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Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: Epitome of Harmony (Mohd. Azharuddin)

It’s an axiom that music can’t be shackled within the constraints of boundaries of landmasses. For instance, Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, one of the greatest music exponents of 20th century and apostle of Sufi Music was brought up in Pakistan, got influenced by Indian Classical Music and finally enticed the people with his talent and awestruck performances round the globe. Born on October 13, 1948 in Faislabad (Formerly Lyallpur) in Punjab province of Pakistan, he was the eldest son of Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, a great musicologist, vocalist, instrumentalist and qawwal. Nusrat’s parent wished him to be a doctor but he, since his childhood possessed no interest in going school to learn facts and dates. He used to listen his worthy father and play harmonium incognito. Fortunately, his talent was first valued by his uncles Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and Ustad Mujahid Mubarak Ali Khan. Nusrat his dream to his uncle that once he dreamt himself singing a devotional piece of music at the shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti (Rad.) in Ajmer. Since then he ought to be a great musicologist. Initially, Nusrat began to learn tabla from his father. Later he got expert in Raag Vidya and Bolbandish. He then started to sing within the classical framework of Khayal, Thumri, Ghazal, Geet and Qawwali.

The Expertise

In 1964, when his father died, uncle Mujahid Mubarak Ali Khan accompanied him. In 48 years of his life span, Nusrat devoted 42 to the service of music. His renditions in Sufi Music were unmatched and unique. Nusrat sang in many languages viz. Punjabi, Farsi (Persian), Avadhi, Brij Bhasha, Urdu & Khadi-boli etc. He intellectually used tangled Arabic and Persian poems in a fluent way. No poet was left by Khan, for instance, Ameer Khusru, Allama Iqbal, Faiz, Ghalib, Mir, Anees, Bulleshah, Kabirdas & Meerabai, Subhadra Kumari Chauhan were very dear to him. He was great musicologist rather a simple musician who presented in his own inimitable way the art of Reggae and Bolbandish.

His Album ‘Intoxicated Spirit’ was nominated for Grammy Awards in 1997 for the best traditional folk album. In Guinness Book of World Records, Nusrat holds the world record for the largest recorded output by a qawwali artist – a total of 125 album as of 2001.

Times magazine’s issue of November 6, 2006 entitled as‘60 years of Asian Heroes’ lists Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan as one of the top 12 artists and thinkers in last 60 years.

Nusrat and the Western World

It is quite challenging ahead if we present our language, our music, and our cult to the people who don’t share our culture and belief. Although Sufi Music was unknown and new to the West yet Nusrat took over the task with the exquisite zeal. His blending of Sufi Music with the Western one beefed up the very way of music. He always performed comprehensively and never frantically. He travelled the world in pursuit of International harmony. For the connoisseur, a performance is only as versatile as what it conveys. His major hit in London was the song ‘ Haq Ali Ali ’ in eulogy of last caliph of Islam, which he performed live a Royal Albert Hall, London. Nusrat, during 30 min duration of the song put a sublime experience on the Western audiences. His sargam improvisation and reggae inclusively enticed the audience and the hall echoed with clapping and whistles. His melodic throat movement was with genuine notes and enigmatic glissandos.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was signed up by Oriental Star Agencies (OSA) Barmingham, UK to its ‘Star Cassette Label’. OSA provided sponsorship to live programs in the West and put him forward before the world through cassettes, CDs, tapes & DVDs. Through WOMAD (World of Music, Art and Dance) International Festivals he arduously performed before the international audiences many times. Later, Khan fell friendly with Peter Gabriel and contributed to the soundtrack of ‘The last tempetation of Christ’ in 1985. He enjoined Michael Brook, a Canadian musician for the album Mastt Mastt (1990) and Night Song (1996) under Peter Gabriel’s ‘Real World’ label. Later, Khan released remixed tracks of both the albums and entitled them as ‘Star Rise (1997)’ under the same label. Real world released 5 albums of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He also provided vocals for ‘The Prayer Cycle’. After Khan’s death the song ‘Solemn Prayer’ vocalized by himself, was used by Peter Gabriel in his album UP and in film ‘Blood Diamond’. Nusrat also composed music for ‘Dead Man Walking’.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & the Indian Subcontinent

Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan possessed a depth of heaven in his voice. His quest was the symbol of harmony and brotherhood between the two nations, India & Pakistan. Once he remarked ‘Only the artists can connect the two nations in harmony. Music can’t be stopped by the boundaries of nations’. ‘Sangam’ was his first album released in India in collaboration with Javed Akhtar as a lyricist. This album proved to be a sangam or articulation between the two nations rather between a singer and poet or music and literature. Famous song ‘Afreen Afreen’ by Javed Akhtar is of the same album which is as fresh today as was it earlier. Khan contributed many songs to several Indian films. Prior to his death, he recorded two songs ‘Kaisa yeh Pyar he Allah Allah and Nahi Jeena Tere Bin for the films ‘Aur Pyar Ho Gaya & Kacche Dhaagey’ respectively. The latter was a duet with melody queen Lata Mangeshkar. He also contributed, by his sweet voice to the title song of film Dhadkan. Infact, he composed music for the film ‘Aur Pyar Ho Gaya’. After his death film Kartoos and Raftar when released were also found to be adorned with his ravishing music.

Many times his artistic excellence was stolen by bollywood musician as in Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast (Mohra) which was plagiarised from Khan’s Dam Mast Qalander Mast Mast. He performed in many countries round the globle time to time but couldn’t fulfill his wish to perform live in India before a crowd of one lac. In February 1997, he could get the opportunity to attend Filmfare Award program but due to strategic constraints, he was not fulfilled of his wish again. At first in India, he was invited by veteran Rajkapoor in wedding ceremony of his son Rishi Kapoor where he told ‘Yu to mujhe duniya ke har mulk me jane par khushi mehsoos hoti hai lekin jo khushi Hindustan aakar mili hai, wo puri duniya me aaj tak kahin nahi mili (although I feel very happy when I go to any country of the world but the rejoice and warmth that I get in India (Hindustan) is not found in rest of the world’). Later, in 1997 Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan contributed the song ‘Gurus of Peace’ to the album Vande Matram composed by A.R. Rehman which was released to mark the golden jubilee of Indian’s Independence. He wished if melody queen Lata Mangeshkar could sing for her lovers in Assembly Hall of Pakistan. On this matter he even talked to his government, but there is no compromise with death as the latter comes to every life. By the time, Nusrat left the music world on August 16, 1997 in Cromwell Hospital, London. His place in music was left void which is now somehow filled by his nephew Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.


Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was the precious jewel of the music world. He could sing in any language of the world as he knew the basic language of music. None could ever presented sufi music before the western world as done by Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. For him, music was not simply a job but was the purpose for his living. He sang for regional and communal harmony for years without caring of religious and other dilemmas.

Today, when man has become too materialistic there is a need for the revival of Nusrat’s message. Nusrat addressed to mankind:

“I always performed with full purity of soul whatever God provided me. One should talk not only for oneself but also for each life on earth, even for a small aphid, then God will certainly reward you. If you are humble, nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace. So be humble & God fearing”.

*Author is pursuing Masters in Social Works in Aligarh Muslim University. He has long association with University Music Club, Cultural Education Centre (formerly General Education Centre), AMU, Aligarh.
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