature chant of ‘Allah’ in his brother’s own style in all his subsequent concerts and performances.
With the death of Ghulam Farid Sabri the main pillar of the Sabri Brothers ensemble was fallen and it left a great void which could never be filled again with anyone else. Maqbool Sabri continued the legacy taking his brother’s place himself and giving away his place to the youngest brother Mehmood Sabri. At the same time he mentored Ghulam Farid Sabri’s son, Amjad Sabri by taking him to his concerts and guiding him to carve his own niche in the qawwali world.
Refer The Legend page
Kamal Sabri was born in Kalyana in 1935 as the next son in the family after Ghulam Farid. Like his elder brother he too was good in all popular village sports of Punjab region in those days. His friends and relatives used to call him ‘Pehlwan’(wrestler) instead of his actual name because he was strong and very good in wrestling.
Kamal Sabri did not initially join his brothers in their qawwali group but came into it later on. He was more into instruments than vocals. Like all other instrumentalists in the group, he took part in chorus but never played major role in vocals. Still, he excelled in a vocal technique called Taan Tarana (which is a fast, melodic vocal rendition often over vowel sounds like ‘aaa…’ or some specific tarana words like ‘ta’, na’, ‘tom’ etc. and in rhythm with the main rendition). His best performance in vocals can be observed in the Qaul Tarana ‘Mun Kunto Maula’ where he surpassed even his elder brother Ghulam Farid in his tarana vocals and took a much greater part in it.
But Kamal Sabri’s forte was instruments than vocals. He was an excellent player of rare instruments like the chiriya tarang (bulbul tarang), swarmandal and the flexatone, which are not seen usually in any classical concerts if not in qawwalis. He kept on with his instrumental acts in the ensemble till his last years.
Kamal Sabri suffered a heart attack in 1998 during a tour of Australia. Though he survived, his health did not permit him to travel long and take part in qawwali. He passed away in 2001 and with his loss, the use of instruments like swarmandal and flexatone came to an end in the Sabri Brothers ensemble.
The youngest of the Sabri Brothers, Mehmood Ghaznavi Sabri was born on 7 April, 1949 in Karachi, Pakistan. Being the youngest, he received much support and guidance from his elder brothers. Mehmood Sabri has a very good voice and surprisingly, it became more beautiful and powerful in his middle ages, especially after his late forties. Infact, it is not wrong to say that he has the best voice among all his brothers when compared at that same age.
Though he had a very good voice, Mehmood Sabri did not earlier have any intention of making his career in music like his brothers. He was the only graduate in the family and after completing graduation, he started working as a stenographer in a bank. Soon, he realized that there is not much growth in the path he has chosen and in 1975 decided to join his brothers.
He was taken in and was made the supporting vocalist. In addition, he acted as an instrumentalist playing bongos. Maqbool Sabri, who was a perfectionist and who was not easily satisfied with normal performances, always had good opinion about Mehmood Sabri’s vocal abilities. He always encouraged him in vocals and guided him. After the death of Ghulam Farid Sabri, Maqbool Sabri chose Mehmood Sabri to take his place and himself took the place of his late brother.
During the last years of Maqbool Sabri, who was not healthy enough to give frequent performances, Mehmood Sabri started giving individual performances in the absence of his brother. Moreover, as he spent most of his time in Germany where his family is based, he had to take on his own way. Still, sometimes he assisted brother Maqbool Sabri whenever he was fit enough for a performance.
With the death of Maqbool Sabri, the Sabri Brothers ensemble came to an end as there was no other permanent member remaining. Mehmood Sabri is the only surviving brother in the family now and keeps on giving performances as the main vocalist under his own name. Whenever he gets time, he assists the next generation members in the Sabri family and keeps on guiding them.
The third of the five sons of Ghulam Farid Sabri, Amjad Sabri was the one who took forward the legacy of his father. He was born on 23 Dec, 1970 and showed much interest in music from his childhood. His father soon recognized his interest and started training him from a very young age. As a true student, Amjad Sabri started from the lowest level as the clapping boy as was the custom in the family for young children undergoing training. Till his father was alive he kept on in the chorus and clapping. After the death of his father, uncle Maqbool Sabri made him the supporting vocalist.
