Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: King of Qawwali

The Man From Punjab


Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was born in Faisalabad, Pakistan in 1948 to a long line of Qawwali musicians going back hundreds of years. He learned the Qawwali tradition from his father, Ustad Farrukh Fateh Ali.

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Qawwali is a spiritual music genre of the Muslims of South Asia.  Its origins are credited to Amir Khusro, a 13th-century Persian-language poet.


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What is Qawwali Music?

Qawwali is an expression of the Sufi practice of mehfil-e samaa, which means the “assembly of [spiritual] listening.”  It's a vehicle to reach a higher state of spiritual being.


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Qawwali and Sufism

In the 1970s, Nusrat gained popularity in Pakistan and neighboring India. And then in the 1980s, he began to emerge as a global phenomenon. This was driven by two waves: the migration of Pakistanis to the Gulf, Europe...


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Nusrat's Voice Takes Off

...and North America, and the emergence of the “World Music” genre in the West. Wherever Nusrat’s people went, he followed them. First in the form of audio cassette, and then with his physical presence.


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The Great Migration


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Global Phenomenon

Nusrat’s emergence as an icon beyond Pakistan and its diaspora began in 1985, when he and his ensemble performed at the WOMAD festival. Writer David Ambrose described the performance as “one of the most wonderful sounds I’ve heard in my life.”

For Nusrat, and indeed, for most of his peers, Qawwali was not just music. Ahead of his performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Nusrat told The New York Times that the purpose of Qawwali was to spread Sufism, which he said was “a universal message of love and understanding.”


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A Messenger of Sufism

Before a show in Tokyo, Nusrat said to a friend that he'd use melodic structures familiar to the Japanese, to ease them into Qawwali.  Nusrat said, “Let us never forget that Qawwals are missionaries of the Sufi faith of unity and this is how we can unite (people) musically.”


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Unity Through Music

Sufism [is]...a universal message of love and understanding.”

— Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan