Early life and career
Khan was born in a Punjabi Muslimfamily in Faisalabad, Punjab, Pakistan, in 1948, shortly after the partition of India in 1947 during which his family had migrated to Pakistan from their native city of Jalandhar in Punjab, British India(now in Punjab, India). His family originates from Basti Sheikh in Jalandhar. His ancestors learned music and singing there and adopted it as a profession. He was the fifth child and first son of Fateh Ali Khan, a musicologist, vocalist, instrumentalist, and qawwal. Khan’s family, which included four older sisters and a younger brother, Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan, grew up in central Faisalabad. The tradition of qawwali in the family had passed down through successive generations for almost 600 years.Initially, his father did not want Khan to follow the family’s vocation. He had his heart set on Nusrat choosing a much more respectable career path and becoming a doctor or engineer because he felt Qawwali artists had low social status. However, Khan showed such an aptitude for and interest in Qawwali, that his father finally relented.He began by learning the tabla before moving on to vocals. In 1964, Khan’s father died, leaving his musical education under the supervision of his paternal uncles, Mubarak Ali Khan and Salamat Ali Khan. He is the uncle of singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. Nusrat was known as Pervaiz until he visited Ghulam Ghaus Samdani who changed his name to Nusrat Fateh Ali. Samdani also told him that he would become a great singer.
In 1971, after the death of his uncle Mubarak Ali Khan, Khan became the official leader of the family Qawwali party and the party became known as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Mujahid Mubarak Ali Khan & Party. Khan’s first public performance as the leader of the Qawwali party was at a studio recording broadcast as part of an annual music festival organized by Radio Pakistan, known as Jashn-e-Baharan. Khan sang mainly in Urdu and Punjabi and occasionally in Persian, Braj Bhasha and Hindi. His first major hit in Pakistan was the song Haq Ali Ali, which was performed in a traditional style and with traditional instrumentation. The song featured restrained use of Khan’s sargam improvisations.
In the summer of 1985, Khan performed at the World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD) festival in London.He performed in Paris in 1985 and 1988. He first visited Japan in 1987, at the invitation of the Japan Foundation. He performed at the 5th Asian Traditional Performing Art Festival in Japan.He also performed at Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York in 1989, earning him admiration from the American audience.
Khan, throughout his career, had great understanding with many south Asian singers such as Alam Lohar, the Noor Jehan, and various other Pakistani and Indian singers.
In the 1992 to 1993 academic year, Khan was a Visiting Artist in the Ethnomusicology department at the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, United States.
In 1988, Khan teamed up with Peter Gabriel on the soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ, which led to Khan being signed to Gabriel’s Real World label. He would go on to release five albums of traditional Qawwali through Real World, along with the more experimental albums Mustt Mustt (1990), Night Song (1996), and the posthumous remix album Star Rise (1997).
Khan’s experimental work for Real World, which featured his collaborations with the Canadian guitarist Michael Brook, spurred on several further collaborations with a number of other Western composers and rock musicians. One of the most noteworthy of these collaborations came in 1995, when Khan grouped with Pearl Jam’s lead singer Eddie Vedder on two songs for the soundtrack to Dead Man Walking. Khan also provided vocals for The Prayer Cycle, which was put together by Jonathan Elias, but died before the tracks could be completed. Alanis Morissette was brought in to sing with his unfinished vocals. In 2002, Gabriel included Khan’s vocals on the posthumously released track “Signal to Noise” on his album Up.
Khan’s album Intoxicated Spirit was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album in 1997. That same year, his album Night Song was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best World Music Album.
Khan contributed songs to, and performed in, several Pakistani films. Shortly before his death, he composed music for three Bollywood films, which includes the film Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya, in which he also sang for “Koi Jaane Koi Na Jaane” on-screen with the lead pair, and “Zindagi Jhoom Kar”. He also composed music for Kartoos,where he sang for “Ishq Da Rutba”, and “Bahaa Na Aansoo”, alongside Udit Narayan. He died very shortly prior to the movie’s release. His final music composition for Bollywood was for the movie, Kachche Dhaage, where he sang in “Iss Shaan-E-Karam Ka Kya Kehna”. The movie was released in 1999, two years after his death. The two singing sisters of Bollywood, Asha Bhosle and Lata Mangeshkar sang for the songs he composed in his brief stint in Bollywood. He also sang “Saya Bhi Saath Jab Chhod Jaye” for Sunny Deol’s movie Dillagi. The song was released in 1999, two years after Khan’s death. He also sang “Dulhe Ka Sehra” from the Bollywood movie Dhadkan which was released in 2000.