Amjad Sabri continued with his uncle for around two years. Maqbool Sabri’s family was based in South Africa and every year he spent a few months in Cape Town to be with his children who were having their schooling there. It was during one of those visits in 1996, that in his absence, Amjad Sabri organized a qawwali program in memory of his father with the Sabri Brothers ensemble. There would have been no problem if he had stopped there, but under the influence of some friends and relatives, he took on some bookings of few months for giving programs with the same group.
When Maqbool Sabri returned, he found that Amjad Sabri had taken his place and is performing with his Sabri Brothers ensemble without even informing a word to him. In a family where there was so much respect and regard for elders, this indiscipline was something that couldn’t be tolerated. But Maqbool Sabri realized the ambition of Amjad Sabri whom he treated him as his own son and mentioned to him that he can accompany him if he wants and at the same time can start his own career individually forming his own group. Maqbool Sabri was not the kind to bore grudges on anyone and so he left the choice to Amjad Sabri himself.
Amjad Sabri sometimes accompanied his uncle afterwards too and at the same time concentrated on forming his own group. Whenever Maqbool Sabri was away from his programs, Amjad Sabri used to perform locally with his own group. Maqbool Sabri always guided and mentored him because he knew that there was no room for him to lead as long as he and his brother Mehmood were fit to perform. That was the reason he had so much respect and love towards his uncle who was more like a father to him. But Amjad Sabri’s career didn’t take off properly in the initial days as there was a better group in the form of Sabri Brothers ensemble. But still, Maqbool Sabri always kept encouraging him to carve a niche for himself by infusing whatever creativity he can in his shows.
It was from this time, Amjad Sabri started adopting new technologies and styles to attract the younger generation. But his real turn came in 2006-07, when Maqbool Sabri had an accident in India and had to undergo hip replacement surgery. Rumours started that he was not going to live long and even if he does, will not be able to do any shows. During this time everyone looked upon Amjad Sabri as the next in the Sabri family who is going to take forward the music tradition, since the next brother Mehmood Sabri spent most of his time in Germany.
With his powerful voice and underlying talent, Amjad Sabri soon earned a name for himself outside the Sabri Brothers ensemble. He was also media-savvy and never lost touch with music fans. He connected well with the younger generation with his unique style and new technologies which earned him the name ‘Rockstar of Qawwali’. But unfortunately, his bright career and life was cut short on 22 June, 2016 when two extremists gunned him down in the month of Ramadan while he was on the way to a television station.
Notable Tours & Recordings of Sabri Brothers
- Took part in Nepal’s King Birendra’s wedding in 1970 as the cultural representatives of Pakistan.
- Performed at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1975 and 1978 which was organized by the Asia Society.
- Recorded the album ‘Pakistan: The Music of the Qawal’ in 1977 for the UNESCO Collection of Traditional Music which was later released in CD form by Auvidis in 1990.
- Performed at the Royal Tropical Institute of Amsterdam in 1981 which was released as the album ‘Tasleem’.
- Recorded for the album ‘Nazr E Shah Karim’ in 1983 to celebrate the silver jubilee of the Imamat of Aga Khan IV (Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini).
- Performed in WOMAD festival at UK and France in 1989 which was released as the album ’Ya Habib’ in 1990.
- Performed at Dubai in 1992 to raise funds for Imran Khan’s Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital.
- Performed at various SAARC festivals at different venues in India and other SAARC countries (in 1989, 1992).
- Performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival with the British Indie-rock group Cornershop as part of a double bill in November 1996. This was released as the album ‘Ya Mustafa’.
- Performed at the Telstra Adelaide Festival, Australia in 1998.
- Took part in the event ‘Voices of God’ held at Marrakesh, Morocco in May 1999 which featured 100 spiritual singers, musicians and dancers from 12 cultures.
- Performed at the On The Carpet Oriental Culture Festival in Moscow on November 17th, 2001 which was released as CD ‘Live in Moscow, Diwani’ by DOM.
