They killed him

Published: June 22, 2016
Amjad Sabri. PHOTO: FILE

Amjad Sabri. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: The most pertinent question that this shock and awe begs is why him? Who would want to kill Amjad Sabri? What could he have possibly done? Yes, we have seen a lot of bloodshed in this land but how many killings of mainstream musicians do you recall?

From what I have been able to gather from my association with him over the years, Amjad Sabri was a strange misfit. For puritans of naat, qawwali and manqabat, his eccentricity was too much to accept. What other man of religious hymns shakes a leg alongside TV celebrities on morning shows?

For some, he was too traditional in his singing and outlook. Others were not fond of his political friends. Amjad Sabri himself, however, never really cared.

Amjad Sabri shot dead in Karachi

He wanted to live in the moment; do what all other celebrities do, yet never miss out on playing dabbu in his street. He would sing Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Jabr Ke Andheron Mein with as much vigour as he would sing his father’s fantastical hymns.

Those associated with the arts usually shy away from sensitive subjects; when was the last time you saw a musician come on national television and diss religious scholars on the subject of music? Amjad Sabri, however, was cut from a different cloth. He never hesitated in taking anyone on. In a society like ours where sectarian lines and groupings are so clearly defined, Amjad Sabri lived life on his own terms. He was as much of a Shia as he was a Sunni, passionate about where he was coming from and what he believed in.

In this short life I have had the privilege of seeing a number of extraordinary people whose intellectual might leave people questioning their very existence. Amjad Sabri was nowhere a man of letters. Yet, his grip on the intellectual and cultural history of Islam was fascinating. I am a witness to him leaving white-haired scholars speechless.

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Some say that his outspokenness cost him his life. That he had said too much on TV. Those who knew him, know that he had been like this ever since he took charge of the mantle of Ghulam Fareed Sabri and Maqbool Ahmed Sabri. No matter how flippant he was in his day-to-day dealings, he never compromised on his principles.

A different career trajectory

There is another fascinating aspect to this man’s personality. One cannot bring to mind a musician who made a name for himself and gained immense popularity without putting out original music, at all. Yes, Amjad Sabri belted out scores of albums and releases. But all of them were either rehashed versions of famous kalams, traditional raags or simply revisions of the creative pursuits of Sabri brothers. His inherited material was enough to last him a lifetime of fame. Wherever he would go, he would be made to recite his father’s qawwalis. That says enough about the Sabris and this prodigal son.

Formative years

Seeing his father travel the world and gain fame through their primary trade, Amjad Sabri started singing at a very early age, accompanying the Sabri brothers, Pakistan’s most famous qawwals, on stage; trying his hands on the alaap; saying the sargam; improvising during performances. Of all the siblings, he showed flair for singing and his father knew who would carry the legacy forward. Such was the pressure on him that once he had recited a naat at the nearby mosque after Friday prayers. He had left his father sleeping at home but when he returned, Ghulam Fareed Sabri was up and not very happy. He beat the daylight out of the young Amjad, punching him in his chest. “He had heard me on the loudspeaker and I was off key all the while,” Amjad had said.

Nation mourns Amjad Sabri’s death

They say being the son of a famous father is never easy. While the weight of expectations, constant comparisons and taunting break even the brightest of individuals, very few are able to carve an identity for themselves that is far from the shadows of their family members. Numerous musical giants, litterateurs came and went. How many from their kin were able to replace them?

When Amjad Sabri started out, differences with his uncle had added to his challenges. He used to fondly mention the support of renowned eulogist Ustad Sibte Jafar Zaidi from these years. It should not come as a surprise that both men were silenced exactly the same way.

Atif Aslam sang Tajdar-e-Haram last year on Coke Studio and the internet went into a frenzy. For a devout Sabri fan, anyone singing Tajdar-e-Haram other than Amjad Sabri was unacceptable. I inquired from him and he wholeheartedly threw weight behind Atif; the same man who wouldn’t let go of a single error that I would commit while singing. In concealed words he did inform me that his own Coke Studio appearance is not far and that he only had given the show’s team permission to pay tribute to his late father.

The show will run this year too and people will get to see his last-ever recorded performance which could very well be his biggest collaboration after his Bollywood escapades. Something tells me, with Coke Studio, a different Amjad Sabri will live. For long.

Purpose of existence

He used to excitedly recall how he had converted an entire auditorium to Islam in a Scandinavian country, during a performance (he literally had tons of such stories to tell all the time).

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For him, it was his biggest achievement. Bigger than anything he could ever have done. During the many TV debates with scholars of different schools of thought he would defend his trade by citing the example of Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti Ajmeri who would attract people towards his faith through qawwali.

In his own mind, Amjad Sabri had achieved what his predecessor had done, several centuries ago.

Home is where the heart is

Who is not aware of his very humble Liaquatabad residence; the house his father had made for the family. Despite achieving phenomenal success that went beyond the country’s limits, he chose to continue living at the very house. Once while dropping him off after the airing of our TV show, I asked him why he does not move to an affluent neighbourhood. He smiled, as he would literally all the time, and said, “Abba ji visits me here. I cannot leave this house no matter what.” The loving son of this Abba ji has reunited with his father.

