Nusrat Fateh Ali took the qawwali, like his contemporaries, away from the shrine to the concert format
ahat Fateh Ali Khan is not very happy about the national awards that are being given to artistes. He has not been given one and that chimes in well with many who question why he has been ignored or by passed or, worse still, not considered worthy of one till now.
It seems like only yesterday that a very boy enlisted in the qawwal party led by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and was admired by the listeners who appreciated his eagerness to display his taiyaari among the well-known vocalists and musicians that he was surrounded by. His voice had not cracked as yet. He nevertheless carried out what was expected of him, being the representative of the next generation of the hereditary musicians.
Nusrat did not have a son. As is their wont, sons are supposed to carry the torch within the traditional qawwal and musician set up. He was the son of Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan, a brother of Nursat Fateh Ali Khan. The onus of responsibility fell on the nephew. He has now been carrying the responsibility of his family profession for over two decades.
It fell on him earlier than was expected because of the untimely death of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Nusrat’s life was a whirlwind of success. Initially, he was not seen as a very promising prospect. His father, Fateh Ali Khan, too, had died early. Nusrat was pushed into the spotlight, guided by Mubarak Ali Khan. He shot to fame nationally in 1975, and soon after internationally, with his exposure to the world wide music scene and interaction with the leading composers espousing contemporary musical trends.
His life ended as it had started - in a whirlwind. He just left the world not prepared for his sudden exit at the prime of his artistic career. Much was still expected of him especially in a phase where he could have had more leisure to explore experimentally his wide experience with many musical systems of the world. He was sought after so much across the globe that he totally neglected his health, and did not pay any attention to the deteriorating physical condition, aggravated by ceaseless performances and touring, leaving his already weak kidney malfunctioning. His excessive weight added to the problem. He was unable to salvage a disciplined life style from the one of an artiste constantly hounded by fans and promoters.
His life ended as it had started in a whirlwind. He just left the world not prepared for his sudden exit at the prime of his artistic career. Much was still expected of him especially in a phase where he could have had more leisure to explore experimentally his wide experience with many musical systems of the world. He was sought after so much across the globe.
Rahat, despite his very early years, did not fail the expectations. He kept the qawwal party together and soon they were on the path again.
It is always unfair to compare two artistes, let alone an ustad and his disciple. It is sufficient to say that he has been performing all over the world and has made a name for himself in India as well. He has been doing the traditional qawwali as well as film songs, ghazals, geets in the qawaali ang and the rendition which is more kalam-centred. He leaves little room to complain and on the way has picked up many prestigious awards internationally and a few at home. However, he has not been given any national awards as yet.
The choice of our national awards is not always above reproach. There may be political considerations or an element of favouritism. At times, the final list leaves a few people disgruntled and many questioning the basis on which the choices are finalised. Given that there may be regional preferences, the final count should in most cases be able to meet some standards.
Rahat Fateh Ali Khan is a popular vocalist. At times, the virtuosity of the form goes unnoticed by some prudish jury members especially in the classical forms. However, Nusrat Fateh Ali took the qawwali, like his other contemporaries, away from the shrine to a concert format and then into one that is a part of festivals, dancing and yelling and abided by few rules. Rahat has not deviated from that tradition and has kept the people enthralled and the flag of the country flying across the world.
Many artistes are over and above the prestige that the national awards bring. Their popularity and ratings are not affected by such announcement. However, it is expected that talent and popularity based on it will be recognised and appreciated by those who matter.
The writer is a culture critic based in Lahore.