Very few artists today shun the pressure and allure of market forces in the exhibition of their talent. 30-year-old Shafqat Ali Khan belongs to this fraternity. Khan belongs to the Sham Chaurasi Gharana, the five hundred year old culture and tradition of Dhrupad and Khayal singing which is an important part of Indian classical singing.
He took to singing at a very tender age and very soon he realized the depth and beauty of Indian classical music. While he was still young, he resolved to propagate this tradition. Later, with changing times he came under the influence of the dominant contemporary singing style. But he has never compromised with the lyrics and music just for the sake of money.
Says he, "I am not critical about any other style or form of singing. But, as far as I am concerned, I want to stick to my roots and carry on the age old tradition that my forefathers began. I will starve to death but never think of giving in to what the market demands. I don't want to be like those who just come and go. I want to stay with my style and propagate it. So I am into making catalogue albums."
Born into the illustrious family of legendary classical singer Ustad Salamat Ali Khan (Father) and Ustad Nazakat Ali Khan (Uncle) in Lahore, Punjab, Shafqat belongs to the 11th generation of the Sham Chaurasi Gharana. At the tender age of five, he began his training under his father, who himself became an icon of this gharana after he revived it. Because of the obscurity of the Dhrupad style of singing, which is also the basic component of Sham Chaurasi Gharana, it was his father, who, for the first time, introduced the Khayal style in this gharana. Thus Shafqat inherited both, a significant musical lineage and responsibility.
After taking lessons in thumari and khyal singing, he debuted on stage, at 7, at the Punjabi Music Festival, Lahore. He performed raga Suha Kanra and Vasant, accompanied by the great tabla player Shaukat Hussain Khan. He enthralled the audience with his melody and dedication. But this was just the beginning for this talented singer, as awards, appreciation and achievement came his way steadily thereafter.
Shafat recalls, "At 10, I was a classical singer at Lahore Radio Station. I have been to many countries to perform and propagate my age-old tradition. I spent 14 years in USA where I gave numerous performances and was also appointed a professor. I taught the ragas at Berkley University."
Of late, Shafqat has also turned to semi-classical, folk and romantic songs. This is to bring out other melodious aspects of music, which people love to listen to. Says he, "It's not the prevalent trend of techno and pop music which has forced me to sing romantic numbers but it's the fact that I want others to realize that if I can sing my own gharana style, I can sing anything melodious and worth-listening. In the past some people," he continues, "had criticized Sham Chaurasi Gharana for singing layakari (more than one rhythm) than in one rhythm. But my father had proved them wrong when once he sang one rhythm for hours on stage and established the versatility of the raga singers."
Shafqat has some hit albums to his name. 'Qarar-E-Mohabbat', a classical album based on the ghazals of Berkat Ali, Beghum Akhtar etc, Ni Kamili Hoi, an album of popular Punjbai songs and NI Aao Sayyo, an album full of sufi style of songs of Farid Kalam and Bulle Shah etc are a among few big hits that Sahfqat has produced.
In India, he released his first album with Bhappi Lahiri in 1995 called Awara Sur, which was well-appreciated.
I get very upset when I see singers from Punjab singing all that Dhol and Bhangara sort of music. Punjab is the place where four well-known gharanas of music developed and the state has produced world-class singers. But unfortunately because of many upcoming Punjabi singers who just depend own dhol and bhangra, the message, which goes to the people, is that Punjab is a place of Dhol and Dhabas!" he concludes