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Reader Comments (22)

  • MF Hussain
    Jun 22, 2016 - 9:51PM

    The evil of Saudi intolerance…Recommend

  • Sardar
    Jun 23, 2016 - 3:55AM

    They shot the driver. It’s possible that they were angry about his driving. This is Pakistan, people can shoot at you if they feel angry by your driving pattern. Recommend

  • Muhammad Haroon Khan
    Jun 23, 2016 - 5:36AM

    What a humble person he was. Never left his home and neighborhood. He had a young family.
    I am out of words, all I can say is rest in peace brother.Recommend

  • Anon
    Jun 23, 2016 - 10:20AM

    Seriously??? Grow up dearRecommend

  • Anon 2
    Jun 23, 2016 - 12:07PM

    Wasim Akram was shot at Karsaz.Recommend

  • M. Emad
    Jun 23, 2016 - 2:52PM

    Many singers, instrumentalists and song-writers were killed during Bangladesh Independence War.Recommend

  • World Traveller
    Jun 23, 2016 - 2:52PM

    It’s really sad to loss a personality like him.
    Love and peace!
    Condolences from India


  • Aisha
    Jun 23, 2016 - 2:53PM

    MQM is now being targeted over this death that was an engineered crisis to launch a further false flag operation that will happen after Eid ul Adha as this is a sacrifice before a sacrifice. Recommend

  • Ahmed
    Jun 23, 2016 - 2:59PM

    This is just sad and tragic. Can we still not question what rangers have claimed to achieve in the past month? Was their operation just against MQM? After an incident of this magnitude, another noha khuwan was fired in Karachi. This monster of religious extremism will engulf everything we have. Our culture, our values, our people, everything!Recommend

  • Gambhir
    Jun 23, 2016 - 3:16PM

    With a heavy heart, as one who admired his soul stirring rendering, I must say that Pakistan, you as a society has killed him. And many others like him. You have bred so much hatred and mutual loathing in your society that nobody is safe any more. First it was the Hindus whom you demonise in your text books for school children. Next it was Ahmedis and poor Christians. And now it is Shias, and Sufis of all hues and shades. A land with glorious history, cultural heritage and one which was the cradle of a great civilisation is now reduced to this pathetic state.Recommend

  • Feroz
    Jun 23, 2016 - 5:00PM

    These terrorists have no masters. For years sane advise has been given that there are no good terrorists, all are bad. At times they will carry out the job entrusted, other times they will select their own targets. After losing citizens in tens of thousands if no lessons are learned, what will it take for wisdom to dawn ? Very sad that the nation has to helplessly watch as strategic assets eliminate the real assets of Pakistan. Can some sane minds please be brought into the policy making apparatus, before there is nothing left to save. Sorry Amjad Sabri, you were only a pawn in the game, those who started these games having no inclination or desire to end it. May your Soul RIP, your music will continue to enchant millions.Recommend

  • Syed Ahmed Abdullah
    Jun 23, 2016 - 5:10PM

    I agree with you we really need to sort out problems among us . We should do everything to get rid of the hatred that so many of have suffered from and we really need to spread peace and love and promote people who spread peace and love inna lillahi wa inna wa rajeunRecommend

  • SM
    Jun 23, 2016 - 6:27PM

    @M. Emad: what does that have to do with anything???!!!Recommend

  • Tariq
    Jun 23, 2016 - 7:18PM

    It will not be surprising if if is revealed that MQM is behind the plot. Hakeem M Saeed was also brutally killed by MQM in Ramadan while he was fasting. If justice had been done in HSaeed case we may have avoided this. Recommend

  • Pakistani
    Jun 23, 2016 - 10:32PM

    Cnn and bbc reported that some extremist organization already claimed responsibility.Recommend

  • Victor
    Jun 23, 2016 - 10:57PM

    So? @M. Emad: Recommend

  • Parvez
    Jun 24, 2016 - 5:59AM

    Killing him was criminal…….but what was shameful was the PM’s gift of some Rs.10 million, shameful because all he could think of even at such a moment was money……sadly Sir, money does not fix everything.Recommend

  • Faizan
    Jun 24, 2016 - 9:28PM

    3 days have been passed but every time I read anything about him tears come in my eyes. I am not sure how will his family bear such a great loss. Saw his son reciting his last kalam today that was very very depressing.Recommend

  • Jude
    Jun 25, 2016 - 12:12AM

    As usual, you write with passion. But here i think because of your personal connection uou outdid everything youve done before. Im sorry for your loss.Recommend

  • jameel
    Jun 25, 2016 - 3:24AM

    he was a great man and sufi innocent man like him is killed often and no one dares to kill corrupt people which needs to be wiped out of pakistan and country can benefit if such people are killed.thats our ilmia. in our society uwe wipe out simple one cared about his little kids.he was shouting why are you killing me i have little our society has become worst than animal kingdom.Recommend

  • jun
    Jun 25, 2016 - 5:25AM

    They killed him,no.We killed him.In every aspect of our life,on TV,in politics,in mohallah mosque speaker,in internet,in our life,we have allowed Mullah in,and this is what we get.When we will see this?Recommend

  • Ayeshs
    Jun 26, 2016 - 1:24PM

    We heared about baldia incident, kesc, hakim saeed,,imran farooq,,,tariq azim and more more and now amjad farid sabri
    ,,,,,and still nothing is done
    What a shame
    No one has the courage to ban this party,,,
    ,,,,,,for how long this would be going on and onRecommend

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