Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Khan performing at Royal Albert Hall in 1987
Background information
Native name نصرت فتح علی خان
Birth name Parvez Fateh Ali Khan
Also known as Shahenshah-e-Qawwali
Born (1948-10-13)13 October 1948
Faisalabad, Punjab, Pakistan
Died 16 August 1997(1997-08-16) (aged 48)
London, England, UK
Occupation(s) Musician, singer, qawwal, songwriter, composer
Years active 1965–1997

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (Urdu/Punjabi: نصرت فتح علی خان; 13 October 1948 – 16 August 1997) was a Pakistani musician, primarily a singer of Qawwali, the devotional music of the Sufis.[1] Considered one of the greatest voices ever recorded, he possessed an extraordinary range of vocal abilities[2][3][4][5] and could perform at a high level of intensity for several hours. Extending the 600-year old Qawwali tradition of his family, Khan is widely credited with introducing Qawwali music to international audiences.[6] He is popularly known as "Shahenshah-e-Qawwali", meaning "The King of Kings of Qawwali".[7]

Born in Faisalabad, Khan had his first public performance at the age of 16, at his father's chelum. He became the head of the family qawwali party in 1971. He was signed by Oriental Star Agencies, Birmingham, England, in the early 1980s. Khan went on to release movie scores and albums in Europe, India, Japan, Pakistan, and the US. He engaged in collaborations and experiments with Western artists, becoming a well-known world music artist. He toured extensively, performing in over 40 countries.[8]


Early life and career

Khan was born in a Punjabi Muslim family in Faisalabad in 1948, shortly after the partition of India in 1947 during which his family had migrated to Pakistan from their native city of Jalandhar in East Punjab, British India (now in Punjab, India). Before partition, his family lived in their ancestral house at Basti Sheikh, Jalandhar. He was the fifth child and first son of Fateh Ali Khan, a musicologist, vocalist, instrumentalist, and qawwal. Khan's family, which included four older sisters and a younger brother, Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan, grew up in central Faisalabad. The tradition of qawwali in the family had passed down through successive generations for almost 600 years.[9] Initially, his father did not want Khan to follow the family's vocation. He had his heart set on Nusrat choosing a much more respectable career path and becoming a doctor or engineer, because he felt Qawwali artists had low social status. However, Khan showed such an aptitude for and interest in Qawwali, that his father finally relented.[10] He began by learning the tabla before moving on to vocals.[9] In 1964, Khan's father died, leaving his musical education under the supervision of his paternal uncles, Mubarak Ali Khan and Salamat Ali Khan.[9] He is the uncle of singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.

In 1971, after the death of his uncle Mubarak Ali Khan, Khan became the official leader of the family Qawwali party and the party became known as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Mujahid Mubarak Ali Khan & Party. Khan'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. Khan sang mainly in Urdu and Punjabi and occasionally in Persian, Braj Bhasha 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 Khan's sargam improvisations.[11]

Later career

In the summer of 1985, Khan performed at the World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD) festival in London.[12] He performed in Paris in 1985 and 1988. He first visited Japan in 1987, at the invitation of the Japan Foundation. He performed at the 5th Asian Traditional Performing Art Festival in Japan.[13] He also performed at Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York in 1989, earning him admiration from the American audience.[14]

In the 1992–93 academic year, Khan was a Visiting Artist in the Ethnomusicology department at the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, United States.[15]

Khan teamed with Peter Gabriel on the soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988, with Canadian musician Michael Brook on the albums Mustt Mustt (1990) and Night Song (1996).[16] The team up with Peter Gabriel gave Khan the opportunity to stylise his songs by blending his qawwaliss with the Western music. Khan also grouped with Pearl Jam's lead singer Eddie Vedder in 1995 on two songs for the soundtrack to Dead Man Walking.[14]

Peter Gabriel's Real World label later released five albums of Khan's traditional Qawwali, together with some of his experimental work which included the albums Mustt Mustt and Star Rise. Khan provided vocals for The Prayer Cycle, which was put together by Jonathan Elias, but died before the tracks could be completed. Alanis Morissette was brought in to sing with his unfinished vocals.

His album Intoxicated Spirit was nominated for a Grammy award in 1997 for best traditional folk album. Same year his album Night Song was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best World Music Album, but lost out to The Chieftains' album Santiago.[17]

Khan contributed songs to, and performed in, several Pakistani films. Shortly before his death, he composed music for three Bollywood films, which includes the film Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya, in which he also sang for "Koi Jaane Koi Na Jaane" onscreen with the lead pair, and "Zindagi Jhoom Kar"; He also composed music for Kartoos, where he sang for "Ishq Da Rutba", and "Bahaa Na Aansoo", alongside Udit Narayan. He died very shortly prior to the movie's release. His final music composition for Bollywood was for the movie, Kachche Dhaage, where he sang in "Iss Shaan-E-Karam Ka Kya Kehna". The movie was released in 1999, two years after his death. It is notable that the two legendary singing sisters of Bollywood, Asha Bhosle and Lata Mangeshkar sang for the songs he composed in his brief stint in Bollywood. He sang "Saya Bhi Saath Jab Chhod Jaye" for Sunny Deol's movie Dillagi. The song was released in 1999, two years after Khan's death. He also sang "Dulhe Ka Sehra" from the Bollywood movie Dhadkan which was released in 2000.

