Birthday: October 13, 1948
Died At Age: 48
Sun Sign: Libra
Also Known As: Shahenshah-e-Qawwali, Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
Born in: Faisalabad
Famous as: Qawwal and Ghazal Singer
Spouse/Ex-: Naheed Nusrat
father: Fateh Ali Khan
siblings: Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan
Died on: August 16, 1997
place of death: London
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was a Pakistani musician and singer, counted amongst the greatest voices ever recorded. He was primarily a singer of qawwali, the devotional music of the Sufis. As a singer he was blessed with an extraordinary voice and could perform at a high level of intensity for several hours. Born into a family of accomplished singers and musicians, he developed an early interest in the art form. However, his father wanted him to become a doctor or engineer as he felt that practitioners of qawwali had low social status. But fate had other plans and Nusrat too went on to become a musician cum singer. He gave his first public performance at the age of 16 and soon became the head of the family qawwali party. Within a few years he established himself throughout Pakistan as one of the greatest qawwals of his generation. As he matured as a performer he developed his own unique style of qawwali, experimenting with the tempo and voice ranges. It did not take long for his fame to spread worldwide and he became a much recognized and respected figure in countries across the world including India, Japan, and the U.S. Credited with introducing qawwali music to international audiences, he is popularly referred to as "Shahenshah-e-Qawwali", meaning "The King of Kings of Qawwali”.
Childhood & Early Life
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was born on 13 October 1948 in Hazara, Faisalabad, Punjab, Pakistan. His Punjabi Muslim family had migrated to Pakistan from their native city of Jalandhar in East Punjab, British India, after the partition of India in 1947.
His father Fateh Ali Khan was a musicologist, vocalist, instrumentalist, and qawwal. Nusrat had four elder sisters and one younger brother. He hailed from a family with a rich legacy of qawwali music. Two of his uncles, Ustad Mubarik Ali Khan and Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, were also famous qawwals.
Initially his father wanted Nusrat to become a doctor or an engineer as he felt that qawwals had low social status. Nonetheless, Nusrat received musical training in tabla and vocals.
His father died in 1964 when Nusrat was 16 years old. Ten days after his death, Nusrat had a dream in which his father appeared and instructed him to sing. The boy gave his first public performance at his father's funeral ceremony 40 days later.
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Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan joined his uncles in giving performances and blossomed into a talented singer of qawwali. Initially he drew on his uncles’ musical style, and as he matured as a performer, he added his own creative touches to his music and developed his unique, distinguishing style of singing qawwali.
His uncle Mubarak Ali Khan died in 1971, and Nusrat Khan became the official leader of the family Qawwali party which now became known as “Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Mujahid Mubarak Ali Khan & Party”.
As the leader of the family party, he gave his first performance at a studio recording broadcast known as ‘Jashn-e-Baharan’ which was a part of an annual music festival organized by Radio Pakistan. There he sang in many languages including Urdu, Punjabi, Persian and Hindi.
Soon he gained much fame and established himself throughput Pakistan as one of the best known contemporary qawwals of his era. Blessed with a powerful voice and high stamina, he could perform at a high level of intensity for several hours. He was accompanied by tabla, harmoniums, and backing vocals in concerts.
It was not long before his fame spread beyond Pakistan and Khan performed at the World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD) festival in London in 1985. He then began touring and performing widely, travelling to Paris in 1985 and 1988, and visiting Japan in 1987 at the invitation of the Japan Foundation. In 1989, he performed at Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York.
His popularity skyrocketed in the 1990s and he served as a Visiting Artist in the Ethnomusicology department at the University of Washington, Seattle, in 1992–93.
Over the course of his career he also released several albums and worked on the soundtracks of numerous films on an international level. He worked with Canadian musician Michael Brook on the albums ‘Mustt Mustt’ (1990) and ‘Night Song’ (1996). He had also worked with Peter Gabriel on the soundtrack ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ in 1988 which gave him the chance to blend qawwalis with Western music.
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sang for, and performed in several Pakistani and Indian films. Some of the songs he sang for Indian films include 'Koi Jane Koi Na Jane', ‘Saya Bhi Saath Jab Chhod Jaye’, and ‘Dulhe Ka Sehra’. He also contributed the song ‘Gurus of Peace’ to the Indian album ‘Vande Mataram’ which was released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of India's independence.
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was one of the first artists to popularize qawwali to Western audiences. He possessed an extraordinary range of vocal abilities, and his powerful, intoxicating voice mesmerized audiences not just in his native Pakistan, but all over the world. Some of his most popular albums are ‘Mustt Mustt’, ‘The Day, The Night, The Dawn, The Dusk’, ‘Night Song’, and ‘Sangam’.
Awards & Achievements
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan received the President of Pakistan's Award for Pride of Performance for his contribution to Pakistani music in 1987.
He was honored with the UNESCO Music Prize in 1995 and the Grand Prix des Amériques at Montreal World Film Festival the next year.
In August 2010 he was included in CNN's list of the twenty most iconic musicians from the past fifty years.
Personal Life & Legacy
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan married his first cousin, Naheed, the daughter of his uncle, Salamat Ali Khan in 1979. They had one daughter, Nida.
He fell ill with kidney and liver failure in 1997 while in London. He suffered a fatal heart attack and died on 16 August 1997. He was 48 years old. Khan's musical legacy is now carried forward by his nephew, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.