Today is the 73rd birth anniversary of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He is also known as the 'King of Qawwali'. A musical documentary on him was named 'A Voice From Heaven'. Going by the array of great work that he had done over the years, all these titles look aptly suitable. He had acquired the attention of the world through his magnificent work. Before dying at an early age of 48 years in 1997, he had performed in all parts of the world and garnered love and respect from people all across the globe.
Nusrat Sahab, as he is fondly called by most people, was known for his Sufi qawwalis. As a matter of fact, he was the greatest performers of qawwali. Qawwali is a Sufi Muslim devotional form of music that is sung prominently in Pakistan. He was a master of the craft and hence was able to energetically improvise his qawwalis. His qawwalis were euphoric which would make people go into a state of trance. His art was difficult to be confined in a country and hence it transcended boundaries.
As a 90's kid, I can vividly remember how he made waves in India with some of his pop songs released here. India and Pakistan's relation has always been acerbic. But the good part is that despite such kind of hatred, good artwork has always been appreciated on both sides of the border. Nusrat Sahab was loved in Pakistan for his miraculous qawwalis. However, as I can make out, there were a lot of fans here in India. He, in fact, performed in India on many occasions.
A lot was happening in India in the 90's. The pop music industry was flourishing and there was a big fan base for it. Nusrat Sahab eventually sang some of the pop songs released in India. His style of singing was mesmerising and it coupled with some bass boost in those pop songs. They turned out divine. As a kid, I was addicted to those songs without having any kind of notion that they were coming from other side of the border. The songs just gave the ecstasy. Incidentally, his many songs were loved by Indians back then.
His songs – Piya Re Piya Re, Tere Bin Nahin Lagda, Afreen Afreen and Gurus of Peace – caught my attention. They were out of the world. His voice came across as an epitome of hard work. In one of the documentaries made on him, his wife Naheed Nusrat can be seen saying how he revered his work. She said he was into his work with such a dedication that he would forget the world around him. That indeed showed in his work. We all were fans of him. Didn't we?
Moreover, Nusrat Sahab also composed and sang in Bollywood. In 1980, he had performed in India for the first time in Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh's marriage. He also composed music for three Bollywood movies. They are – Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya, Kartoos and Kachche Dhaage. He also sang many Bollywood songs. Some of his songs were released after his death. His last song in Bollywood was in the movie Dhadkan, which was released three years after his death in 2000. The song was 'Dulhe Ka Sehra'. It was liked by a lot of people in India.
That was not it, his songs have been adapted in many different forms in Bollywood movies. 'Sanson Ki Mala' from Koyla was another song which I liked a lot. That was enough to know the legend. I know I was introduced to his work through pop songs and it drove me to explore his qawwalis. The temptation was tough to contain. Over the years, as I have listened to many of his songs. Now I can very well say that his Sufi qawwalis were a great work of art.
There have been many instances when I felt that I have had enough of all kinds of music and was tempted to just listen to Nusrat Sahab's qawwalis. Today, we are exposed to all of his songs courtesy of YouTube. It has opened a new kind of window to his body of work. It is a treat for music aficionado like me. There are times when I just want to listen to his songs. Many of his songs have attained cult status and he has performed in many different ways in many of the performances. Luckily, we have most of them on YouTube.
I can recall how we were quite mesmerised by his qawwali – Ek Jaam Khanakta Jaam – in our college days. Quite understandably it used to be our anthem at our college parties. We would raise a toast with this song on most of the days. The liking for the song drove me to search all of its versions. Later, I found a version of this qawwali which was almost an hour long. A few years later, when there was a reunion of friends as we were all travelling in a car on a distant tour. Suddenly, that moment flashed in my mind when we used to like this song. I played the longest version in the car. Silence engulfed the car as we turned nostalgic while listening to the song for almost an hour. It was difficult to withdraw from the song.
It is amazing how stars influence us. Nusrat Sahab's work was out of the world and they touched us in many ways. They sort of stayed. I know Nusrat Sahab has gone quite early but his contributions to the world through his songs are quite amazing and exemplary. We never got over his songs and I think we never will. Today as well, we Indians and Pakistanis are divided as ever but there is something about divine forces that continue to give us reasons for symbiosis. Nusrat Sahab's work was worshipped on both sides of the boundary.
Let us turn back the clock and enjoy some of his songs:
Piya Re Piya Re
Tere Bin Nahin Lagda
Gurus of Peace
Ek Jaam Khanakta Jaam