It is the 14th death anniversary of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the world-renowned Pakistani musician. Ustad Nusrat is credited with taking the Qawwali musical form to an international level and creating a new generation of Qawwali lovers both in Pakistan and around the world.
Born on July 12, 1948 in Lyallpur, modern Faisalabad, Pakistan to a renowned Qawwal family with an unbroken tradition of performing Qawwali for the last 600 years, Nusrat took keen interest in Qawwali since his childhood. His father, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan and his uncle, Mubarak Ali Khan were prominent Qawwals of their times.
Initially, his father did not want Nusrat to follow the family's vocation. He had his heart set on Nusrat choosing a much more respectable career path and becoming a doctor, because he felt Qawwali artists had low social status. However, Nusrat showed such an aptitude for, and interest in, Qawwali that his father finally relented and began to train him in the art of Qawwali and he was also taught to sing within the classical framework of Khayal.
This training was still incomplete when Ustad Fateh Ali Khan died in 1964 while Nusrat was still in school, and the training was continued by Nusrat's paternal uncle, Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan. His first public performance was at his father's funeral ceremony. Under the guidance of Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan, he became the group's leader in 1965 and the group was called Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Mujahid Mubarak Ali Khan & Party. 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 to emerge from the shadow of the groups that were regarded as the leading contemporary Qawwals and come into his own. But once he did, there was no looking back. He firmly established himself as the leading Qawwal of the 20th century. He sang in Urdu and his native Punjabi, as well as Persian. In 1971 Nusrat took over his family's Qawwali party after his father and uncle passed away. In Pakistan, his first major hit was the song "Haq Ali Ali".
He reached out to Western audiences with a couple of fusion records produced by Canadian guitarist Michael Brook. In 1979, at the height of his fame, Nusrat accepted an invitation to perform at the nuptials of Rishi Kapoor, son of legendary actor Raj Kapoor, which was attended by the bigwigs of the Indian film industry.
In 1995, he collaborated with Eddie Vedder on the soundtrack to Dead Man Walking. His contribution to that and several other soundtracks and albums (including "The Last Temptation of Christ" and "Natural Born Killers"), as well as his friendship with Peter Gabriel, helped to increase his popularity in Europe and the United States. Peter Gabriel's 'Real World' label released five albums of Nusrat's traditional Qawwali performances in the West. Real World also released albums of his experimental work, including 'Mustt Mustt' and 'Star Rise'. Nusrat provided vocals for The Prayer Cycle put together by Jonathan Elias, but died before the vocals could be completed. Alanis Morissette was brought in to sing with his unfinished vocals.
Nusrat contributed songs to, and performed in, several Pakistani movies. Shortly before his death, he also recorded two songs for a Bollywood movie, "Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya", in which he also appeared and "Kachche Dhaage". He also sang the immensely popular title song of the film, "Dhadkan". According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan holds the world record for the largest recorded output by a Qawwali artist—a total of 125 albums.
Nusrat was taken ill with kidney and liver failure on Monday, August 11, 1997 in London, England en route to Los Angeles from Lahore to receive a kidney transplant. While still at Cromwell Hospital, Nusrat died of a sudden cardiac arrest on August 16, at the age of 48. Among other honorary titles bestowed upon him, Nusrat was called Shahenshah-e-Qawwali, meaning The Emperor of Qawwals. He also received lifetime achievement awards in France, Japan and Pakistan.
(With inputs from News Tomorrow)