Singer Songwriter Musician Composer
Written by Virginia Gorlinski for Encyclopedia Britannica
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, (born October 13, 1948, Lyallpur (now Faisalabad), Pakistan—died August 16, 1997, London, England), Pakistani singer who is considered one of the greatest performers of qawwali, a Sufi Muslim devotional music characterized by simple melodies, forceful rhythms, and energetic improvisations that encourage a state of euphoria in the listener.
Nusrat’s father, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, and two of his uncles, Ustad Mubarik Ali Khan and Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, were famous qawwals (practitioners of qawwali) who sang in the classical form. Although Nusrat began to display a penchant for music and a particular aptitude for singing before he had reached age 10, he did not begin to devote himself to the qawwali tradition until he sang at his father’s funeral in 1964. Two years later he gave his first public performance as a qawwal, singing with his uncles, with whom he continued to perform until 1971, when Ustad Mubarik died.
Qawwali originated in 12th-century Persia. The lyrics are based on medieval Sufi poems that often use images of romantic love to express deep religious faith. The traditionally male qawwal, who knows these poems by heart, unites phrases and passages from different poems to create a new expression. Qawwali performances are typically held in shrines and are marked by passionate shouting and dancing. Qawwali is similar in spirit to American gospel music.
Following his father’s death, Nusrat continued to study the recordings of his father and uncles, using them as a springboard from which to develop his own style. Within just a few years he had established himself throughout Pakistan as the outstanding qawwal of his generation, singing powerfully and expressively in a very high register (a family trademark), with remarkable stamina and melodic creativity. In concert he was usually accompanied by tabla (a pair of single-headed drums played with the hands), harmoniums (or reed organs; small keyboard instruments with a foot-operated bellows), and backing vocals.
As he matured as a performer, Nusrat made various adjustments to his style, such as increasing the tempo, as a means to elevate qawwali to a new level of aesthetic and spiritual resonance with contemporary—and international—audiences.
In 1985 he gave a concert in the United Kingdom, and word of his talent began to spread. He was soon performing regularly throughout Europe. He first toured the United States in 1989, and in the 1990s he contributed to the sound tracks of several popular films. Nusrat also worked with a number of internationally recognized figures in popular and art music. Popular musician Peter Gabriel promoted Nusrat on the world music circuit through his WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) festivals and through recordings on his Real World Records label. Meanwhile, composer Michael Brook helped increase the accessibility of Nusrat’s vocalizations by recasting them within Western rhythmic frameworks. Nusrat believed in the universality of the musical message and strove throughout his career to make his music transcend religious and cultural boundaries. When he died suddenly in 1997, Nusrat was mourned by fans across the globe.
From Wikipedia: Khan’s experimental work for Real World, which featured his collaborations with the Canadian guitarist Michael Brook, spurred on several further collaborations with a number of other Western composers and rock musicians. One of the most noteworthy of these collaborations came in 1995, when Khan grouped with Pearl Jam’s lead singer Eddie Vedder on two songs for the soundtrack to Dead Man Walking. Khan also 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. In 2002, Gabriel included Khan’s vocals on the posthumously released track “Signal to Noise” on his album Up.
Khan’s album Intoxicated Spirit was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album in 1997. That same year, his album Night Song was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best World Music Album.
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” on-screen 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. The two 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. As a posthumous tribute, Rahman later released an album titled Gurus of Peace, which included “Allah Hoo” by Khan. Rahman’s 2007 song “Tere Bina” was also composed as a tribute to Khan.
Various reports said Khan weighed over 300 pounds. He had been seriously ill for several months, according to a spokesperson at his U.S. label, American Recordings. After traveling to London from his native Pakistan for treatment for liver and kidney problems, he was rushed from the airport to Cromwell Hospital in London.
He died of a sudden cardiac arrest at Cromwell Hospital on 16 August 1997, aged 48. His body was repatriated to Faisalabad, and his funeral was a public affair. He was buried in Kabootran Wala Qabristan also known as Jhang Road Graveyard on Jhang Road, Faisalabad.
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. Khan’s musical legacy is now carried forward by his nephews, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Rizwan-Muazzam
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