Khan contributed the song "Gurus of Peace" to the album Vande Mataram, composed by A. R. Rahman, and released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of India's independence. Rahman, who was a big fan of Khan could not compose further songs with him. As a tribute, Rahman later released an album titled Gurus of Peace, which featured "Allah Hoo" by Khan. Rahman's 2007 song "Tere Bina" was also composed as a tribute to Khan.[18]


Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was taken ill with kidney and liver failure on 11 August 1997 in London, while on the way to Los Angeles to receive a kidney transplant. He died of a sudden cardiac arrest at Cromwell Hospital, London on 16 August 1997, aged 48.[19] His body was repatriated to Faisalabad, and his funeral was a public affair.

His wife, Naheed Nusrat, died on 13 September 2013 in Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. Naheed had moved to Canada after the death of her husband. She is survived by their daughter Nida Khan.[20][21] Khan's musical legacy is now carried forward by his nephew, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.[22]

Awards and titles

Khan is widely considered to be the most important qawwal in history.[23][24] In 1987, he received the President of Pakistan's Award for Pride of Performance for his contribution to Pakistani music.[15][25] In 1995, he received the UNESCO Music Prize.[26][27] In 1996 he was awarded Grand Prix des Amériques at Montreal World Film Festival for exceptional contribution to the art of cinema.[28] In the same year, Khan received the Arts and Culture Prize of the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prizes.[29] In Japan, he was also remembered as the "Singing Buddha". [30] In 2005, Khan received the "Legends" award at the UK Asian Music Awards.[31] Time magazine's issue of 6 November 2006, "60 Years of Asian Heroes", lists him as one of the top 12 artists and thinkers in the last 60 years.[32] He also appeared on NPR's 50 great voices list in 2010.[33] In August 2010 he was included in CNN's list of the twenty most iconic musicians from the past fifty years.[34] In 2008, Khan was listed in 14th position in UGO's list of the best singers of all time.[35]

Many honorary titles were bestowed upon Khan during his 25-year music career. He was given the title of Ustad after performing classical music at a function in Lahore on his father's death anniversary.[36]

Tributes, legacy and influence

Faisalabad Arts Council's auditorium named after Nusrat

Khan is often credited as one of the progenitors of "world music".[37] Widely acclaimed for his spiritual charisma and distinctive exuberance, he was one of the first and most important artists to popularise Qawwali, then considered an "arcane religious tradition", to Western audiences.[37] His powerful vocal presentations, which could last up to 10 hours, brought forth a craze for his music all over Europe. Alexandra A. Seno of Asiaweek wrote:[38]

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's voice was otherworldly. For 25 years, his mystical songs transfixed millions. It was not long enough ... He performed qawwali, which means wise or philosophical utterance, as nobody else of his generation did. His vocal range, talent for improvisation and sheer intensity were unsurpassed.

Jeff Buckley cited Khan as a major influence, saying of him "He's my Elvis", and performing the first few minutes of Khan's hit "Yeh Jo Halka Halka Suroor Hai" (including vocals) at live concerts.[39][40] Many other artists have also cited Khan as an influence, such as Grammy-nominated Pakistani-American Nadia Ali, Peter Gabriel,[41] A. R. Rahman,[42] Sheila Chandra,[43] and Alim Qasimov.[44] Author and neuroscientist Sam Harris cited Khan as one of his favourite musicians of all time.[45]

Paul Williams picked a concert performance by Khan 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).[46] The Derek Trucks Band covers Khan's songs on two of their studio albums. Their 2002 album Joyful Noise includes a cover of "Maki Madni", which features a guest performance by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's nephew. 2005's Songlines includes a medley of two of Khan's songs, "Sahib Teri Bandi" and "Maki Madni". This medley first appeared on the band's live album Live at Georgia Theatre, which was released in 2004.[47]

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 Khan. The 13-piece group still performs mostly instrumental jazz versions of Khan's qawwalis, using the instruments conventionally associated with jazz rather than those associated with qawwali.[48]

Google Doodle on Nusrat's 67th Birthday

In 2007, electronic music producer and performer Gaudi, after being granted access to back catalogue recordings from Rehmat Gramophone House (Khan's former label in Pakistan), released an album of entirely new songs composed around existing vocals. The album, 'Dub Qawwali', was released by Six Degrees Records. It received huge critical acclaim internationally, reaching no. 2 in the iTunes US Chart, no. 4 in the UK and was the no. 1 seller in's Electronic Music section for a period. It also earned Gaudi a nomination for the BBC's World Music Awards 2008.[49]

On 13 October 2015, Google celebrated Khan's 67th birthday with a doodle on its homepage for India, Pakistan, Japan among other countries calling him the person "who opened the world's ears to the rich, hypnotic sounds of the Sufis". “Thanks to his legendary voice, Khan helped bring "world music" to the world," said Google.[50][51]

