Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (نصرت فتح على خاں, born October 13 1948, died August 16, 1997), was a Pakistani musician, primarily a singer of Qawwali, the devotional music of the Sufis (a mystical tradition within Islam). He featured in Time magazine's 2006 list of 'Asian Heroes'.
Traditionally, qawwali has been a family affair, passed down through the generations. Nusrat's family has an unbroken tradition of performing qawwali for the last 600 years. Among other honorary titles bestowed upon him, Nusrat was called Shahenshah-e-Qawwali, meaning The Emperor of Qawwali.
Qawwali had traditionally been passed down through the generations of a family, with Nusrat's family having enjoyed an unbroken tradition of performing Qawwali for approximatley 600 years. Nusrat's father was initially reluctant to allow him to enter the family business, instead hoping his son would become a doctor or an engineer, having felt Qawwals had a low social status. However, Nusrat's enthusiasm for Qawwali eventually persuaded his father to train him in the art. Nusrat began by learning to play tabla alongside his father before progressing to learn Raag Vidya and Bolbandish. He then went on to learn to sing within the classical framework of khayal in the Qawwal Bachchon Gharana and was taught dhrupad from the Dagar family. Khan's training with his father was cut short when his father died in 1964, leaving Nusrat's paternal uncles, Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan and Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, to complete his training.
His first performance was at a traditional graveside ceremony for his father, known as chehlum, which took place forty days after his father's death. In 1971, after the death of Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan, Nusrat became the official leader of the family Qawwali party and the party became known as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Mujahid Mubarak Ali Khan & Party. Nusrat assumed leadership of the party, despite the fact that Mujahid Mubarak Ali Khan, who was Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan's son, was considerably older than him.
Nusrat's first public performance as the leader of the Qawwali party was at a studio recording broadcast as part of an annual music festival organised by Radio Pakistan, known as Jashn-e-Baharan. Nusrat went on to distinguish himself from other Qawwals and became renowned on the Indian subcontinent and in the Islamic world. He sang mainly in Urdu and Punjabi and occasionally in Persian, Brajbhasha and Hindi. His first major hit in Pakistan was the song Haq Ali Ali, which was performed in a traditional style and with traditional instrumentation. The song featured restrained use of Nusrat's sargam improvisations and attracted a large number of listeners.
Early in his career, Nusrat was signed up by Oriental Star Agencies [OSA] of Birmingham UK to their Star Cassette Label. OSA sponsored regular concert tours by Nusrat to the U.K. from the early '80s onwards, and released much of this live material (albeit not always very well recorded) on cassette, CD, videotape and DVD. The vast majority of Nusrat's qawwali performances that are available today in video format on various labels comes from these OSA-sponsored concert tours.
Nusrat reached out to Western audiences through his collaborations with Canadian musician, Michael Brook and his work with Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder in 1995 on the soundtrack to Dead Man Walking. He went on to gain popularity in the West through his contributions to the soundtracks of The Last Temptation of Christ and Natural Born Killers, together with his friendship with Peter Gabriel. Nusrat was unhappy with the use of his vocals on the Natural Born Killers soundtrack, stating that the nature of the film was contrary to the beliefs and the ideals conveyed in his work.
Peter Gabriel's Real World label later released five albums of Nusrat's traditional Qawwali, together with some of his experimental work which included the albums Mustt Mustt and Star Rise. Nusrat provided vocals for The Prayer Cycle, which was put together by Jonathan Elias, but died before the vocals could be completed. Alanis Morissette was brought in to sing with his unfinished vocals. He also performed traditional Qawwali before international audiences at several WOMAD world music festivals and the single Dam Mast Qalandar was remixed by electronic trip hop group Massive Attack in 1998.
When Nusrat toured in foreign countries, he would watch television commercials in order to identify the melodies and chord progressions popular in that country. He would then try to choose similar sounding songs from his repertoire for his performances. After his death, the song, "Solemn Prayer", on which Nusrat provided vocals, was used by Peter Gabriel in his album and in the soundtrack to the film Blood Diamond.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan holds the world record for the largest recorded output by a Qawwali artist—a total of 125 albums.
Nusrat was taken ill with kidney and liver failure on August 11, 1997 in London, England while on the way to Los Angeles in order to receive a kidney transplant. Nusrat died of a sudden cardiac arrest at Cromwell Hospital, London, on Saturday, August 16, 1997, aged 48, at the height of his career. . His body was returned to Faisalabad, Pakistan and his funeral was attended by thousands of people.
