Ya Habib

Sabri Brothers, 1990

'O Beloved' is the translated title of this classic Qawwali album by a classic Qawwali ensemble. The Sabri Brothers are Pakistan's best known, phenomenally successful family of devotional singers, hailing from Kalyana in the East Punjab and with over 30 years of sung religious poetry behind them. Recorded, as if in concert, at Real World Studios (and capturing their trademark humorous flourishes), 'Ya Habib' consists of four long songs, each combining powerful, sensitive, often improvised vocals with rhythmic percussion, thudding tabla and mesmeric harmonium drones.

Backed by their five instrumental accompanists, the four Sabris - whose lineage stretches back to the 16th century to the revered Mian Tansen, a singer at Emperor Akbar's court - are led by the soaring voices of the late Haji Ghulam Farid Sabri, whose periodic refrain of 'Allah' between songs has become a Sabri signature, and his younger brother Haji Maqbool Sabri. Both are internationally respected for their raw, energetic, highly original style in delivering popular numbers from the traditional Qawwali repertoire, and a distinctive percussion style. This, in combination with a direct and magnetic live presence, makes for a wholly unique musical experience - to which the thousands of aficionados who have seen the troupe perform at WOMAD festivals will testify. Many consider the Sabris instrumentally more adventurous, rougher and more soulful than Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's Party. Whichever, the stature of both in Pakistan is colossal.

The Sabri Brothers make music as a conduit for divine expression, summed up in the vision of the Beloved evoked when singing Nudrat's (sic) 'Kali Kamaliya Wale':

"The wish that keeps me alive is you/The world that we live in is you/O the beloved one of Allah, you have come to show us the way/The right way/The way of peace, of love, of humanity/The way to God."

Never has inspiration sounded so sweet. It is said a good Qawwal transfers ecstasy and joy to the audience. The Sabri Brothers offer the listener all of this and more.