Hadji Ghulam Farid Sabri
This is the story of Haji Ghulam Farid Sabri, a famous 'Qawwal' (a singer
of Qawwali) who passed away only four years ago.
Qawwali is the religious music of the Sufis, the mystical expression of
Islam. Singers and scholars of Qawwali can trace the origins of the songs
back to early Persia, and the art is handed down from father to son over
many generations. Haji Ghulam Farid Sabri came from such a family and since
he was six had studied under the great masters in order to carry on that
During the partition of India, when Ghulam Farid was about 25, he and his
family were uprooted from their native town in the Punjab and were
transported to a refugee camp in Pakistan.
Conditions in the camps were woeful, food was scarce and expensive, and the
rewards for hard work were barely enough to sustain life, malnutrition was
rife and brought with it the scourges of tuberculosis and dysentery.
Ghulam Farid found work by day carrying hods of bricks for government house
building or by breaking rocks to build roads. At night, almost single
handed, built his own house, brick by brick, to shelter his parents and his
younger brothers and sisters. Eventually - like most others in the camps -
he fell sick. Worn out, he was told by a doctor that due to the condition
of his lungs, he would never again have the strength to sing Qawwali.
In dispair Ghulam Farid went to his father for counsel, and that counsel
was uncompromisingly tough.
"To be able to sing Qawwali is a gift from Allah. If Allah does not will it
you will not sing" he was told. "If however you can make Allah listen to
you and see that you are fit, he might grant you that gift." So Ghulam
Farid set out to make Allah listen to him. Every night for the next two
years, when everyone else was asleep, he would sit in the middle of the
camp for 4-5 hours singing the name of Allah over and over again, as
powerfully and beautifully as he could.
All his days he bore the scars of beatings with wood and stones thrown by
his tired, sleepless neighbours, and the fights he got into when they were
determined to stop him; but he would not be deterred, and as time went on
his lungs grew stronger and his magnificent voice was formed.
Soon Ghulam Farid began to gather around him a small following of people
who appreciated Qawwali. One day, a rich business man approached him and
offered him a partnership in a night-club, but Farid's reply was that all
he wanted to do was to sing Qawwali, and he rejected the offer. Shortly
after that, his fortunes turned, he formed a group with his brother and
together they began to be widely acclaimed for their singing. The Sabri
Brothers took Qawwali to many countries and were the first to introduce it
to a Western audience amazing them with the power of their ability to
uplift and inspire others.
Today Haji Ghulam Farid Sabri, is renowned all over the world as the
foremost Qawwal of his time and is acknowledged as a deeply religious man,
yet a warm simple man with a great sense of humour, who lived in and for
his own connections, forever grateful to Allah for the gift of Qawwali. In
live performance the unseen attendence was often formidable, the ecstatic
joy of his dedication can still be heard in his recordings. To hear him
sing the name of Allah is to feel the uplifting presence of a religious
essence that had been devotedly summoned for over 30 years.