Iconic Pakistani singer Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan has a message for his fans in Dubai. "I am going to wow you with the purest form of Qawwali. No Bollywood songs, or any other popular songs. It's going to be just a night of pure unplugged, blissful, soulful Qawwalis," the legend said when City Times caught up with him over the phone ahead of his concert at the Dubai World Trade Centre this Friday, December 7.
Billed as a grand finale to his current world tour titled, Just Qawali, the show, which has done its rounds in the US, UK and other European countries has received rave reviews everywhere it has played.
"This is the first time I am coming to Dubai with a Qawwali group. The audience can expect to listen to this classic genre in its purest form, just like how my uncle, the great Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan used to perform. I'm doing such a show after nearly two decades. In the last couple of months, I have have taken Just Qawali all over the world and the fans lapped it up. I hope music lovers in Dubai, too, will enjoy my music."
Khan who has given hits like Tere Mast Mast Do Nain, Sajdaa, Ore Piya, Jiya Dhadak Dhadak, Jag Ghoomeya and Mein Tenu Samjhawan to name a few, has come out with a new single titled, Dhadkane. The ballad is composed by his uncle the legendary Qawwali singer Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. "I have written the lyrics along with my cousin Javed Ali. Ustad Nusrat was a big fan of World Music.
"I remember, some time back, in the late '80s or '90s, my uncle heard a composition by an Italian singer from the '40s. He was immediately drawn to the melody. So he took inspiration from the song for the first verse in Dhadkane and then composed the remaining verses in his own style. The music video was done in Los Angeles."
While Rahat has lent his voice for songs featuring leading Bollywood heroes like Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan, to name a few, when asked if it was true that he wanted to do a song picturised on Amitabh Bachchan, he laughed, saying: "That's not what I actually meant (in an earlier interview). You know, every human has wishes. So it happened that, during an interview, I was asked to express a wish. That's when I said I would like to do playback for Amitabh Bachchan. I don't know if my voice would be best suited for the great star, but perhaps I could do a background song picturised on him. Bachchanji is a such a great actor and a wonderful human being too."
The Faisalabad-born singer comes from a family that has been into Qawwalis for generations, that includes the late Sufi legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and his grandfather, Qawwali singer Fateh Ali Khan.
"Qawwali in its purest format features a qawwal (singer), a harmonium and a tabla. That's it, that's how my uncle used to perform. Up until now, I had been performing fusion Qawwalis which requires the backing of a full band comprising a drummer, keyboardist, guitarists and a saxophone player. I have not performed the pure form of Qawwali for nearly two decades, and now I will be doing it in Dubai, for the first time."
Having performed all over the world over the years, Rahat has millions of fans, but when asked which is the best audience he has performed for, the maestro said, "Audiences all over the world love my music and I have utmost respect for them. But I must say that, the last nine Qawwali shows I did in the US attracted some of the best crowds, and the UK was extra special, since my uncle Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was extremely popular there. Generations of people abroad have been listening to Qawwalis which is the reason people enjoyed my music and showered me with so much love and respect."
So how does he keep his performances fresh despite playing in the same venues repeatedly? "Every time I perform, it's a new show for me. I approach each concert with a fresh mind and appeal. Sometimes we shuffle the set list to make the concert sound different and fresh."
The listening tastes of music lovers are changing fast, pop, hip hop and other genres are becoming the choice of young listeners, so where does Qawwali fit into this scenario?. "Let me tell you, Qawwali as a genre has carved a niche itself in the music world. And I'm not talking about just India or Pakistan, it's all over. Take for instance, Pakistan. There has never been a better time for this genre than now. About 40 years back, there were just 12 Qawwali groups in Pakistan, but now, you will easily find two to three groups in every neighbourhood. By this you can gauge how popular this style is right now."
Compared to yesteryears songs, movie songs of today don't have much of a shelf life. So what's lacking in today's music? "There's never been a bad era for music. Doesn't matter if the songs are from the past or present, unless undesirable lyrics have been used in the composition. However, I must stress that the simplicity in the songs of the past era is clearly missing in today's compositions. Going back four or five decades, people would find a connect with the lyrics in songs because they were used to simple lives and the lyrics would express simplicity and would be meaningful. The melodies too were simple and catchy. That's the only difference."
For Rahat art is art, and he feels there should be no barriers or borders to restrict music. "You know, social media has actually broken all barriers. Anyone can express their like or dislike on social media. Nearly 75% of the online audience, who have liked my music, are Indians. Similarly, you will find a huge number of fans for Indian artists in Pakistan - Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, Ranveer Singh, Amitabh Bachchan, they are all liked by people in Pakistan. There can be land barriers, but there can be no barriers when it comes to art, especially music."
Whenever Rahat visits Dubai, he makes it a point to go to the beach. "I love to sit by the seashore, I find it very refreshing. And my favourite restaurant is Nusr-Et restaurant (in Jumeirah), They make some delicious beef dishes. I like the way they prepare the dishes in front of your table," the legend concludes.
Rapid Fire Round
Your all-time favourite song: Lagi Tumse Man Ki Lagan from the Bollywood film Paap
Rituals ahead of a concert: I avoid sour or cold food and do steam inhalation a couple of days before a concert.
A song that makes you happy: My song Oh Re Piya from the movie Aaja Nachle
A song that lifts your mood when you are down: Rabba Kisi Da Tu Kya Lage
Your passion besides singing: Watching movies.
Advice for budding YouTube talents: Sing in a genre that you are comfortable with. Try to obtain as much knowledge about the style of music you are passionate about.
. What: Just Qawali
. When: Friday, Dec 7
. Where: The Arena, Dubai World Trade Center
. For information call: 052 564 7220