Nusrat also sang in the flagship 'Vande Mataram' album released to celebrate India's 50 Years of Freedom. The Album was composed by AR Rahman, a popular Indian composer and Nusrat contributed by singing the song 'Gurus of Peace'. Although India and Pakistan can be likened to traditional rival siblings, Nusrat with his magical music was able to bring a sense of unity between the two countries. This would be one of his last works, but it turned out to be a historical event. By a lot of his fan's own admission, he has surely done better things than singing the song in the album, but this would be one of his most poignant efforts.
Nusrat's Qawwali usually follows the standard form. A song begins with a short instrumental prelude played on the harmonium, accompanied by percussion. Then the instruments refrain, and the main singers launch into the alap, which establishes the raag, the tonal structure of the music. At this point, introductory poetic verses are sung. These are usually drawn not from the main song, but from thematically related songs. The melody is improvised within the structure of the raag.
After the introductory verses, the main song starts, and the rhythmic portion of the song begins. The tabla and dholak begin to play, and the chorus aids and abets percussion by clapping their hands. The song proceeds in a "call and response" format. The same song may be sung quite differently by different groups. The lyrics will be essentially the same, but the melody can differ depending on which gharana or lineage the group belongs to. As is traditional in Qawwali, Nusrat and the side-singers will interject alap solos, and fragments of other poems or even improvised lyrics. A song usually has two or three sets of refrains, which can be compared to the verse chorus structure found in western music. Songs last about twenty minutes on average, with a few lasting an hour or more.
Nusrat was noted for introducing other forms of improvisation into the style. From his classical music training, he would interject much more complex alap improvisations, with more vibrato and note bending. He would also interject sargam improvisations.
While it is undoubtedly difficult to put into words what makes Nusrat's music so deeply appealing to so many listeners, many of whom do not understand a single word of the languages he sings in, here is one fan's attempt to explain: "Nusrat's music invites us to eavesdrop on a man communing with his God, ever so eloquently. He makes the act of singing a passionate offering to God. But we do not merely eavesdrop. The deepest part of Nusrat's magic lies in the fact that he is able to bring our hearts to resonate with the music, so deeply, that we ourselves become full partners in that offering. He sings to God, and by listening, we also sing to God".
The one significant member of the party who does not appear on this list is Atta Fareed. For many years, he alternated with Rehmat Ali on vocals and second harmonium. He is easily identifiable in videos since he plays the harmonium left-handed.
This snapshot is non-representative in one respect: harmoniums were usually the only instruments. Only rarely were instruments like mandolin or guitar used.
The late American rock singer Jeff Buckley paid his tribute to Nusrat on the album, Live at Sin-é. In his introduction, he states, "Nusrat, he's my Elvis," before performing the song "Yeh Jo Halka Halka Saroor Hai." The recording generated interest among the audience who were previously unaware of his music. He also stated in an interview, "I idolize Nusrat, he's a god too." Buckley died in May 1997 in Memphis, Tennessee, 3 months before Nusrat. In addition, Nusrat's posthumously released The Supreme Collection Vol. 1 has liner notes written by Buckley, to whom this album is dedicated.
Eddie Vedder said, "I was lucky to work with Nusrat, a true musician who won't be replaced in my life. There was definitely a spiritual element in his music." Eddie Vedder also incorporated 'Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan' into the lyrics of 'Wishlist' during the 98' Yield tour in Melbourne, Australia.
SPIN magazine listed Nusrat as one of the 50 most influential artists of music in 1998.
Paul Williams picked a concert performance by Nusrat for inclusion in his 2000 book The 20th Century's Greatest Hits: a "top-40" list, in which he devotes a chapter each to what he considers the top 40 artistic achievements of the 20th century in any field (including art, movies, music, fiction, non-fiction, science-fiction). In 2004, a tribute band called Brooklyn Qawwali Party (formerly Brook's Qawwali Party) was formed in New York City by percussionist Brook Martinez to perform the music of Nusrat. The 13-piece group still performs mostly instrumental jazz versions of Nusrat's qawwalis, using the instruments conventionally associated with jazz rather than those associated with qawwali.
