There are old, soulful musicians. Some of them are still alive today. Others were at the height of their time 50-70 years ago and their music still has soul and is alive in a way that has a tinge of magic attached to it. By that token, they have been considered to be at least one step closer to the divine. The greatest of the old, soulful musicians who are no more in their physical body have left a great, powerful mark on the world of music. Such a man was Ustad Sabri Khan.
He belonged to the Senia Moradabad Gharana, which means to say a musical line said to originate with the court singer Mian Tansen, and therefore the soubriquet “senia”. Some of Tansen’s descendants went to become great musicians in the field of sarod, vocalism and also sarangi. Ustad Sabri Khan’s lineage is said to originate with this line of sarangi players. The sarangi players in turn created different musical styles, which amongst others became the Moradabad Gharana, which can be traced back to the 18th century in its present form. Ustad Sabri Khan in turn became the khalifah, or head of this musical lineage.
He was born in to a family of musicians, being the 6th generation of sarangi players. He was trained by his father Chajju Khan and also the then very respected Laddan Khan. He matured in to being one of the greatest musicians of his generation, and even one of the greatest musicians in the past century.
It would almost seem that he received inspiration from the Divine and then expressing it through the medium of his sarangi. He became united with the sarangi, so much so that one could not say “sarangi” without saying “Sabri Khan” and vice versa. As he was such a great musician, receiving a word of musical encouragement as an example, was a blessing. I had the fortune to speak to him on the phone. I felt that as a blessing.
Later, I had the fortune to do the shagirdi, or discipleship-ceremony with his son. Within such a ceremony a shakar dori is sung. A shakar dori is a 4 line verse, either set to rhythm without a melody or set to a specific musical mode. This was set to the musical mode of Malkauns, which he himself had sung. It was recorded and then played at the ceremony. This was so that there would be blessings through listening to his voice. So it was expressed.
This is generally how old, venerable musicians in India, Afghanistan and Pakistan are viewed – as having some kind of magical powers which are expressed through the medium of music, and therefore believed to possess some form of magical energy. Sabri Khan was also a very religious man – music being his way to Unity with the Divine. In his last years he didn’t touch music very much, instead constantly praying for everyone, every hour that he was awake. He would sit in a chair with his rosary, accumulating prayers. One of my spiritual teachers lays great focus on the practice of being the first to do something, so as to grow to a higher level as a human being.
Ustad Sabri Khan’s achievement was the fact that he elevated his instrument in to a medium for solo expression, rather than just keeping it a medium of accompaniment – a position that the sarangi had been in, traditionally. His music and his kind personality have left a great, powerful mark on the world of music. He is still alive when one listens to his music.
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