Amjad Sabri, Qawwali Great, RIP

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<!-- missing image -->I am saddened by the murder of Amjad Sabri, who was part of the Sabri Brothers qawwali family in Pakistan. Qawwals are singers and performers of qawwali music (the word ‘qawwali’ means ‘utterance’ in Urdu), sufi devotional music by a mystical sect of Islam. The band was founded in 1958 by the late Ghulam Farid Sabri, whose periodic repeat use of “Allah” during songs was to become become a Sabri Brothers signature refrain. Qawwali has been called the “trance-inducing music of the divine.”  I have heard it live many times and it indeed spins the mind and soul into a state of ecstasy. It is music of peace and love, the opposite of the Islam of ISIS and other groups who hate and forbid music. In 2014, blasphemy charges were brought against him by an Islamabad high court. Now he has been gunned down by fanatics in Karachi at the age of 45.

31FJ77NV9SL._AC_US160_The Sabri Brothers were an amazing group of performers, though they never toured as much as qawwali superstar Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Khan recorded many albums, and experimented on various crossover albums with producer Bally Sagoo and Massive Attack (“Mustt Mustt” remix). Fewer Sabri Brothers CD’s came to the west. There is Ya Habib on Peter Gabriel’s Real World records in 1990, and Ya Mustapha on the Xenophile label, the world music arm of the Green Linnet celtic music label.

<!-- missing image -->I was fortunate to see the Sabri Brothers in action in the late 1980’s at–of all places–Hollywood High School. The place was packed, singers were gesticulating passionately, and harmoniums were pumping. People in the audience threw $5 and $10 bills onto the stage, a sign of appreciation at qawwali shows. I hope the group will continue despite this tragic murder of a man of peace.

Here is a video of the group in performance.

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