I've been maintaining this blog (for better or for worse) over the last eight years. Over these years, its natural evolution has led it into becoming something of a niche place for discussion of music in general and Qawwali in particular. Rather than trying to return my existing blog to its pre-Qawwali eclectic roots, I decided I’d start anew on Tumblr. So if you’re interested in music, Qawwali and subcontinental culture, keep reading/listening/watching/commenting here. For all of the above and everything else under the sun, head on over to my Tumblr page .

Thursday, September 16, 2010

...Of Haji Ghulam Fareed

 YouTube is the greatest thing since bread came sliced. The ideal fodder for procrastination as well as a treasure trove of rarities, nostalgia trips and all-round awesomeness. The following videos were the start of one of such nostalgia trips and I thought I'd share them here.

 Haji Ghulam Fareed Sabri, the elder of the Sabri Brothers, was one of the greatest Qawwals of the last century and with his younger brother Haji Maqbool Ahmed Sabri, was instrumental in gaining a mainstream audience for Qawwali. With a repertoire at par with his other great contemporary, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Haji Ghulam Fareed and the Sabri Brothers were THE face of Qawwali for well over 30 years. Maintaining a classical andaaz while at the same time innovating over the years, the Sabri Brothers were consummate performers. Like Nusrat, they were woefully over-recorded with a lot of amateurishly produced material available easily. However their recordings over the years for EMI Pakistan are exemplary for their wonderful instrumentation and exceptional adaaigi.

Haji Ghulam Fareed was more than just a performer, being a scholar, and in the last days of his life, a Sufi himself. He was the epitome of what we can call - for want of a better word - 'presence'. His flowing locks, his under-the-breath intonations and the trademark calls of 'Allah' that punctuated the Sabri Brothers performances were charming flourishes that lent his work a more mystical tone. But Haji sahab's greatest asset was his voice. He had a distinctive booming, barrel-organ voice that never sounded out of key and could hit notes as high as the sky one momentwhile navigating intricate alaaps the very next.

Haji Sahab passed away on the 5th of April 1940 in Karachi of a massive heart attack. The following program was aired on PTV a few days after his demise.

 A relic of a time when the passing of a culturally significant artist was a national event, this program is touching because of the genuine displays of grief by Haji Sahab's family. Haji Maqbool's tearful recollection of Haji sahab's last moments is a tragic yet beautiful reminder that although they had their fair share of brotherly squabbles, the two Sabri brothers shared a deep love for each other. This video is also significant as it contains interviews of all three stalwarts of the Qawwal Bacchon Ka Gharana-two of whom have since then sadly passed away. While all three brothers-Munshi Raziuddin, Ustad Bahauddin and Manzoor Niazi- offer their condolences and appraise the contribution of Haji sahab in the field of Qawwali, Munshi Raziuddin's comments are particularly interesting.

Maybe it's just me, but I sense a thinly veiled disdain in Munshi sahab's comments regarding the 'populist' nature of the Sabri Brothers repertoire. This would be understandable coming from Munshi sahab as he was the standard-bearer for the more traditional and classical Qawwali idiom, even if it meant significantly less commercial acclaim as compared to his more 'populist' compeers, apart from a rather limited discerning audience. Munshi sahab was known for his dislike of the various 'innovations' that the likes of Nusrat had introduced into Qawwali and maybe that dislike extended to the Sabris.

Haji Ghulam Fareed started actively performing a short time before partition at the mazaar of Hazrat Ali Ahmed Sabir (R.A) with his uncle Kallan Khan Qawwal. Around seven years after partition he joined the Qawwal party his younger brother had started and the Sabri Brothers started. From some of the gramophone recordings of Kallan Qawwal and Party we can get a glimpse of the precocious talent that Haji Ghulam Fareed Sabri possessed. His voice -although not as voluminous as in his later days- is distinctive and his vocal stylings offer a stunning peek into his future exploits with the Sabri Brothers. I'd like to end this piece with one of Kallan Qawwal and Party's gramophone recordings from the late 1940s in which Haji Ghulam Fareed's distinctive voice is unmissable. Following that are the Sabri Brothers at their - if I may use the term - grooviest. The beat is amazing, the baja is played with remarkable elan and Haji Ghulam Fareed looks dashing sans his locks.


P.S I'd give an arm and a leg for the the complete versions of the two Qawwalis shown in the above videos.

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