TIME magazine's issue of November 6, 2006, "60 Years of Asian Heroes", lists Nusrat as one of the top 12 Artists and Thinkers in the last 60 years .
The Red Hot Chili Peppers wrote a tribute song about Nusrat, called "Circle of the Noose". It has never been released.
The Derek Trucks Band released "Makki Madni" on their 2002 album Joyful Noise with Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan singing. In addition they released a studio recorded medley of "Sahib Teri Bandi/Maki Madni" on their 2006 album Songlines, in which Derek Trucks emulates Nusrat's vocals (from the album "The Last Prophet") with his slide guitar playing.
In 2007, London-based producer Gaudi released Dub Qawwali, featuring dub reggae with Nusrat's vocals .
In the British-Asian and South Asia his music was popularised by remixes by various artists the most prominent being Bally Sagoo. He also featured in a song with A.R. Rahman. He was relatively well known in the Far east especilaly in Japan where he was known as "Singing Buddha" plus "Quintessence of the Human singing" in Tunisia, "Voice of Paradise" in USA, "Pavarotti of the East" in France.
Aankh utthi mohabbat ne angdai li
Dil ka sauda hua chandni raat mein
Love opened its eyes, and stretched languorously in bed.
That moonlit night, a heart was bought, a heart was sold.
(Aankh Utthi Mohabbat Ne Angdai Li)
Nazar mila ke, mere paas aa ke, loot liya
Nazar hati to phir muskura ke loot liya
Koi yeh loot to dekho ki us ne jab chaaha
Mujhi mein reh ke mujhi mein samaa ke loot liya
She met my eyes, and came closer, and she ravished me.
Looking away, she smiled, and she ravished me again.
Just look at how, just living in me,
Filling me inside, she ravishes me at will.
(Aankh Utthi Mohabbat Ne Angdai Li)
Raat yoon dil mein teri bhooli hui yaad aayi
Jaise veeraane mein chupke se bahaar aa jaaye
Last night, forgotten memories of you stirred in my heart
And it was like a barren wasteland quietly blooming in the spring
(Angdai Par Angdai)
Dushmani ghair to nahin karte,
Yeh sharaafat to yaar karte hain
Enmity isn’t practiced by strangers.
No, this kindness is visited on us only by friends and lovers.
(Ham Buton Ko Jo Pyar Karte Hain)
Darte darte afsaana-e-dil
Aaj unse hamne keh to diya
Yeh yaad nahin ghabraahat mein
Kya yaad raha, kya bhool gaye
Today I managed to blurt out my feelings to her.
But I have no idea, in my nervousness,
What I remembered to say, and what I forgot.
(Ham Hosh Bhi Apne Bhool Gaye)
Je tu akhiyaan de saamne nai rehna
Te beeba saddhaa dil morh de
If you will not stay before my eyes,
Then, dearest, turn my heart away from you.
(Beeba Saddhaa Dil Morh De)
Sab ki saaqi pe nazar ho, yeh zaroori hai magar
Sab pe saaqi ki nazar ho, yeh zaroori to nahin
That everyone’s eyes are on the cupbearer, that’s axiomatic
But that the cupbearer has eyes for everyone, that’s not necessary at all.
(Mast Nazron Se)
Pyaar akhiyaan de boohe te khaloke
Te waajaan maare sajna nu
in the doorway of her eyes, stands love
calling out to the beloved
(Pyaar Akhiyaan De Boohe)
Jab chaahoon tumhein mil nahin sakta lekin
Jab chaahoon tumhein yaad to kar sakta hoon
So I can't meet you whenever I want, so what?
At least I can remember you whenever I want.
(Sar Jhukaaya To Patthar Sanam Ban Gaye)
Zara yeh soch kar koi vaada karo
Ek vaade pe umren guzar jayengi
Before you make any promises, consider carefully this:
Every promise will be my life-support for years.
(Sochta Hoon Ki Woh Kitne Masoom The)
Main mohabbat se moonh modh leta agar
Toot padhti yeh bijlee kisi aur par
Mere dil ki tabaahi se yeh to hua
Kam se kam doosron ka bhalaa ho gaya
If I had turned away from love,
This lighting would just have struck someone else.
True, my heart is now ashes, but there’s this much at least:
My destruction has benefited others at least.
(Sochta Hoon Ki Woh Kitne Masoom The)