An ode to the King of Qawwali – Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

5 min


  Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan binds this country like no other. From the tourist infected streets of Swat to the sweaty lanes of Saddar, Karachi – you are bound to come across one of his qawwalis reverberating through the air.

Ustad Nusrat transcends ethnicity, geographical boundaries and every barrier man has placed between a messenger of love and the masses. The uniqueness through which Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (or NFAK, as he is popularly abbreviated nowadays) combined ballads, poems and ghazals is unparalleled. Language did not matter when it came to his music, as he performed to full houses in USA and Europe.



Nusrat’ s father – Fateh Ali Khan – was against him joining the family tradition. He should pursue becoming a doctor or engineer, he argued.

The Khans had been ‘qawwals‘ for more than 600 years. NFAK had shown great interest in his family occupation since childhood, mastering the tabla at 12 years of age. Eventually, Fateh Ali Khan did the whole world a favor by giving in against his son.

Nusrat’s first performance came at his father’s death, and the young qawwal never looked back. He became the head of the family Qawwali party in 1971, which then came to be known as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Mujahid Mubarak Ali Khan & Party. Regarded as one of the greatest voices ever recorded, he had a phenomenal range of verbal abilities and possessed the miraculous ability to perform at a high level of intensity for several hours.


Within just a few years, he had established himself throughout Pakistan as the outstanding qawwal of his generation. NFAK sang powerfully and expressively in a very high pitch, with remarkable stamina and melodic creativity.
Nusrat made various adjustments to his style, such as increasing the tempo, as a means to elevate qawwali to a new level of aesthetic and spiritual resonance.

He is widely credited for having introduced Qawwali music to the international audience. Khan is popularly regarded as The King of Kings of Qawwali music (Shahenshah-e- Qawwali).

In 1985 he gave a concert in the United Kingdom, and the world took notice of his talent. He was soon performing regularly throughout Europe. He first toured the United States in 1989. In the 1990s he contributed to the sound tracks of several popular films. Nusrat also worked with a number of international figures in popular and art music. Popular musician Peter Gabriel promoted Nusrat on the world music circuit through his WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) festivals and through recordings on his Real World Records label. Meanwhile, composer Michael Brook helped increase the accessibility of Nusrat’s vocalizations by recasting them within Western rhythmic frameworks.

While you’re here: Khan Sahab daughter Nida Nusrat to release unsung tunes of her father

The tributes and awards for the eternal ‘Ustad’ are uncountable.

In 1987, he received the President of Pakistan’s Award for Pride of Performance for his contribution to Pakistani music. UNESCO awarded him the UNESCO Music prize.

Time magazine’s issue of “60 Years of Asian Heroes”, lists him as one of the top 12 artists and thinkers in the last 60 years.

Oscar winning Indian musician, A.R Rahman released an album named Gurus of Peace, as a tribute to the Qawwali legend. To mark Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s 10th death anniversary, Rahman dedicated one of his most renowned songs, Tere Bina, to Khan.

Even Google paid tribute to the legendary Qawwal on his 67th birth anniversary.

From Shekhar Kapur to Rob Brookman, the influential musicians that have praised his influence and talent are numerous.

However, every award fades in front of the popularity and acclaim that Nusrat has acquired in the heart of the public. The youth has taken a keen affection to his music, which is very evident on social media.


The entirety of music world mourned on 16th August 1997, but the quote ‘Gone but never Forgotten’ remains true for Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan!
What are your favorite qawwalis of him? Let us know in the comments!


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