S.B.John: Soulful sounds of music

By Anis Shakur
Tuesday – April 7, 2020
NEW YORK (United States): “Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom,” this proverb holds true to the great singer of the yesteryear, Sunny Benjamin John (S.B.John), who is popularly known as S.B.John, was born in 1934. He spent most of his life in Karachi, Pakistan.

Tu jo naheen hai to kuchh bhee naheen hai
Ye maana ke mehfil jawan hai haseen hai

Nigahoan mein tu hai ye dil jhoomta hai
Na janay mohabbat ki rahoan mein kya hai
Jo tu hum safar hai to kuchh gham naheen hai

Ye maana ke mehfil jawan hai haseen hai

Tu jo naheen hai to kuchh bhee naheen hai

Wo Aa yein na Aa yein jami hain nigahain
Sitaroan nay deikhi hain jhuk jhuk kay rahain
Ye dil bud gumaan hai nazar ko yaqeen hai

Ye maana kay mehfil jawan hai haseen hai

Tu jo naheen hai to kuchh bhee naheen hai

Accompanied by his wife and two sons namely Robin and Glenn John, S.B.John used to sing gospel on Christmas Eve, on Pakistani television.

Prominent singers like S.B.John who perform it best could still be heard joyously stretching and bending notes, breaking syllables and bouncing phrases back and forth.

S.B.John started singing on Radio Pakistan Karachi as an ‘A’ category artist. Side by side he also made his presence felt in various functions and stage shows held in Karachi.

S.B.John also sang Janab Rana Akbar Aabadi Sahab’s ghazal, ‘Uray hoash us dar pay janay say pehlay.’ Sohail Rana composed this ghazal at EMI Pakistan.

Around 1973, S.B.John introduced his son, Robin John, to Sohail Rana and said that he wishes to get his son a keyboard. Since young Robin remembered all his father’s songs. Robin was 7 or 8 years of age at the time.

15 years later, S.B.John again brought Robin to Sohail Rana. By that time Robin had grown up as a talented singer. Hence, Sohail Rana utilised Robin’s singing talents in Pakistani television shows, and also in private songs and the film recordings.

Additionally, Robin also toured United Arab Emirates (UAE), Turkey and United States of America (USA) with Sohail Rana and participated in the musical programs.

Nowadays, Robin lives in USA. Hopefully, his parents will join him soon.

While recording the ghazal below S.B.John might have envisioned music sweeping Pakistan:

‘Kal chaudween ki raat thee, shab bhar raha churcha tera,’ Poet, Ibne Insha.

Kal chaudween ki raat thee, shab bhar raha churcha tera,
kuchh nay kaha ye chand hai, kuchh nay kaha chehra tera
kal chaudween ki raat thee

Hum bhee waheen maujood thay, hum say bhee sub pucha kiye
hum chup rahay, hum hans diye manzoor tha parda tera
kal chaudween ki raat thee

S.B.John’s music mastery marked the undisputed triumph of the formula, exemplified best—surprise!

S.B.John achieved lofty heights through ghazals like the one below:

‘Teray milnay kay zamanay Aaye, teri baatain he sunanay Aaye,’ Poet, Ahmed Faraz.

Presumably, it never occurred to S.B.John that his name will become synonymous with the song below. In my minds eye, I conjure the recording of that song as vividly as I was there:

‘Tu jo naheen hai to kuchh bhee naheen hai, ye mana keh mehfil jawan hai haseen,’ the 1959 film ‘Sawera,’ Music composer, Master Manzoor Hussain, lyrics, Fayyaz Hashmi, pictured on Kamal, Shamim Ara-Kamal played the lead.

47 years down the line, this song is as much in demand as if it were recorded yesterday. Alas! To this day, no one could come up with the explanation as to what is so special about this song.

But we don’t need a logical explanation. Some things should remain mysterious. The wistful magic of S.B.John is, indeed, one of them.

Info: Eminent storyteller, Anis Shakur, is a Pakistani born United States (US) citizen. He works for the US federal and State government. He resides at a stone-throw distance from the darting shores of the Atlantic ocean in New York, for the past three decades.