Wednesday, 22nd June, 2016. Followers of Sufi music, mystic poetry and Qawwalis will always remember this day as the end of an era; they will remember it as the day Pakistan’s most admired voice of love was brutally silenced. This is the day when Amjad Sabri, 40, one of the finest musicians of his generation was gunned down by unknown assailants in Karachi’s Liaquatabad area.
Hailing from a celebrated musical dynasty, Sabri was celebrated for his overwhelming renditions of mystic poetry that not only enchanted Muslims across South Asia but wider audiences from diverse faiths and backgrounds. His untimely death created uproar in the entire country as hundreds of fans, friends and relatives flocked towards his residence. The grievers exuded mixed emotions, while some went numb in shock others deeply saddened remained enraged. The ghastly picture Amjad Sabri’s cruel death has painted is not only tragic but extremely alarming as well. His assassination is an attempt at cautioning all those voices that act as a catalyst for cultural expression and preserving Pakistan’s dignity.
Amjad Sabri was a man who had devoted his life to the love of God. Through his mesmerising and heart-splitting vocals, he spread the message of tolerance, faith and devoutness. Every time he walked onto the stage, his audience would erupt into deafening applause. His performances were soul wrenching and presence extremely powerful. It was after one such performance of his that a friend and I couldn’t help but approach the maestro for an interview. The ever gracious Sabri accepted our request and invited us over the following day.
We were welcomed into a room where Amjad was surrounded by doting sisters. His older sister, Shaheen, who was visiting him was holding onto a box full of home cooked shami kebabs that she had specially prepared for him. We then learnt of some of his other favorite things too eat- daal gosht and khichri.
“I also love aaloo gosht and biryani, perhaps because I’m pretty good at cooking them myself,” he joked.
“I have literally raised Amjad,” Shaheen kept repeating. “I cannot even begin to tell you how close he is to my heart,” she paused for a second and continued, “not just mine, he is extremely close to everyone’s heart. My brother is the kindest and most loving soul ever. He keeps the whole family united and spreads love everywhere he goes.”
Amjad Sabri came from an extremely close-knit family. A total of eleven siblings, there was never a dull moment in their house.
“During winters, my siblings, our children and spouses all gather in my mother’s room. We seat ourselves on the floor while she snuggles in bed. Stories, jokes and music continue till the wee hours.”
A complete family man, he couldn’t stop talking about his mother.
“I am a father of five but till this date, I cannot leave the house without seeing my mother’s face. My love for my mother is lafani; it is the only thing that will never end. Not even after my death. Love is the only thing death is not a barrier to. There is no limit to the amounts you can leave behind.”
Commenting on the growing radicalism he said,
“It is indeed very sad to see the death of tolerance amongst our people. I don’t know why we don’t realise how tranquil a little bit of patience can make your life. This is what our religion also teaches us. In order for a car to function properly, all tires need to be in sync. Societies can never move forward if people are not tolerant of each other and accepting of different points of view.”
Amjad’s vocals radiated his love for his creator.
“I cannot open my eyes while performing Tajdar-e-Haram, I picture myself in a different place. There is not a single time I am not singing from the soul and feeling each and every word to the core.”
Even though a qawal himself, he shared that he enjoyed other genres of music too.
“Young singers like Ali Zafar and Atif Aslam are doing a great job. I love Atif’s ‘Woh Lamhe,’ he said while breaking into song.
Throughout the one hour we spent with Amjad Sabri, there wasn’t a minute he didn’t smile. It was easy to tell why he is loved by everyone and why his death has struck at the heart of every Pakistani.
“I love my country and I will never leave it. Actually, I will never leave Liaquatabad. It is false to assume it is an unsafe town. Only people full of love live here.”