Amjad Sabri: The Man Who Wouldn’t Take Money To Sing In Praise Of Pakistan
I used to work for Geo News, and remember meeting Amjad Sabri a few times. One occasion where I got to spend some time with him was when we did a national anthem project. The concept was to record and shoot the anthem with leading singers of Pakistan and release it on Independence Day.
If I remember correctly, the year was 2009. It was a Geo Entertainment project, but since the management knew that I was a musician they roped me in. My job was to line up all the artistes and record them.
While developing the concept, I thought if the idea was to air the anthem as the channel’s contribution to celebrating independence, I may be able to bring many if not all artistes on board for free. On the other hand, I thought it would be unfair to the singers if the channel eventually sold it to a brand or got sponsors.
The higher management devised a strategy to pay whoever asked for a reasonable amount, negotiate with those who asked for more, and promise even more in the event of the project ending up getting sponsors.
When I phoned Sabri, he not only agreed readily, but unlike most of the other artistes (actually all the other artistes), refused to accept any money for the job. When I asked him to at least quote a price in case we managed to get a sponsor, he snapped
“Abey bhenchod, apnay mulk ka ‘Qaumi Taranah’ gaanay ke paisay loon? Tum jisko marzi becho, main nahin lunga paisay (Look, sisterfucker, you think I’ll take money to sing my own national anthem? I don’t care what you sell, I won’t take money). “
I became a big fan of his when we met for the audio recording in a studio in Sadar, Karachi. I have met few stars possessing such humility. When I requested that he being a qawwal, it would be great if he could sing an octave higher, he said, “Take as many takes as you like; I’m here and will do it till you are satisfied. I will happily do harmonies as well if you play the note in my headphone.”
We lost a lovely man who sang Pakistan’s national anthem from his heart and refused to accept money for it.
Before he went into the booth for the vocals, and afterwards when we were waiting for his car to pick him up, I found out how much fun he was to be around. Although he was a Karachiite, he had a very Punjabi sense of humor, not that it’s necessarily superior — only one of the reasons why I enjoyed his company so much more.
“Bhenchod” was his takia kalaam (leitmotif), and it seemed he sincerely believed it was your name too. While he was as sober as a judge, he was genuinely high on life, something possible only if you are loved by people around you. I found it impossible to be around him and not laugh my head off.
He was a huge RD Burman fan and knew numerous Ghalib couplets by heart.
I did meet him after that but I am not aware of his religious beliefs, or what he thought about qawwali as a music genre, and whether some qawwalis weren’t Shariah-compliant. Neither am I aware of his views on the Pak Sarzameen Party and the rest. To me, we lost a lovely man who sang Pakistan’s national anthem from his heart and refused to accept money for it.