Khan contributed the song “Gurus of Peace” to the 1997 album Vande Mataram, composed by A. R. Rahman, and released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of India’s independence. As a posthumous tribute, Rahman later released an album titled Gurus of Peace, which included “Allah Hoo” by Khan. Rahman’s 2007 song “Tere Bina” for the film Guru was also composed as a tribute to Khan.
Various reports said Khan weighed over 300 pounds. He had been seriously ill for several months, according to a spokesperson at his U.S. label, American Recordings.After traveling to London from his native Pakistan for treatment for liver and kidney problems, he was rushed from the airport to Cromwell Hospital in London.
He died of a sudden cardiac arrest at Cromwell Hospital on 16 August 1997, aged 48.His body was repatriated to Faisalabad, and his funeral was a public affair. He was buried in Kabootran Wala Qabristan also known as Jhang Road Graveyard on Jhang Road, Faisalabad.
His wife, Naheed Nusrat, died on 13 September 2013 in Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. Naheed had moved to Canada after the death of her husband. She is survived by their daughter Nida Khan. Khan’s musical legacy is now carried forward by his nephews, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Rizwan-Muazzam.
Awards and titles
Khan is widely considered to be the most important qawwal in history. In 1987, he received the President of Pakistan’s Award for Pride of Performance for his contribution to Pakistani music. In 1995, he received the UNESCO Music Prize.In 1996 he was awarded Grand Prix des Amériques at Montreal World Film Festival for exceptional contribution to the art of cinema.In the same year, Khan received the Arts and Culture Prize of the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prizes.In Japan, he was also remembered as the Budai or “Singing Buddha”.
In 1997, he was nominated for two Grammy Awards, for Best Traditional Folk Album and Best World Music Album.As of 2001, he held the Guinness World Recordfor the “Most Qawwali Recordings”, having recorded over 125 Qawwali albums before his death. In 2005, Khan posthumously received the “Legends” award at the UK Asian Music Awards. Time magazine’s issue of 6 November 2006, “60 Years of Asian Heroes”, lists him as one of the top 12 artists and thinkers in the last 60 years.He also appeared on NPR’s 50 great voices list in 2010.In August 2010 he was included in CNN’s list of the twenty most iconic musicians from the past fifty years. In 2008, Khan was listed in 14th position in UGO’s list of the best singers of all time.
Many honorary titles were bestowed upon Khan during his 25-year music career. He was given the title of Ustad (the master) after performing classical music at a function in Lahore on the anniversary of his father’s death.
Tributes, legacy and influence
Khan is often credited as one of the progenitors of “world music”. Widely acclaimed for his spiritual charisma and distinctive exuberance, he was one of the first and most important artists to popularise Qawwali, then considered an “arcane religious tradition”, to Western audiences.His powerful vocal presentations, which could last up to 10 hours, brought forth a craze for his music all over Europe. Alexandra A. Seno of Asiaweek wrote:
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s voice was otherworldly. For 25 years, his mystical songs transfixed millions. It was not long enough … He performed qawwali, which means wise or philosophical utterance, as nobody else of his generation did. His vocal range, talent for improvisation and sheer intensity were unsurpassed.
Jeff Buckley cited Khan as a major influence, saying of him “He’s my Elvis”, and performing the first few minutes of Khan’s “Yeh Jo Halka Halka Suroor Hai” (including vocals) at live concerts.Many other artists have also cited Khan as an influence, such as Nadia Ali, Zayn Malik, Malay,Peter Gabriel, A. R. Rahman,Sheila Chandra,Alim Qasimov, Eddie Vedder, and Joan Osborn, among others.His music was also appreciated by singers such as Mick Jagger, socialites such as Parmeshwar Godrej, actors such as Amitabh Bachchan, Trudie Styler,Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins, and authors such as Sam Harris, who cited Khan as one of his favourite musicians of all time.
Paul Williams picked a concert performance by Khan for inclusion in his 2000 book The 20th Century’s Greatest Hits: a ‘top-40’ list, in which he devotes a chapter each to what he considers the top 40 artistic achievements of the 20th century in any field (including art, movies, music, fiction, non-fiction, science-fiction). The Derek Trucks Band covers Khan’s songs on two of their studio albums. Their 2002 album Joyful Noise includes a cover of “Maki Madni”, which features a guest performance by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Khan’s nephew. 2005’s Songlines includes a medley of two of Khan’s songs, “Sahib Teri Bandi” and “Maki Madni”. This medley first appeared on the band’s live album Live at Georgia Theatre (2004).
In 2004, a tribute band called Brooklyn Qawwali Party (formerly Brook’s Qawwali Party) was formed in New York City by percussionist Brook Martinez to perform the music of Khan. The 13-piece group still performs mostly instrumental jazz versions of Khan’s qawwalis, using the instruments conventionally associated with jazz rather than those associated with qawwali.
