When Rahat Fateh Ali Khan debuted as a singer in Bollywood with Mann ki lagan (Paap; 2004), the effect was quite as expected — the industry and fans instantly fell in love with his voice.
It’s probably a mix of his exceptional musical proficiency, and an unassuming and endearing quality that his voice carries that continue to make him a preferred choice for soulful ballads and qawwalis among composers. And Khan, who is the nephew of qawwali legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan — who too lent his voice to many Hindi film songs — couldn’t be happier that he is part of Bollywood when it has taken a smart U-turn.
“Good, melodious music has returned now. I loved the music of Aashiqui 2 (2013). The film had many beautiful duets too,” says Khan over the phone from Pakistan. Ask him about his favourite singers among the current crop and it’s not surprising that he picks two pitch-perfect voices. “I like Arijit Singh and Shreya Ghoshal.”
Belonging to a family of traditional qawwals, Khan was only nine when his famous uncle took him under his wing. As a member of Nusrat’s troupe in the ’80s, Khan travelled far and wide, even as he worked on his solo career. In the ’90s, a string of Lollywood hits and several albums preceded his Bollywood outing. Currently, he is working on a new record.
“The album is called Back To Love and it will feature easy-listening love song. We are planning to launch it soon. Then, there is another qawwali album that we will be releasing from California at the end of this month,” informs Khan. Add to all this work his Bollywood projects and, of course, the routine touring around the globe. Is it challenging to juggle so many things? “Hamara odna-bichhona music hai (music is our life). We begin our day with music and end with it,” he says.
What’s in a name
If we sift through Bollywood soundtracks from the past decade, there’s one trend that close watchers will be able to identify — that qawwalis haven’t gone out of fashion; in fact, more and more composers are churning out such tracks now.
The flip side has been that many a times, the terms ‘sufi’ and ‘sufi-rock’ have also been loosely used to label this music. Ask him if these titles have been misused or misunderstood, and he explains, “Sufi music has no boundaries. It is limitless. But people’s knowledge of it is limited. There are so many styles under Sufiana; it is performed with ragas; as thumris and in many other ways.”
And how is it for him — as an artiste who has covered this diverse and expansive sonic palette — to deal with this perception and work with people who probably aren’t as adept at the style as he is? Khan says he works according to the demands of the song. “If the composition is simple, I don’t over-express vocally. There’s no point adding too much as a singer when it’s not required; it might shake the backbone of a simple song and ruin that too. Sometimes, simple is beautiful,” he says.
Qawwalis in bollywood
Hame to loot liya (Al Hilal, 1958)
This tune was composed by Bulo C Rani and performed by Ismail Azad. The words were penned by Shevan Rizvi.
O meri zohra jabeen (Waqt, 1965)
A composition by Ravi, this song was sung by Manna Dey. Sahir Ludhianvi wrote it.
Parda hai parda (Amar, Akbar, Anthony; 1975)
The tune was sung by Mohammad Rafi.
Khwaja mere khwaja (Jodhaa Akbar; 2008)
This soulful ballad was composed and sung by AR Rahman.