FLASHBACK: Sabri’s Voice Made Us All Cry That Night

The man who spent his life singing the praises of prophet Muhammad (PBUH), was accused of blaspheming the prophet, and he was executed for it — during Ramadan

IRSHAD SALIM — Memories of Karachi years stand hamstrung by two “Sabri” events. One took place back in the 90s. Shell-shocked by finding out that my favorite Sabri Ki Nihari locale no longer existed, I did not eat Nihari in the mega city again.

The latest shock emanates from qawwal Amjad Sabri’s murder in cold blood. The music died.

Like opened doors of a taxicab, these two events won’t let my memory car take the highway to lettingo. Jackknifed trailers albeit containers of  conspiracies, revengeful mindset, cynicism and reactionary agenda still gridlock the city’s cosmopolitan populace. Intellectual poverty is the currency in use by ghosts at ATM’s of ethnic and sectarian banks.

Naturally therefore, jugnus (fireflies) like Amjad in the jungle survived in jars. The electronic media, the Coke Studio, and the Arts Council — are these jars floating on Karachi’s cultural sea. Their uncomfortable detractors are on the other hand are living in their fish bowls. Between the two realities are stuck people like me and thousands of others — withdrawn in their virtual worlds – inside and outside Karachi.

Strings, an internationally-acclaimed pop band, recalled memories with the late sufi singer. Sabri was gunned down in the mega city just 25 days after he recorded a song together with singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan at the Coke Studio.

“We met Amjad Sabri last year for the first time when we called him over to see and approve Tajdar-e-Haram. Five minutes into our meeting, we were talking to him as if we were age-old buddies,” Strings wrote on its verified Facebook account.

“Soon after the viewing, on his way out he couldn’t resist the stationary pool table lying in our studio lounge. He played like a champ and crushed everyone he played with,” it added.

The pop band said that this year they called him to share the idea of a possible collaboration with another maestro Rahat Fatah Ali Khan.

“He (Sabri) very graciously accepted it,” they said. “We knew when these two giants are sitting on a platform only thing you can expect is magic. On the recording day after a small briefing session we skipped the rehearsal and went straight into recording,” the band said.

“Amjad Sabri started singing in his grand sonorous voice and blew everyone away. We all cried that night. These two masters took us to a very different journey, a journey we can never forget,” Strings said.

Meanwhile, in a touching tribute, two artists, S M Raza and Aqib Faiz, teamed up to paint a beautiful mural of the qawwal on a wall in Korangi neighborhood.

“A group of friends were planning to make a Wall Of Kindness in Korangi number 5. One of them said, ‘why don’t we paint something here?’ Another said, ‘Amjad Sabri!’ And I said, ‘A tribute to Amjad Sabri.’ And we started the next day (Sunday). It was a very quick mural painting by myself and Aqib Faiz,” Raza said while speaking to The Express Tribune.

Sabri was shot dead by two motorcycle-borne gunmen, hardly a kilometer away from his home in the Liaquatabad neighborhood of Karachi on Wednesday.

“The man who spent his life singing the praises of prophet Muhammad (PBUH), continuing a centuries-long tradition of musical veneration, was accused of blaspheming the prophet, and he was executed for it — during Ramadan.”

Written in Riyadh, the article was also published in a UAE-based website in June 2016