In 2007, electronic music producer and performer Gaudi, after being granted access to back catalogue recordings from Rehmat Gramophone House (Khan’s former label in Pakistan), released an album of entirely new songs composed around existing vocals. The album, Dub Qawwali, was released by Six Degrees Records. It reached no. 2 in the iTunes US Chart, no. 4 in the UK and was the no. 1 seller in Amazon.com’s Electronic Music section for a period. It also earned Gaudi a nomination for the BBC’s World Music Awards 2008.
On 13 October 2015, Google celebrated Khan’s 67th birthday with a doodle on its homepage for India, Pakistan and Japan among other countries, calling him the person “who opened the world’s ears to the rich, hypnotic sounds of the Sufis.” “Thanks to his legendary voice, Khan helped bring “world music” to the world,” said Google.
In February 2016, a rough mix of a song recorded by Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1998 called “Circle of the Noose” was leaked to the internet. Guitarist Dave Navarro described the song saying, “It’s pop in the sense of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, hook. I really love it and we use a loop of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. It’s really nice. The best way I can describe it is it’s like pepped- up ’60s folk with ’90s ideals, but I would hate to label it as folk because it’s not, it moves.”
The 2018 book The Displaced Children of Displaced Children (Eyewear Publishing) by Pakistani American poet Faisal Mohyuddin includes the poem “Faisalabad,” a tribute to Khan and to the city of Khan’s birth. “Faisalabad” includes a number or references to Khan, including the excerpt, “There are no better cures for homesickness / than Nusrat’s qawwalis, / except when you’re a mother / and you find comfort in the unfolding / hours of a child’s existence.” The poem was first published by Narrative Magazine in Spring 2017.
One of Khan’s famous Qawwali songs, “Tere Bin Nahin Lagda” (“I am restless without you”), appeared on two of his 1996 albums, Sorrows Vol. 69 and Sangam (as “Tere Bin Nahin Lagda Dil”), the latter a collaborative album with Indian lyricist Javed Akhtar; Sangam sold over 1 million copies in India. Lata Mangeshkar recorded a cover version called “Tere Bin Nahin Jeena” for Kachche Dhaage, starring Ajay Devgn, Saif Ali Khanand Manisha Koirala.Composed by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the Kachche Dhaage soundtrack album sold 3 million units in India.British-Indian producer Bally Sagoo released a remix of “Tere Bin Nahin Lagda”, which was later featured in the 2002 British film Bend It Like Beckham, starring Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley.A cover version called “Tere Bin” was recorded by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan with Asees Kaur for the 2018 Bollywood film Simmba, starring Ranveer Singh and Sara Ali Khan.
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s music had a big impact on Bollywood music, inspiring numerous Indian musicians working in Bollywood since the late 1980s. For example, he inspired A. R. Rahman and Javed Akhtar, both of whom he collaborated with. However, there were many hit filmi songs from other Indian music directors that plagiarised Khan’s music.For example, Vedpal’s “Yeh Jo Halka Halka Suroor Hai” in Souten Ki Beti (1989) and Anu Malik’s “Mera Piya Ghar Aaya” in Yaarana (1995) are based on Khan’s songs.Viju Shah’s hit song “Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast” in Mohra (1994) was plagiarised from Khan’s popular Qawwali song “Dam Mast Qalandar”.Several Nadeem-Shravan songs are based on Khan’s songs, including “Kisika Yaar Na Bichde” in Shreemaan Aashique (1993), “Kitna Pyara Tujhe Rab Ne Banaya” in Raja Hindustani (1996), “Mujhe Ek Pal Chain Na Awe” in Judaai (1997),and “Bheed Me Tanhai Me” in Tumsa Nahin Dekha: A Love Story (2004). Other Bollywood songs based on Khan’s music include K. K. Mahajan’s “Zamaana Deewana Ho Gaya” in Zamaana Deewana (1995) and Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s “Wada Karke Sajan Nahi Aaya” in Barsaat Ki Raat (1998), among others.
Despite the astounding number of hit Bollywood songs plagiarised from his music, he was reportedly tolerant towards the plagiarism.n one interview, he jokingly gave “Best Copy” awards to Viju Shah and Anu Malik.In his defense, Malik claimed that he loved Khan’s music and was actually showing admiration by using his tunes.However, Khan was reportedly aggrieved when Malik turned his spiritual “Allah Hoo, Allah Hoo” into “I Love You, I Love You” in Auzaar.Khan said “he has taken my devotional song Allahu and converted it into I love you. He should at least respect my religious songs.”
