Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (نصرت فتح علی خان, October 13, 1948 to August 16, 1997) was primarily a singer of qawwali, the devotional music of the Sufis, a mystical offshoot of Islam. Nusrat was the son of Fateh Ali Khan, one of the foremost qawwals of his generation in Pakistan. Traditionally, qawwali has been a family business. Nusrat's family has an unbroken tradition of performing qawwali for the last 600 years.
Initially, his father did not want Nusrat to follow him into the qawwali business. He had his heart set on Nusrat choosing a much more respectable career path, and becoming a doctor. However, Nusrat showed such an aptitude for, and interest in, qawwali that his father finally relented and started to train him in the art of qawwali. This training was still incomplete when Fateh Ali Khan died, and the training was continued by Nusrat's uncle, Mubarak Ali Khan.
Nusrat's first public performance as leader of the family qawwali group was in March 1965, at a studio recording broadcast as part of an annual music festival called Jashn-e-Baharan organized by Radio Pakistan. It took Nusrat several years more to perfect his craft, and emerge from the shadow of the groups that were regarded as the leading contemporary qawwals. But once he did, there was no looking back. He firmly established himself as the leading qawwal of the 20th century. His powerful voice and his complete mastery of the genre made him a superstar in the Islamic world, especially in Pakistan and India. He was also one of the first South Asian singers to perform before large Western audiences.
In Pakistan, his first major hit was the song Haq Ali Ali (listen here). This was performed in a traditional style and with traditional instrumentation, and featured only sparse use of Nusrat's innovative sargam improvisations. Nevertheless the song became a major hit, as many listeners were attracted to the timbre and other qualities of Nusrat's voice.
In 1992 he collaborated with Norwegian jazz musician Jan Garbarek on Ragas and Sagas, and he reached out to Western audiences with a series of records produced by Canadian guitarist Michael Brook. In 1995, he collaborated with Eddie Vedder on the soundtrack to Dead Man Walking. His contribution to that and several other soundtracks and albums, as well as his friendship with Peter Gabriel, helped to increase his popularity in Europe and the United States.
Nusrat was responsible for the modern evolution of qawwali. Although not the first to do so, he popularized the blending of khayal singing and techniques with qawwali. This in short took the form of improvised solos during the songs using the sargam technique, in which the performer sings the names of the notes he is singing (for example, in western notation it would be "do re mi"). He also attempted to blend qawwali music with more western styles such as techno.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan holds the world record for the largest recording output by a qawwali artist—a total of 125 albums.
A 75 minute documentary film A Voice from Heaven, directed by Giuseppe Asaro and released in 1999, provides an excellent introduction to Nusrat's life and work. It is available on VHS and DVD. His early career is the subject of a documentary film made in 1997 entitled Nusrat Has Left the Building...But When?
- Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's Official Website on Sony Music
- Unoffical Fan site Turkish & English
- Fan site with lyrics and their translation in English
- Bandbaja: Pakistani Music Magazine
- Yahoo discussion group dedicated to Nusrat and his music (includes photographs, lyrics, translations, song lists)