Remembering Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: The Irreplaceable Qawwal Extraordinaire

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, also known as Shahenshah  -e- Qawwali, which literally translates in English as ‘The emperor of qawaals’, was born on 13th October, 1948 in Faisalabad. Nusrat’s father, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan and his uncle, Mubarak Ali khan were one of the leading qawwals of their times. The Khans family had a tradition of consistently performing Qawwali for the past 600 years. Nusrat‘s forefathers were inhabitants of Ghazni, a place in Afghanistan and migrated to India during the reign of Mahmud Ghaznavi. According to Herald, the family initially settled in “Basti Sheikh’ in Jullundhar. This is where they learnt singing and later adopted music as their full time profession.

As time passed by, the Qawwal family gained prominence due to the outstanding members of their family such as; Sahibdad, Khaliqdad, Kaloo Khan and others. Nusrat’s father, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan and uncle Mubarak Ali Khan gained prominence owing to their hard work and by learning every form of music.

Nusrat was inclined to music from an early age, though his father wanted him to study medicine and become a doctor. His music training began at the age of seven but Nusrat formally started singing when he reached the age of 13. Nusrat initially learnt tabla and later the raag (tune) Vedia however, his personal favorite raga (tunes) were Aiman Kolyoon, Gujjari, Desi Todi, Darbari Lalit. According to Hindustan Times, Nusrat publicly performed for the first time at his father’s funeral ceremony in 1965. After the death of his father, he started receiving music training from his uncle Mubarak Ali Khan. He made strenuous effort to reach excellence and therefore he usually spent 10 hours a day practicing music with his uncle.

Nusrat initially gained recognition for his Qawwali and later switched to Ghazals - a classical form of music. Nusrat in his interview to the Herald admitted that he gained admiration as a classical singer after performing classical music at his father’s anniversary, radio, TV and concerts.  Nusrat was invited to India for the first time in 1980 to perform at Rishi Kapoor’s wedding and was greatly admired for his extraordinary talent.  Pirre- Alain Baud in his book Nusrat: The voice of faith, mentions that Nusrat started his international career formally in 1985. His first musical performance was at the” world of Music Arts and dance festival” at Mersea Island in England.  After this, Nusrat had no looking back and performed at all leading music festivals around the world. Baud, in his book has stated that Nusrat’s ability of blending eastern and western music was what inspired artists such as Pater Gabriel and Michael Brook to collaborate with him. The music collaboration of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan with these renowned western artists not only received worldwide critical acclaim but also created a new style of music. Nusrat attributed his success to his decision of experimenting with all forms of music. He also considered himself to be an all –rounder in music as he enjoyed performing all forms of melodies. According to “Hindustan Times”, Peter Gabriel’s Real World label had released five albums of Nusrat’s Qawwali performances including his experimental work Mustt Mustt.  His concerts would be packed to full-houses, even in European countries. Nusrat, before his death had provided his vocals for Jonathan Elias’s The Prayer Cycle but unfortunately died before finishing it. Later, Alanis Morissette was asked to complete the unfinished project.

Nusrat had composed music for several Pakistani films.  Shortly before his death he had recorded two songs for a Bollywood film. The world famous Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was presented with the prestigious Life time achievement award in Japan, France and Pakistan. His name has also been included in the Guinness Book of world Records as he gave the “largest output to Qawwali” by recording 125 albums.  Some of his most famous songs include Afreen Afreen, Akhiyan Udeek Diyan and Koi Jane Koi Na Jane from the Bollywood film Aur Pyar Hoi Gaya.

 Nusrat, unfortunately had a kidney and liver failure.  He was admitted in Cornwell hospital London and died on 11th August, 1997 after having a sudden cardiac arrest. His death was mourned by millions of people around the world and his songs are still heard till this very day. He was succeeded by his nephew Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.  Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan used rhythm and melody in such a way that no other singer could ever do. He will always be remembered as a true world famous legend and a gem of our society.

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