His music also appears on soundtracks for Hollywood films such as The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Natural Born Killers (1994) and Dead Man Walking (1995).The British Asian Underground producer Rishi Rich’s “Nahin Tere Jeha Hor Disda”, with vocals by Pakistani Qawwali singer Javed Bashir, is based on Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s “Kiven Mukhre Ton Nazran Hatawan”.
- Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: le dernier prophète (1996). Directed by Jérôme de Missolz.
- Nusrat has Left the Building… But When? (1997). Directed by Farjad Nabi. (This 20-minute docudrama focuses on Khan’s early career.)
- A Voice from Heaven (1999). Directed by Giuseppe Asaro. New York, NY: Winstar TV & Video. (This 75-minute documentary, available on VHS and DVD, provides an introduction to Khan’s life and work.)
- Samandar Main Samandar (2007). A documentary aired on Geo TV detailing Khan’s career.
- The King of Qawalli (2009). A short film aired on Dawn News about Khan’s life and career.
- The JVC Video Anthology of World Music and Dance (1990). Video 14 (of 30) (South Asia IV). Produced by Ichikawa Katsumori; directed by Nakagawa Kunikiko and Ichihashi Yuji; in collaboration with the National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka. [Tokyo]: JVC, Victor Company of Japan; Cambridge, Massachusetts: distributed by Rounder Records. Features a studio performance by Khan and Party (two Urdu-language songs: a Hamd, and a Manqabat for Khwaja Mu’inuddin Chishti. Filmed in Tokyo, Japan, 20 September 1987, for Asian Traditional Performing Arts).
- Nusrat! Live at Meany (1998). Produced by the University of Washington. 87-minute recording of a concert of 23 January 1993 at Meany Hall, University of Washington in Seattle, during Khan’s residency at the ethnomusicology program there.
- Live in Concert in the UK, (DVD, vols. 1–17) [Khokhar Productions]; recorded between 1983 and 1993
- Akhiyan Udeek Diyan (DVD) [Khokhar Productions]
- Je Tun Rab Nu Manauna (DVD) [Khokhar Productions]
- Yaadan Vicchre Sajan Diyan Aayiyan (DVD) [Khokhar Productions]
- Rang-e-Nusrat (DVD, vols. 1–11) [Music Today]; recorded between 1983 and 1993 (same material as the Khokhar Productions)
- VHS videotapes, vols. 1–21 [Khokhar Productions]; recorded between 1983 and 1993 (same material as the Khokhar Productions)
- Luxor Cinema Birmingham (VHS vol. 1, 1979), Khokhar Productions
- Digbeth Birmingham (VHS vol. 2, 1983), Khokhar Productions
- St. Francis Hall Birmingham (VHS vol. 3, 1983), Khokhar Productions
- Royal Oak Birmingham (VHS vol. 4, 1983), Khokhar Productions
- Private Mehfil (Wallace Lawley Centre, Lozells Birmingham, November 1983) (VHS vol. 5), Khokhar Productions
- Private Mehfil (VHS vol. 6, 1983), Khokhar Productions
- Natraj Cinema Leicester (VHS vol. 7, 1983), Khokhar Productions
- Live in Southall (VHS vol. 8), Khokhar Productions
- Live in Bradford (VHS vol. 9, 1983), Khokhar Productions
- Live in Birmingham (VHS vol. 10, 1985), Khokhar Productions
- Allah Ditta Hall (VHS vol. 11, 1985), Khokhar Productions
- Harrow Leisure Centre (VHS vol. 12), Khokhar Productions
- University of Aston (VHS vol. 13, 1988), Khokhar Productions
- Aston University (VHS vol. 14, 1988), Khokhar Productions
- WOMAD Festival Bracknell (VHS vol. 15, 1988), Khokhar Productions
- Live in Paris (VHS vol. 16, 1988), Khokhar Productions
- Poplar Civic Centre London (VHS vol. 17), Khokhar Productions
- Imperial Hotel Birmingham (VHS vol. 18, 1985), Khokhar Productions
- Slough Gurdawara (SHABADS) (VHS vol. 19), Khokhar Productions
- Imran Khan Cancer Appeal (VHS vol. 20), Khokhar Productions
- Town Hall Birmingham (VHS vol. 21, 1993), Khokhar Productions
The following are known sales of records with songs credited to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, either as a vocalist, composer, or special thanks.
|Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya||1,500,000||India|
|Total known sales||19,650,000||Worldwide|
The following are known Indian sales of Bollywood soundtrack albums featuring copied versions of songs originally composed by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, without crediting him.
|Total known sales||27,000,000|