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The Musical Language of Love

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It was a moon-lit night, the ever buzzing Charminar area continues to buzz, except that a portion in front of the historic monument was cordoned off and converted into a performing space to host the Hyderabad Arts Festival.

Sabri Brothers, the famous traditional Sufi Qawwals from Jaipur were in concert, and the melody of the music of love not only enthralled the audience seated there, and several others who were watching from the outside of the enclosure, but wafted through the air over the oldest bazaars of Hyderabad touching the ears of everyone around – the road-side vendors, the shopkeepers, the Irani Café owners and staff.

It was indeed that day when the music was for everyone. “It was a momentous occasion for us. It was like performing at Shahjahan’s Urs on the marble floor of Taj Mahal, Gateway of India – those few concerts and memories which we cherish forever,” shared the brothers Haji Ustad Farid Sabri and Haji Ustad Amin Sabri.

A conversation with them is a roller coaster ride of poetry, and just like their music, their spoken words too brim with beauty of language, shayari, couplets of well known poets and the not so well known ones, some collected by them and many that came down through generations of Sabris.

“It is the company of the elders and Gurus that moulds the human being, and puts us on the right path. And, I was lucky that at a very young age, when my uncle saw I had some talent, he asked my father to keep me with him. My father Saeed Sabri, who was also my Guru was well respected.

Many eminent Sufi musicians like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Pakistan’s Ghulam Farid Sabri had high regard for him. Being with him not only taught me music, it also taught me the way of life. His company helped me not to get distracted by vices, and has kept me in good stead,” shared Farid Sabri.
Sabri is family of popular qawwals that belonged to Mathura and on request from Maharaja of Jaipur, who also gifted them a haweli, shifted to Jaipur. The Sabris of Mathura have also branched out to Pakistan at the time of partition and the legendary Ghulam Farid Sabri is the one who had spearheaded the qawwali tradition in Pakistan.

However, over a period of time many groups claiming to be Sabri Qawwals came about. “These days it is easy to sit and record a performance and reproduce; someone does the hard work, and someone else copies – however – it is the original art that lasts forever,” says the eldest of the Sabri Brothers.

Amongst the many deviations to Sufi music and Qawwali is the Bollywood style of a duel between a girl and a boy that at one point was beginning to be considered as the real Qawwali. In fact many think that qawwalis made centuries ago are film songs. It took a lot of effort to make people realise what true Qawwali is, says Farid Sabri.
“The filmi qawwalis were finding their way on to stage and were bordering on vulgarity. Sufi music and Qawwali is sung in praise of the elders, Guru and God. We guarded our inheritance. We too sing romantic lyrics. But ours is ruhaniyat – love for the almighty, love for our country, love for fellow human beings; it is not rumaniyat (physical).
We read poetry of Ghalib, Meer, Jigar, who have written in praise of women, but with respect. And when we read their poetry – the audience understands it the way they see it – It can seem aashiqaana or Sufiana. For example, when you say, Woh shahkaar hai har shaahkaar se bhad ke, kisika yaar nahi mere yaar se bhad ke…”
He quotes…
Main tho ghazal suna ke akela khada raha
Sab apne chaahne walon mein kho gaye
Sabri Brothers have performed all around the world, yet their hearts are in India, and Farid Sabri says, “Pyar, mohabbat, sukoon, chain ki saans, bas yahan milta hai.”
Yet, when our music gets recognition from other countries, it is indeed a proud moment for the musicians. The brothers relate one such experience when they were invited to Vienna to perform at a church.
“It was a ticketed event in a church and to our surprise; the church was filled up with audience. When we sang 1000-year-old qawwalis in Parsi and Arabic, we found the men and women sway and sing along as if in a trance, just like it happens in our dargahs. It was indeed a great experience.”
Evidently the message of Sufism is love for humanity, and it is this love that Sabri Brothers want to propagate through their music. No wonder, their music and poetry is interspersed with messages of equality and unity.

And they have devised a way to appease to the audience of the day, as they begin their concert with what the audience wants, and once they get the hang of the music, divert them towards sufiana – towards the real love of the soul. “When we perform, we talk and sing of country, of connecting hearts and oneness of religions.

“This love is needed in the life of a human being. And when it is in the nature of an individual to love, then it transforms to love for other human beings, for country and eventually for the divine that comes from within the soul. The man dies, but the soul is permanent,” says Ustad Amin Sabri.
First Published in The Hans India
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