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Death anniversary of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan forgotten: Is the era of sa re ga ma gone?

By Shahid Mubarik

FAISALABAD: It’s a sorry state of affairs when it comes to the fact that Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s death anniversary passed away silently, and neither the district and town governments nor artists’ associations bothered to organise any function to pay tribute to this legend.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was a world-renowned musician and primarily a singer of qawwali— the devotional music of Sufis, a mystical sect of Islam— passed away on August 16, 1997. Nusrat was born in Faisalabad, House No P 432, Lasuri Shah Road, on Wednesday, October 13, 1948. His father, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, was a distinguished musicologist, vocalist, instrumentalist, and skilled qawali performer. Nusrat had one brother, Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan.

The ancestral home of Nusrat’s family has been sold and now is being demolished. His belongings have been left unattended, most of them comprise of naat, qawwali and hammd books.

Haji Shaukat Ali, the contractor of Nusrat’s home debris, told Daily Times that he felt sorry for the precious things of Nusrat left abandoned. “I have collected most of the books and copies recovered from Nusrat’s room and have brought them to my home,” he said. He said the house should be declared a historical building and should be decorated and opened for visitors. He said that it was a matter of shame the government and the house members had failed to save the precious heritage.

Most of the people of Jhang Bazaar remember Nusrat as a meek man and feel disheartened at the destruction of his ancestral home. They demanded the government annul the deal of the house sale and build a music academy. By tradition, qawwali has been a family business and Nusrat’s family (originally from Afghanistan) has been performing qawwali for the last 600 years.

Nusrat’s father thought that qawwali artists had low social status and hence objected to Nusrat’s pursuing the profession. Ustad Fateh Ali Khan wanted to see him as a doctor, but Nusrat continued his chosen profession and earned extol not only in Pakistan, but also all over the world. Nusrat made his first public performance at the funeral ceremony of his father forty days after his death. Under the guidance of Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan, (Nusrat’s uncle) he became the group’s leader in 1965 and the group was called Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Mujahid Mubarak Ali Khan and Party. Nusrat was honored with the Pride of Performance in 1986.

Nusrat gripped the world after the qawwali of “Dum Mast Qalandar, Mast Mast.” His unbelievable voice and complete mastery of the genre made him a superstar in the Islamic world, especially in Pakistan and India where people believe that like no other, Nusrat’s performances transcended religious boundaries and his music touched the soul. Nusrat sang not only in Urdu and his native Punjabi, but in Persian as well. He was also one of the first south Asian singers to perform before a large western audience, and Peter Gabriel, a Hollywood director, was the man who helped him to increase his popularity. Peter Gabriel’s Real World label released five albums of Nusrat’s traditional qawwali performances in the West. He also performed traditional qawwali live in front of Western audiences at several WOMAD world music festivals. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Nusrat holds the world record for the largest recorded output by a qawwali artist—a total of 125 albums.

Nusrat was going to the US for a kidney transplant when he stopped over for a few days in London, where his condition worsened. On 16 August 1997, Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan passed away at Cromwell Hospital in London because of liver and kidney failure. In the past, the singer had been plagued with numerous health problems, most linked to his tremendous girth.

Having no son of his own, Nusrat had taken Rahat Ali Khan under his wing at a very early age and trained him in qawwali and classical music. However, it seems that even Rahat Ali Khan is not interested in marking the superb services of Nusrat, though he himself owes his fame to Nusrat.

It was told that owing to family disputes Nusrat’s family had sold the house in Lasoori Shah, where Nusrat had spent his childhood and most of his youth. Now, his wife is settled in Canada.

On the other hand, the district government has collected a handsome amount by naming the local arts council with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan auditorium, but the administration of this auditorium has also been negligent in arranging any function in his hounour.

An arts council employee told Daily Times, “We are also the victims of lethargic behaviour of the bureaucracy as they are not releasing the funds for the completion of Nusrat Fateh Ali auditorium. Our director has made so many requests and number of people of political muscles have also visited this place and made promises for the funds, but nobody did anything.”