In February 2016, a rough mix of song recorded by Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1998 called "Circle of the Noose" was leaked to the internet. Guitarist Dave Navarro described the song saying "It's pop in the sense of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, hook. I really love it and we use a loop of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. It's really nice. The best way I can describe it is it's like pepped- up '60s folk with '90s ideals, but I would hate to label it as folk because it's not, it moves."[52]



Concert films


See also


  1. Active Interest Media, Inc. (1997). Yoga Journal. Active Interest Media, Inc. pp. 44–. ISSN 0191-0965.
  2. "World Music Legends Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan". Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  3. "Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: National Geographic World Music". 17 October 2002. Retrieved 7 November 2012.
  4. Ghulam Haider Khan (6 January 2006). "A Tribute By Ustad Ghulam Haider Khan, Friday Times".
  5. "Guru of Peace:An Introduction to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan".
  6. "Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan". 17 October 2002. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  7. Hommage à Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (liner notes by Pierre-Alain Baud), 1999, Network, Germany.
  8. Amit Baruah; R. Padmanabhan (6 September 1997). "The stilled voice". Frontline. Retrieved 30 June 2011.
  9. 1 2 3 Ekbal, Nikhat. Great Muslims of Undivided India. pp. 28–29. ISBN 9788178357560.
  10. "Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: A tribute, Hindustan Times".
  11. "Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Profile on PTV".
  12. "Nusrat Fateh Ali KHAN – The 7th Fukuoka Asian Culture Prizes 1996__Arts and Culture Prize".
  13. "Chapter 13". Great Muslims of Undivided India. 2009. ISBN 9788178357560.
  14. 1 2 Manheim (2001). Michel Andre Bossy; Thomas Brothers; John C. McEnore, eds. Lives and Legacies: Artists, Writers, and Musicians. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 105. ISBN 978-1573561549.
  15. 1 2 "Official biography, University of Washington". 16 August 1997. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  16. "Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Michael Brook: Mustt Mustt & Night Song". 5 January 2008. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  17. Moon, Tom (8 January 1997). "Babyface Captures 12 Grammy Nominations He Equaled A Mark Set By Michael Jackson. Awards Will Be Given Out February 26.". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Philadelphia Media Holdings. p. 8. Retrieved 4 February 2011.
  18. "Rahman on how the music of Guru was born". The Telegraph. 22 December 2006. Retrieved 18 February 2007.
  19. Rose, Cynthia (19 August 1997). "Nusrat's Passing Leaves Void in the Music World". Seattle Times. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  20. Naheed Nusrat, wife of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan passes away
  21. Rahat grieved over death of Naheed Nusrat
  22. Gupta, Priya (24 January 2015). "I still cry remembering Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sahab: Rahat". Times of India. Retrieved 14 October 2015.
  23. Ken Hunt. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: Biography. AllMusic.
  24. Virginia Gorlinski. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Encyclopædia Britannica.
  25. "Utterance | Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali". Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  26. "International Music Council – Prize laureates 1975–2004". 16 October 2008. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  27. "Previous winners of the UNESCO Music Prize". The Times. London. 18 September 2008.
  29. "Past Laureates | Fukuoka Prize".
  30. "Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: The singing Buddha". Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  31. "Artists unite to celebrate British Asian Music". Retrieved 24 August 2010.
  32. Baker, Aryn (13 November 2006). "Asian Heroes: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan". Time. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  33. Danna, Mychael. "Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: The Voice Of Pakistan". NPR. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  34. "Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Nominated One of the 20 Most Iconic Musicians From The Past 50 Years". Real World Records. 10 August 2010. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  35. "Best Singers of All Time". Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  36. Lok Virsa – Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Qawal & Party, Vol. 1, Moviebox Birmingham Ltd (2007).
  37. 1 2 Michel-Andre Bossy; Thomas Brothers; John C. McEnroe (2001). Artists, Writers, and Musicians. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 105.
  38. Asiaweek: Unforgettable. CNN.
  39. Buckley, Jeff. Live at Sin-é (Legacy Edition). Sony Music (2003).
  40. "Mojo Pin – Jeff's Dedication to Khan". Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  41. Peter Gabriel, from Genesis to Growing Up. pp. 146–147.
  42. A. R. Rahman: Allmusic
  43. Sheila Chandra: Allmusic
  44. Alim Qasimov: Allmusic
  45. Harris, Sam (9 June 2013). "Islam and the Misuses of Ecstasy". Retrieved 19 January 2014.
  46. "The 20th Century's Greatest Hits: A Top 40 List of art". Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  47. "The Derek Trucks Band: Allmusic".
  48. "". Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  49. – 12:00. "| BBC Awards for World Music | Nominees".
  50. "Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's 67th Birthday". Google website. 13 October 2015., Retrieved 9 April 2016
  51. "Google celebrates Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's 67th birthday with doodle". The Hindu newspaper. 13 October 2015., Retrieved 9 April 2016

Further reading

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