Qawwalis of Sabri Brothers featured in Pakistani & Indian films
- Mera Koi Nahin Hai Tere Siwa in the movie Ishq-e-Habib (1965, Pakistan)
- Mohabbat Karne Walon Hum Mohabbat Iss Ko Kehte Hain in Chand Suraj (1970, Pakistan) – with appearance
- Aaye Hain Tere Dar Pe Toh Kuch Leke Jayenge in Ilzam (1972, Pakistan)
- Baba Farid Sarkar in Sasta Khoon Mehnga Pani (1974, Pakistani Punjabi movie)
- Bhar Do Jholi Meri Ya Mohammad in Bin Badal Barsaat (1975, Pakistan)
- Teri Nazr-e-Karam Ka Sahara Mile in Sachai (1976, Pakistan)
- Tajdar-e-Haram in Saharay (1982, Pakistan) – with appearance
- Aftab-e-Risalat in Sultan-e-Hind (1977, India) – with appearance
- Tere Dar Ko Chhod Chale in Ganga Jamuna Saraswati (1988, India) – solo playback by Maqbool Sabri
In addition to the above, many of their qawwalis were adopted in various movies with other singers.
The quintessential rendition of the Sabri Brothers was so intoxicating and beautiful that they are regarded as the greatest reciters of traditional qawwali. The feeling which can be experienced from attending their live program can never be recreated from the recordings but still they are enough to know what fine class musicians they were. These recordings are the ones which have kept their voices alive to the next generation of audience who have never earlier seen or heard them.
The Sabri Brothers had kept alive the poetry of Amir Khusrow, Maulana Rumi and other saints and brought them close to normal audience who are not acquainted with such poetry. Besides Urdu, they used to sing in various languages like Persian, Hindi, Brajbhasha, Punjabi, Purbi, Pashto etc. borrowing lines from different poems. So vast was their knowledge of poetry in various languages that they could recite a suitable line then and there as the situation demands from poems of any of these languages. It was not only their poetry, but also their witty and humorous conversations, their advocacy of the spiritual matters and love of God and the Prophet, that made them unique and popular.
Along with devotional qawwalis, the Sabri Brothers sometimes recited qawwalis on social issues and even romantic poetry. But the message they gave was always of love and compassion to the whole humanity.
The pièce de résistance of the qawwalis of Sabri Brothers is Tajdar E Haram, which enjoys a huge popularity even today, followed by the ones like ‘Bhardo Jholi’, ‘Khwaja Ki Deewani’ which even other qawwals recite during their shows. Here are a few famous qawwalis of the Sabri Brothers (for a more comprehensive list of their albums and qawwalis, refer the discography section):
- Tajdar E Haram Listen (opens in new window)
- Bhardo Jholi Meri Listen
- Sar e La Makan Se Talab Hui Listen
- Saqiya Aur Pila Listen
- Khwaja Ki Deewani Listen
- Mun Kunto Maula (Qaul Tarana) Listen
- Mera Koyi Nahi Hai Tere Siwa Listen
- O Sharabi Chorr de Peena Listen
- Chaap Tilak Sab Cheeni Listen
- Waqt E Dua Hai Listen
- Aaj Rang Hai Listen
- Woh Patthar Kash Main Hota Listen
The Sabri Brothers’ contribution to traditional Sufi music is immense and there is no other qawwal who can come even close to them in that matter. Their name has become so synonymous with qawwali that at present there are tens of qawwali bands which have named themselves the same. As there are no trademark rights over this band name, many qawwali groups are cashing on their name and trying to pass off as the originals or as the heirs by using their name and even copying and singing their famous qawwalis.
Qawwali has become much popular today and many new qawwals are arriving on scene everyday. But most of them are not true dedicated artists as their main intention is fame and money. The high standard of recitation set up by the Sabri Brothers which brought so much fame to sufi music is not at all seen in most of them, which is lowering the image of qawwali as a sublime artform.
For the Sabri Brothers, qawwali was a sacred and divine duty and a family tradition that they had to keep alive. It was much above than a mere profession for them. They worked hard for its cause and dedicated their complete lives in its service. They performed anywhere with a whole heart, with even themselves enjoying with full involvement. Whatever be the setting, be it an international world famous auditorium or just a small local shrine or a program arranged in open-air setting to collect funds for charitable causes, their dedication was same everywhere and they presented their art with full heart and took the audience on a spiritual journey. They are still doing the same now with the recordings they have left behind.