Ya Habib

The Sabri Brothers

Released 20 May 1990

  1. Saqia Aur Pila
  2. Ya Sahib-Ul-Jamal
  3. Allah Hi Allah Tan Mein Tar
  4. Kali Kamaliya Wale

Liner notes

Qawwali (from Arabic, meaning utterance) is the devotional music (sama) of the Sufis, the mystics of Islam – ‘The divine message which stirs the heart to seek God’.  For both performer and listener Qawwali is a method of worship, a means of intensifying love of God, of inducing a mystical ecstasy connecting directly to the Beloved – the core of the Sufi experience.  What is most essential to Sufism cannot be learned; it can only be reached by direct experience, ecstasy and inner transformation.

The extraordinarily rich, varied and subtle imagery should not be misunderstood – the seemingly sensual implies the spiritual: the Beloved is god, or the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH); wine is the knowledge and love of God; the tavern is the heart; physical beauty is the mirror of divine illumination.

Qawwali is sung in many languages, originally Farsi (Persian), Turkish and Arabic, then in Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Sindi and other languages of India and Pakistan.  Universal to all these languages is the name of Allah – and the strong, driving rhythmic base of the music suggests the ceaselessly repeated sound of Allah’s name.  Over this, the lines are first sung by a soloist then repeated and emphasised by the chorus.  Slowly building in intensity, a powerful atmosphere is generated in which performers and audience are drawn together.  Members of the audience dance – some spin into trance-like stares, others shower the Qawwalis with fistful of paper money.  The greatness of Qawwals is determined by their ability to create this atmosphere, building a bridge between the finite and the infinite, allowing an audience to touch the liberation of their own spirit and to sense and be filled with the presence of God.

Photo credit: Francis Drake.

Whilst the poetry is all important to the Sufi, the passion and intensity of the music also have the power to move someone who cannot understand the words, seeming to touch the heart and stir the spirit directly, causing an intoxication, a rapturous joy and an understanding which speaks in a transcendent language.

The stories tell us that Qawwali was born in the 12th century, when the great Sufi saint Hazrat Moinuddin Chisti (buried at Ajmer, India) first came to bring the message of Islam to the Hindus of India.  Seeing how people loved their own devotional music (bhajans) much more than his discourses, he realised that the way to their hearts was to sing the praises of Allah.  He was, of course, drawing on a long tradition of ecstatic, joyful and mystical singing, reaching back over two centuries to the early traditions of Turko-Persian mystics.  This rich heritage, drawing both on the great Sufi saints, such as Amir Khusro, and on anonymous folk contributors, has built the formidable range and diversity which is the Qawwali poetry of today.

The Sabri Brothers. Photo credit: Francis Drake.

The Sabri Brothers are Pakistan’s foremost and best loved Qawwals.  For over thirty years they have thrilled audiences all over the world with their stunning virtuosity and brilliant exposition; with the tremendous power, subtlety, and sensitive beauty of their singing.

Their musical lineage stretches back over many centuries, and their vocation has been passes down through generations of great musicians.  They began their training at the age of five with their father, Ustad Inayat Kahn.  In 1947, after the partition of India, the family came to Pakistan.  Suffering the many hardships of those times they were not daunted and continued to sing, first with their father and uncle, and later forming their own group.  Their first record in 1958 propelled them to fame in Pakistan.  Since then they have made numerous recordings and won many awards and prizes both in their own country and worldwide.

They live very simply in Karachi, in the manner of the Sufi of the fakir.  Such are the respect and recognition in which they are held that everyone knows the way to their door and a letter addressed ‘Sabri Brothers, Pakistan’ seems to find its destination with ease.


Further Listening

  • Shahen Shah

    Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

    Released 05 June 1989

    The emotional intensity and soaring power of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s voice transcends all boundaries of language and religion, and has popularised Sufi music beyond Muslim peoples to audiences worldwide. Amongst Real World Records’ most emblematic artists, Nusrat was known as Shahen-Shah-e-Qawwali: The Brightest Shining Star in Qawwali.
  • Day of Colours

    Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali

    Released 02 March 2004

    Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali come into their own with a new-found maturity in their voices and a profundity in their approach that not only maintains and furthers a family tradition but develops their own identity as singers and breathes fresh life into a centuries-old style that has today become one of the glories of modern world music.

Further reading

Real World Records to release ‘lost album’ by the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Discovered in the label's archives, the album captures the singer at the height of his vocal powers.

The Zawose Queens announce tour and share ‘Mapendo’ from forthcoming album Maisha

Pendo & Leah Zawose will perform at festivals including Glastonbury Festival and WOMAD.

Real World Sessions: Owen Spafford & Louis Campbell, 5 December 2023

New folk duo Owen Spafford & Louis Campbell visited the studio to record a new EP for Real World X.

Track of the day: ‘IWAIWA FUNK’ by Bab L’ Bluz

French-Moroccan power quartet Bab L' Bluz, release the third track from their album Swaken.