Ghulam Farid Sabri (1930 - April 5, 1994) was a major Qawwali singer, and a leading member of the Sabri Brothers, a leading qawwali group.
He was born in Kalyana, a village in the district of Rohtak in East Punjab, British India in 1930. His family's musical lineage stretches back several centuries, to the age of the Mughal emperors. His family claims direct descent from Mian Tansen, the legendary musician of the court of Akbar the Great. Mehboob Baksh Ranji Ali Rang, his paternal grandfather, was a master musician of his time; Baqar Hussein Khan, his maternal grandfather, was a unique sitarist. His family belongs to the Sabriyya order of Sufism, hence the surname Sabri.
Haji Ghulam Farid Sabri was raised in Gwalior. In his youth, he wanted to turn away from the world and live in the wilderness. However, his mother's stern rebuke turned him back to his responsibilities. At the age of six, Ghulam Farid commenced his formal instruction in music under his father, Inayat Sen Sabri. Ghulam Farid Sabri was instructed in North Indian classical music and Qawwali. He was also instructed in the playing of the harmonium. His first public performance was at the annual Urs festival of the Sufi saint Mubarak Shah in Kalyana in 1946. Following the Partition of India in 1947, his family was uprooted from their native town and was transported to a refugee camp in Karachi, Pakistan.
Conditions in the camp 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 scourges of tuberculosis and dysentery. Ghulam Farid found a job by carrying hods of bricks for the government house building or by breaking rocks to build roads. At night, almost single-handedly, he built his own house, brick by brick, to shelter his family. Eventually, he became ill. Worn out, he was told by a physician that due to the condition of his lungs, he would never again have the strength to sing. In despair, he went to his father for advice and the advice he was given was uncompromisingly tough. Every night for the next two years, he would have to sit in the middle of the camp for four to five hours making zikr. All those days he bore the scars of beatings with wood and stones thrown by his tired, sleepless neighbours and brawls he was in when they were determined to stop him; but he would not be deterred and, as time went by, his lungs grew stronger and his magnificent voice was formed. Soon, Ghulam Farid started to mix with a small group of people who appreciated Qawwali.
He then joined Ustad Kallan Khan's Qawwali party. Soon after, a wealthy businessman approached him and offered him a partnership in a nightclub, yet Ghulam Farid's reply was that he only wanted to sing Qawwali, and he rejected the offer. Shortly after, in 1956, Ghulam Farid joined his brother Maqbool Ahmed Sabri Qawwali ensemble, and they came to be known as The Sabri Brothers. They became widely acclaimed for their singing. Their first recording, released in 1958 under the EMI Pakistan label, was a popular hit called Mera Koi Nahin Hai. Their Qawwalis are very popular even till today. The most listened Qawwalis are Bhardo Jholi Meri Ya Muhammad, Sarela Makan Se Talab Hui, Taajdar-e-Haram, Saqiya Aur Pila. There are numerous Qawwalis to be listed. They have sung many Qawwalis in Persian like Nami Danam Che Manzil Boodh, Chashm-e-Mast-e-Ajabe, etc. of Hazrat Amir Khusro and also Man Kunto Maula and Rang of Hazrat Amir Khusro. They have also sung a Kalaam of Imam Ahmed Raza Khan which is in four languages—Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and Hindi. The kalaam is Lam Yaati Nazeeruka Fee Nazarin. This can be read in the website:
The group became the first exponents of Qawwali to the West in 1975, when it performed at New York's Carnegie Hall. Their career was marked by brotherly squabbles which led to periods of solo work by each, but they always reconciled and reunited. Ghulam Farid Sabri died on April 5, 1994 in Liaquatabad, following a massive heart attack. He died en route to a hospital and beside him was his beloved brother, Maqbool Ahmed. His funeral was attended by approximately 40,000 mourners. He was buried at Paposh Qabristan, in nearby Nazimabad. His humble white grave is situated near his father's grave in a peaceful courtyard. Ghulam Farid Sabri was survived by his wife, five sons, three of whom are Amjad Farid Sabri, Azmat Farid Sabri, and Sarwat Farid Sabri, and six daughters.
Ghulam Farid Sabri is renowned as one of the foremost Qawwals of his time, forever grateful for the ability to sing. He possessed a deep and powerful voice and presented the wajad energy during his performances. He is acknowledged as a deeply religious man, yet a warm, simple man with a great sense of humour, who lived for his family and friends. Shortly before his death, he began growing a beard. Ghulam Farid Sabri had been initiated into the Warsiyya order of Sufism by Amber Shah Warsi. The name bestowed upon him was Alam Shah Warsi.
Ghulam Farid Sabri lived in the heavily congested and overpopulated Pakistani suburb of Liaquatabad. At night, Ghulam Farid Sabri lay on his bed listening to the sounds of surrounding lanes and alleyways. His sleep was minimal and his night was filled with constant zikr, made using his 1000 bead tasbih. He wore this tasbih around his neck during recordings and live performances.
Ghulam Farid Sabri initiated his sons into classical music at a young age. His eldest son, Amjad Farid Sabri, recalls: "The hardest part was being awoken at 4:00 AM. Most riyaz is done in Raag Bhairon and this is an early morning raag. My mother would urge our father to let us be but he would still awake us. Even if we had slept at midnight, he would get us out of bed, instruct us to make wuzu, perform tahajjud prayers, and then take out the baja. And he was correct in doing so because if a raag is rendered at the correct time, the performer himself enjoys it to the fullest".