Echoes of melody

October 15, 2023

The streets, roads and bazaars still pulsate with Nusrat’s music

Echoes of melody


n the early hours of the morning, the melodic voice of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is heard in the bazaars and streets adjacent to the historic clock tower of Faisalabad. Many admirers of the maestro begin their day by listening to one his qawwalis.

Hearing his melodious voice is special in the surroundings because this is his birthplace. 26 years after his death, his popularity has not diminished. His father, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, had moved from Jalandhar to Lyallpur (now Faisalabad) along with his brothers and other relatives in 1948 after the Partition.

They had taken up residence in front of Baba Lasoorhi Shah’s shrine, a few furlongs away from the Clock Tower. Khan had a special devotion to Baba Lasoorhi Shah even when they had lived in Jalandhar and used to visit Lyallpur every year to perform qawwali at his urs. Nusrat was born on October 13, 1948.

The house where Nusrat was born has been demolished. It had been sold about a decade ago. A tea stall and a motorcycle rickshaw stand have been established next to the place. Nusrat had already left the place and taken up permanent residence in Lahore. However, his cousin Dularay Khan still lives in the area. Talking to The News on Sunday), Khan says that Nusrat had always looked innocent, sincere and blessed. “His parents had initially named him Pervaiz so that everyone called him Paiji. However, after a few years, our Peer Sahib, Sher Muhammad Sarkar, came visiting and said that the name should be changed to Nusrat. He said the boy’s star was very bright,” he remembers.

Dularay Khan says that in his early life, Nusrat did not pay much attention to qawwali. However, when his father, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, passed away in 1964, he started putting in hard work to advance his father’s legacy.

Nusrat once narrated an incident in his life. “A few days after my father’s death, I saw him in a dream. We were both standing at the darbar of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer. He was telling me to sing qawwali but I said that I could not sing. He said, ‘You can, I’ll sing with you.’”

He started his artistic journey at the age of 15 with a qawwali rendered on his father’s chehlum at the Darbar Baba Lasoorhi Shah. According to Khan, Nusrat came to the darbar along with his uncles Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and Ustad Nawazish Ali Khan. He was weeping as he remembered his father. Everyone encouraged him until he performed his first qawwali with tears in his eyes. It was so touching that most people in the gathering started crying,” he recalled.

Rehmat Gramophone House in Aminpur Bazaar near the Clock Tower was the first to record Nusrat’s music. It later released more than 100 volumes of his qawwali. This not only made Nusrat popular all over the world, but also Bari Nizami, the poet who wrote qawwalis and Sufi poetry for him.

Jameel Siraj, an admirer of Bari Nizami, has also published his complete works. He tells TNS that Nusrat was well-versed in qawwali as well as classical music. Siraj says that the singer’s world-famous qawwali Dum Mast Qalandar Mast Mast was also a creation of Bari Nizami. He says it was originally written as a manqbat poem.

“Bari Nizami wrote it in the style of a typical qawwali. When Nusrat and Peter Gabriel, two great musicians of his time, composed its music together and Nusrat recorded it in his own voice, it became a masterpiece,” he says. Siraj says after Nusrat had shifted to Lahore, he would frequently send his car to pick up Bari Nizami and the two would spend many hours together.

“Once I went to Nusrat’s house in Lahore with Bari Nizami sahib. He was sitting with a harmonium. All night Bari Nizami sahib recited his poetry to him and he composed the music. It made me realise how a great performer reaches the heights of art.”

During a career spanning over two and a half decades, Nusrat not only revived qawwali but also made it popular throughout the subcontinent and in the Western world by creating immortal compositions by fusing Eastern and Western music. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan passed away on August 16, 1997. He remains popular to date.

“The government has named the Faisalabad Arts Council auditorium, an underpass on Canal Road and a recently constructed government hospital after Nusrat. However, none of these match with his greatness. There should be a museum housing his musical instruments, albums and other memorabilia. A music academy should be built in his name,” says Siraj. He mentions that a shrine to Nusrat has been built 24 years after his death by his nephew, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. “The government should have stepped up and taken the initiative,” he says. “It is sad to see that the house where Nusrat was born has been demolished. In another country, they would have made it a monument,” says Siraj.

The writer has been associated with journalism for the past decade. He tweets @ naeemahmad876

Echoes of melody