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Remembering Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan:World Music Star

Geetha Patil

A well-known young multitalented Indian Classical musician from Greater Boston area Mr. Michael Dwan Singh made an exciting and impressive presentation on, “Remembering Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan:World Music Star” at MIT Wednesday Meeting, Cambridge, MA on 17 Aug, 2016 evening.  Mr. Michael said that the music of Pakistan's Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan isn't usual pop fare but the devotional music of the Sufis in the Qawwali form. Shri. Ali Khan is widely known for introducing Qawwali music to international audiences. He is also popularly recognized as "Shahenshah-e-Qawwali", meaning "The King of Kings of Qawwali." His spirited performances of Qawwali delivered a moving set of intricate compositions to an appreciative audience.

Prof. Jaspal Singh Ji introduced this young artist to the audience of the evening by saying that Mr. Michael who is popularly known as “Bunty” among his friends is a well-trained Sarangi player from a Banaras Gharana. He also plays with great command Tabla, and Oud. He travels widely and plays with great artists at several grand concerts. He nurtures very well his childhood interest in music along with his profession as Banker and training in Philosophy. Mr. Michael as a young boy is very much impressed by Shri Ali Khan’s powerful vocal presentations and the Tabla playing style that is used in his Qawwali singing.

Mr. Michael said that Shri. Ali Khan who was born in a Punjabi Muslim family of Faisalabad in 1948 and died in 1997 at the age of 48 was the best singer in the world of Qawwali music. His style is regarded as classical with spiritual themes related to Sufi mysticism. With his greatest voice and an extraordinary range of vocal abilities and an incredible capacity to perform for several hours, he boosted the 600-year old Qawwali tradition of his family to the highest level of world music ever recorded in the music history. His musical projects with Peter Gabriel introduced Qawwali to the western audiences, in which he experimented with blending eastern sounds over western instruments. His admirers in Japan considered him as a reincarnation of laughing Buddha due to his strong resemblance. His nephew and successor Shri. Rahet Fateh Ali Khan is considered the current King of Qawwali Music now. Shri. Khan performed with Canadian musician Michael Brook and also grouped with Pearl Jam's lead singer Eddie Vedder. 

Shri. Ali Khan sang many songs in different languages such as UrduPunjabi, Persian, Braj Bhasha, and Hindi. His first major hit song Haq Ali Ali was performed in a traditional style and with traditional instrumentation, which featured restrained use of Khan's sargam creativeness – stated Mr. Michael. Shri. Ali Khan toured extensively performing in over 40 countries. Shri. Khan also contributed songs to, and performed in several Pakistani and Indian films.

Mr. Michael showed some of the famous concerts of Shri. Ali Khan and explained to the audience how his vocal range, talent for creativeness and inventiveness and intensity made him to surpass others in the field and how his mystical songs fascinated millions. He also explained how Tabla can be used to create variety of sound to suit different styles of singing. Mr. Michael played some of Shri Ali Khan’s songs on his Sarangi with his accompanists Mr. Neel Agarwal on Tabla and Aditya Nochur on Guitar and entertained audience for hours.

“I had the rare opportunity to sit and listen to eastern classical music this close to the musicians. This was truly enjoyable” said one of the American audience at the meeting.

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