After His Assassination, A Pakistani Artist's Family Keeps His Song Alive The famed qawwali singer Amjad Sabri was shot down last month in Karachi, Pakistan, apparently by the Taliban. The vocalist's family is pledging to keep his home a refuge of, and for, music.
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After His Assassination, A Pakistani Artist's Family Keeps His Song Alive

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After His Assassination, A Pakistani Artist's Family Keeps His Song Alive

After His Assassination, A Pakistani Artist's Family Keeps His Song Alive

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  • Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The Taliban are famous for fighting a war against music. In Pakistan, they have burned down CD shops and attacked musicians. Yet, as NPR's Philip Reeves reports, hardliners, the Taliban and other Islamist extremists, are encountering stubborn opposition from some of their victims.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

AMJAD SABRI: (Singing in foreign language).

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: It's been about a month since this voice was silenced.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

AMJAD SABRI: (Singing in foreign language).

REEVES: Amjad Sabri was shot dead in his home city of Karachi by two men on a motorcycle. His millions of fans are still in shock and anger. So are his family.

SARWAT SABRI: Anger is becoming a very small word for this. I am beyond this.

REEVES: Sabri's oldest brother, Sarwat, hopes the police will soon arrest the culprits.

S SABRI: Bring the mastermind, not the hanky-panky killer, you know? - the person behind them, behind the scene.

REEVES: Sarwat Sabri has a lot of questions for his brother Amjad's killer.

S SABRI: Why did you do it? Are you doing it for God, for evil - Or for a man, for money? And he has to give the answer to the whole nation - not only the nation, the whole world now. Because the whole world is listening.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

AMJAD SABRI: (Singing in foreign language).

REEVES: This is what made Amjad Sabri world famous, Qawwali. It's devotional music linked with Sufism, a mystical variant of Islam deeply entwined with the traditions of South Asia. Amjad Sabri was a brilliant performer and a pioneer.

At Sabri's family home in the back streets of Karachi, visitors still flood in every day to pay their condolences. An entire wall is devoted to a portrait of Amjad's father, a legendary Qawwali singer. We're met by Amjad's brothers. They include Talha Fareed, who performed alongside Amjad for many years.

TALHA FAREED SABRI: He was like my father. I am still in shock. I feel he's just coming in here. I feel he is just coming.

REEVES: Relatives have come here from far and wide.

MOHAMMAD TAHA: We are proud that we were related to him. We are proud to be his family.

REEVES: Mohammad Taha, who's 15, flew in from his home in London to mourn his Uncle Amjad.

MOHAMMAD: The thing I don't get, thought - who would want to hate him? He loved the world. The world loved him. But there's always a hater. Where there's friends, there's always enemies as well.

REEVES: Those haters and enemies include the Taliban. Soon after Sabri was shot, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban said it did it. Sabri's family aren't sure that's true. Yet there's no doubt their form of Sufi Islam, with its emphasis on spreading faith through music, is anathema to hardline Islamists. Sarwat Sabri says their faith is all about tolerance.

S SABRI: Our message is for humanity. It's not for the one sect. It's not for the one religion. It's for the - all human.

REEVES: Then, as we're sitting and talking, something strange happens.

AZMAT SABRI: (Singing in foreign language).

REEVES: The Sabri family starts singing.

AZMAT SABRI: (Singing in foreign language).

REEVES: NPR didn't ask them to. It was kind of spontaneous.

AZMAT SABRI: (Singing in foreign language).

REEVES: Amjad Sabri's brother Azmat starts. Younger brother Talha Fareed joins him for a duet.

AZMAT SABRI AND TALHA FAREED SABRI: (Singing in foreign language).

REEVES: Then, it's Amjad's Uncle Mehmood's turn.

MEHMOOD SABRI: (Singing in foreign language).

REEVES: There's a message behind this. Amjad Sabri's home is a house of mourning right now, but it will always be a house of music that will not be silenced by violence.

S SABRI: We are not scared of anything. We're not scared of anything.

REEVES: The next generation of Sabris also don't seem scared. Amjad's sons and nephews are busy learning Qawwali, says Sarwat Sabri.

How many of them are learning to sing or perform?

S SABRI: All of them.

(CROSSTALK)

S SABRI: And all of them very talented.

REEVES: Bilawal Sabri, who's 12, is happy to prove that point...

BILAWAL SABRI: (Singing in foreign language).

REEVES: ...With one of Uncle Amjad's songs.

BILAWAL: (Singing in foreign language)...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

AMJAD SABRI: (Singing in foreign language).

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Karachi.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

AMJAD SABRI: (Singing in foreign language).

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