It was heartening to see almost the entire family of Amjad Sabri, the distinguished qawwal who was shot dead last year on June 22, to turn up at an event held in his memory on Thursday night at the Arts Council of Pakistan Karachi.

His mother, wife, children and brothers not only participated in the programme but wholeheartedly appreciated the qawwal groups that performed on the occasion.

The provincial ministry for culture collaborated with the council in organising the event. Addressing the audience, after Farid Ayaz and Abu Mohammad had performed two beautiful pieces of qawwali, the minister of culture Syed Sardar Shah lamented that Sabri was being referred to as marhum (late). “He’s not dead. He is among us, and listening to us. People like him don’t pass away. Those who kill them die.”

He said that he and the Arts Council’s president, Ahmed Shah had thought that the tribute should be held on June 22 but since it would have been the last ashra of Ramazan the event was arranged a week early.

Mr Shah said when chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari visited Amjad Sabri’s home, he had made a commitment that he’d make a qawwali institute named after Sabri. He said as per the recently announced budget Amjad Sabri Qawwali Institute has come into being (“Amjad Sabri Qawwali Institute bunn chuka hai”) and will start functioning in August.

He claimed now the art form had the support of an institute and hoped that the Arts Council would assist in coming up with a syllabus for the purpose. At that juncture, Ahmed Shah sought Farid Ayaz’s views on the idea and the renowned qawwal responded by saying he would love to lend a helping hand to the setup in any capacity he could.

Earlier, the tribute show began with M. Wasi Nizami qawwal party’s rendition of the qaul ‘Mann kuntu maula’. Their second performance was ‘Hamein to mast kia’.

Next up were Jugnu Farid qawwal. Their opening act was ‘Tu kuja mann’ which they followed up with ‘Main mureed haan Ali ka’. Both groups were good.But the evening was elevated to another level as soon as Farid Ayaz and Abu Mohammad took the stage. Before their performance, Ayaz spoke to the audience (as he usually does) in his distinct wisdom-bestowing style. He said it’s conventional to organise an event in someone’s memory but far better to give him a place in your heart [so that he could be remembered forever]. He said despite the [adverse] circumstances that he faced, Amjad Sabri remained steadfast in his life.

The eminent duo started their performance with ‘Qaseeda Burda Sharif’. It was a masterful rendition which had the audience’s undivided attention. They were showered with both praise and requests to present famous kalaam, especially Hazrat Amir Khusrau’s. They obliged as the next piece was Khusrau’s super popular ‘Chhap tilak sub chheeni’. It was a spiritually enriching experience listening to them.

Originally published in Dawn, June 17th, 2017