Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was a famous musician born in the city of Faisalabad 13 October 1948. His family had moved there from Jalandhar in East Punjab at the time of the Partition of India. His father was Fateh Ali Khan who came from a family of musicians and Qawwali singers. Apparently, his father wanted him to become a doctor but he was not interested, music was his life and as he was so persistent, in the end, his father relented. It is good for music that he did; the world would have lost a maestro.

Qawwali means “utterance” in Arabic and the music belongs to the Sufi sect of Islam. Sufis embrace music as part of their worship and the Chisti order of Sufis travelled to India around the twelfth century from Persia where they developed the Qawwali style of music. The Qawwali group sit on the platform, the main Qawwal singer and a few backup singers in the front row. The music comes from a dholak, which is a harmonium, and one or more tablas or small drums. Behind the main singers are a group of people who clap and provide a chorus.

A typical Qawwali group is exclusively male because they do not consider that women have the necessary stamina. Khan was also of this opinion.

The texts of the songs consist of lines, repeated several times, as a call and response. The tempo and volume gradually increase to elevate the listeners until the music entrances them. The songs can last anything from 20 minutes to an hour. The music and the rhythm get faster and faster, it is disappointing when it stops, it is as though it could go on forever.

Khan performed all over the world playing Western music as well as traditional Qawwali. Peter Gabriel introduced him to Western music when he invited him to work on his World of Music and Dance (WOMAD) project the Shahen-e-Qawwali, or Brightest Star of Qawwali. He wrote songs and film scores for Bollywood films. His voice is often the one heard in the haunting melodies in these films. His younger brother Rahat Fateh Ali Khan is following in the family tradition of Qawwali music.

Nusrat was the most famous Qawwali singer in his lifetime. He died 16 August 1997 of kidney and liver failure. He had been on his way to Los Angeles for a kidney transplant and became ill 11 August of that year. He died of cardiac arrest at Cromwell Hospital in London and his family brought his body back to Faisalabad for burial.

The voice of the Maestro

Here is a small selection of the voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

A song by Rumi, the most famous Sufi sung by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Jalaluddin Rumi

Maulana Jalaluddin Muhammad Balkhi, also simply called Rumi, was born 30 September,1207 in Tajikistan. He was a Persian poet, jurist, theologian and Sufi mystic. He lived a large part of his life in Konya, Turkey and died there 17 December, 1273

Sufi music makes up the most of Qawwali music and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan can be heard here singing one of Rumi's poems.

Here is the English translation to the above song.

No I am not roaming aimlessly around the streets and bazaar
I am a lover searching for his beloved

God have mercy on me
I am walking around troubled

I have done wrong and sinned
and am walking around wounded

I have drunk the wine of desire
and am strolling around beloved

Though I may seem drunk
I am quite sober


Signal to Noise - Peter Gabriel & Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

New Mexico 2012

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3 comments

Hummingbird5356 profile image

Hummingbird5356 18 months ago Author

Yes, I like the Qawwali music.


Larry Rankin profile image

Larry Rankin 15 months ago from Oklahoma

I wasn't familiar with this artist. Thanks for enlightening me.


Hummingbird5356 profile image

Hummingbird5356 15 months ago Author

I am glad you liked the hub. Thank you for reading.

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