By Azra Malik
Sunny Benjamin John, popularly known as S B John was a noted Pakistani ghazal singer. Born in October 1934, in Karachi to a Christian family. He studied at St Paul’s School. Inspired by his grandfather who was also a singer, S B John made his debut at the Radio Pakistan in 1950.
He rose to prominence after the release of his song ” Tu jo nahi ha toh kuch bhi nahi ha” for film savera in 1959. The song was a super hit across the border. S B John, became a household name overnight with his block buster song. This evergreen Pakistani classic was also sung by other singers too, but none of them sang like SB John, the original singer of the song.
During a conference, concerning minorities in Pakistan, more than fifty years ago, S B John placed a harmonium on the rostrum and sang in front of the then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and some of his ministers, a patriotic song, penned by Saqi Javed and composed by S B John.
“Ae arzz e watan to hi bata, ke teri sada per, kia hum ne kabhi farz se inkar kia ha ” There was a thunderous applause from the audience. The song was a question to a nation which had doubts about the loyalty of its minorities. Bhutto was stunned at the response and during the break time requested him to sing it again.
With the advent of Pakistan Television in 1960, he along with his two sons, Robin John and Donald John, who later became musicians, used to sing Gospel music on Christmas Eve on PTV.
His son Glenn John, also a singer, said about his dad that, he was an amazing father, old fashioned but there was a great friend in him. However he was a strict teacher when it came to music and was disciplined about art.
S B John was capable of singing in all genres yet his claim to fame is ghazal singing. He immortalised Ibn e Insha’s ghazal ” Kal chaudhvin ki raat thi ” which also became very popular.
He was not associated with any gharana of music and was among those singers of the country who had earned fame, solely through their hard work.
He also sang some romantic ghazals on stage, I searched for his ghazals on Google. While listening to them for the first time In his soothing voice, I was amazed at his richness of expression and the velvet quality in his voice having somewhat resemblance to Talat Mehmood’s voice. Some of the ghazals are .
* Hadse kaya kaya tumheri be- rukhi se ho gaye , sari duniya ke liye hum
ajnabi se ho gaye !
* Dekha unhain to apni tabiyat sanbhul gai !
* Raste bund kiye dete ho dewanon ke !
* Sajade e jazbaat mein woh nazuk muqam aya to kia karo gay !
* Mehke gayso rangeen anchal !
* Eik khalish ko hasle umre ra’ wan rehne dia !
I listened to all of them, simply superb, heart touching rendition!
Ranked in the list of the best ghazal singers of Pakistan, he was awarded ‘ Pride of Performance Award ‘ by the President of Pakistan in 2011 for his outstanding services in the field of music .
S B John spend most of his life in Karachi as he was more happy in the city where he was born. He was more concerned about the future of his children rather than his own career. With his passing on 5th June 2021, in Karachi. The city lost a talented son .He was the pride of Karachi ! RIP