Saturday, May 16, 2009

Nusrat and I

My oldest memory of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: It was 1986, I was just 6 six years old and it was my first year at Sadiq Public school. I had just gone back to school after summer vacations. One fine afternoon my maternal uncle visited my at my boarding house at school and took me back home for a weekend leave. I was really excited. But instead of heading home, we went to Bahawalnagar, a border town in Punjab and also the district headquarter of the Bahawalnagar district. On the way I was told that we were going to attend the annual horse and cattle show there, and it was going to be a fun filled weekend. I was even more excited. Anyways, we reached the town and went straight to my maternal grand father's official residence as he was the elected head of the district government, and the horse and cattleshow was being organized by him.

That evening I saw a man sitting in the drawing room of the residence and I was really confused tosee him there. I had seen him earlier on television singing qawwalis, and I had never liked them. I was more into film songs back then. I had no clue how giant of a musician this rather humble man was. I remember shaking hands with him on my grand father's behest, and sat there, rather bored, for half an hour. That 'man' was the legendary Ustad Nusrat fateh Ali Khan, and this was first and only time I ever saw him in person. He was there to perform that night, but cannot recall attending his show. I must have, but I just don't remember.

... when I first started enjoying his music: 1991. It was around 6 am, and I was sleeping in my car on my way to Bahawalpur. It was a Saturday morning and I was being driven back to school after spending a weekend with my family at my village. Friday used to be the official holiday n those days. While I was sleeping, my driver put on music to keep him up and in process woke me up to. It was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and I still remember the qawwali. It was 'Jai tu rab nu manuna pehlay yaar nu mana,' [if you want to appease God, appease the beloved first]. I loved it. I was actually enthralled by what I was listening to. I fell in love with NFAK that very moment and thought to myself that next time I go home, I got to buy and listen to his music. And since then I've been a die hard fan.

There came a time that one third of my entire music collection was NFAK's cassettes and CDs. My Nusrat collection was popular among not only my boarding house mates, but my class fellows from the other boarding house used to come and visit me to listen to Khan sahab as well. It was 1997, the same year Khan sahab died. BBC broke the news, and I wept. It was in August, during my summer vacations and I was glued to the tv the whole day. It was a very sad day, but what Khan sahab had achieved at the age 49, it would take most multiple lifetimes to achieve even half of that. He was a maestro, often referred to as King of Qawwali, but he didn't limit himself to just that. His fusion albums were as popular and as amazing as was his sufi music. He sang all types of songs, composed all kinds of music, but never did he look out of place.

His international collaborations are as popular in west as they are in Pakistan, or even in India. He was one musician who put Pakistan on international music's face. A lot of his qawwalis and fusion albums are still part of my music collection and probably will always be. One album of his that I can't just get enough of is 'Night Songs,' which he did with the famous Canadian musician Michael Brooke. A song or two from the album are always a part of my play list. I wish he had lived for a few more years, and we would have gotten a few more memorable tunes from the legend. He may have left us, but his music is alive, and I'm sure will stay alive for decades to come.

4 comments:

Anand said...

oh he died at 49!?

Sikander Fayyaz Khan said...

2 months before his 49th birthday. Born October 1948, died August 1997.

ayyo.... said...

I knew the first singer you'd write about is Nusrat..!
I cannpt tell you how much I'm in love with 'Afreen Afreen'..!
"Piya re..!" and there are a couple more that I can't recall..
But Nusrat was amazing, no doubt about it..! :)

Sikander Fayyaz Khan said...

Ayyo, Nusrat was my natural choice as the first Pakistani music guru to write about. However, if I make a list of my favourite Nusrat tracks, Afreen and Piya re might not be able to make it among top 30.. :p