As I entered the Manchester Arena back in 2012, I walked into the palpable hysteria of 15,000 avid fans. His entry set the arena on fire, triggering a ricochet of thunderous applause. It was deafening. This was and is the kind of reaction Rahat Fateh Ali Khan – Pakistan’s prince of qawwali – inspired.
Even with such a massive number of people present, a clear divide was evident – while his Indian fans sat on one end tapping their feet to some of his popular Bollywood melodies, the Pakistani enthusiasts – seated on the other side – swayed their heads enchanted by his magnetic, electrifying Sufi kalams. Rahat Fateh Ali Khan knew how to strike a balance. He effortlessly transitioned between film favourites like ‘Isq Risk’ and Nusrat Fateh Ali’s timeless classic ‘Allah Hoo.’ He knew how to keep his fans obsessed and as the night peaked to the customary dhamaal, the divide of people – obvious uptil now – began to blur and only his voice, pitched to its maximum, filled the entire stadium.
That was then and this is now. Not much has changed as far as Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s fanfare is concerned. Except that it may have grown to unprecedented heights. His impact has only amplified with time.
Rahat’s remarkable, hypnotizing voice caught the attention of filmmakers across border and the prolific singer embarked on a much-deserved journey to super stardom. Having sung for over 70 Bollywood films and producing nearly 50 qawwali albums, Rahat recently took a slight detour, much to everybody’s surprise, and released a romantic pop album titled Back 2 Love, which in all honesty seems to be more like a Bappi Lahiri-inspired project.
“The record company and my international managers wanted to prove that I am not only about one type or style of music and as many artists in this world evolve for the better, I have done the same,” he spoke to Instep from Dubai. With his choc a bloc schedule it is almost impossible to catch him in Karachi. “This enables me to showcase that I am not only about what is seen so far and the best is yet to come, Insha Allah.”
A protégé of qawwali maestro Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Rahat worked in the shadows of his uncle for almost two decades until he took center stage after Nusrat’s death. People may argue that Nusrat’s mastery and finesse is unbeatable no matter how skillfully Rahat reiterates his songs but Rahat cares less as he dare compete with the unforgettable legend who was far more than a teacher to him.
“Learning and grooming under him has been a blessing for me and something I will never want to over come. Whatever I may be today is only due to the Almighty, my ustad and my father and his popularity has in no way overshadowed mine,” Rahat said.
No matter how many borders this man may cross and different genres he experiments with, Rahat can never be separated from qawwali as the spirit of Sufism resides in his very soul. Hence, for qawwali traditionalists who look forward to his soulful odes, Rahat assures that “like every year has different seasons, I will have different albums. I am not breaking away from my roots at all and am currently working on my latest qawwali album, Just Qawwali, which will most definitely leave you enchanted,” he added.
Meanwhile, Rahat travels in and out of Pakistan, lending his powerful vocals to films like Dukhtar and Operation 021. When asked if he feels any difference between India and Pakistan when it comes to playback singing, he said: “There isn’t much difference as a song is a song, irrespective of where it comes from.”
Music has no bounds and Rahat’s vocals have touched upon fans beyond India and Pakistan. He is now an international enigma. “At each concert it is the audience that I relate to,” he reminisced. “I never select my songs. It is between them and me to go into a musical journey for that night and I make sure that I give my 100% even if I am performing with high fever. My fans always come first.”
As for localites, Rahat recently recorded an Independence Day special song, ‘Shukriya Pakistan’, with music by Sahir Ai Bagga. The video features Pakistani stalwarts like Shahid Afridi, Shaan, and even our beloved World Street Football champions, among others. The song is a gesture of gratitude towards his country, his home and it was compounded by his presence at the Azadi Parade on August 14. ‘Shukriya Pakistan’ came as a relief from the plethora of sponsored songs that people had been subjected to in recent years.
Rahat’s upcoming UK tour is said to be like a theatre production that will be based around a theme and choreographed accordingly, so buckle up Britons for a rollercoaster musical ride.
Singer: Rahat Fateh Ali Khan
Album: Back 2 Love
Considering that he has a legacy to keep alive, the legacy of the 600-year-old Qawwal Bacche Gharana, which he has been doing with utmost sincerity and genuine talent till date, Rahat’s new solo album (that has come seven years after his last production Charkha) is a bit of a disappointment. To be honest, it sounds like an experiment gone wrong. Had he remained true to his roots, the album would have had much more to offer but fusing Sufism with superficial Bollywood tunes has resulted in a eery concoction that is hard to digest. Featuring 10 romantic songs performed in collaboration with Indian artistes Salim-Suleman and Shreya Ghoshal, Back 2 Love is a mixed bag of harrowing melodies and lackluster music dominated by Bollywood commercialization instead of his inherent spirituality.
The opening track ‘Rab Jaane’ boasts of a balanced arrangement of the tabla and the harmonium with electric guitar riffs. Pakistan’s current favourite Sahir Ali Bagga manages to strike the right cords in terms of flow, however Rahat’s voice is just almost pitch-perfect with moments where it feels like he has been having an off day recording. ‘Habibi’ featuring Salim-Suleman really is a peculiar choice for Rahat and he barely manages to hold the song together that doesn’t allow him to have a free-flowing rhythm needed for his voice to create magic but the song does have a catchy tune blending in the Arabic oud with hints of techno music.
Despite vocals from the soul-stirring Shreya Ghoshal, ‘Rhim Jhim’ comes across as a mediocre Bollywood film song that you listen to once and forget all about it. The highlights of the album are ‘Zaroori Tha’ and ‘Dil Ke Taar’. The former tends to grow on you with its use of tabla, dafli and the flute and Rahat’s haunting voice tugs many a heartstring deeming it the next big breakup song while the latter is a peppy romantic number. The thumping effect of the drumbeats coincides well with how the lyrics are crooned. If Rahat’s only aim was to flaunt his versatility as a singer with this album, then he surely succeeds in doing so with ‘Dil Ke Taar’.
The rest of the album has unfortunately succumbed to the commercial demands of the recording company than his loyal fans with ‘Sharab-e-Husn’ being the most unwelcoming and flawed composition of the entire album. It feels that Rahat is struggling with an identity crisis here as his fluency, command and passion are missing as if it was a half-hearted, half-baked venture. With only a couple of attention-grabbing songs, the album does not fall anywhere near his most poignant works. Instead, it is safe to say that more than half of the Back 2 Love songs need to go back to where they came from. Nevertheless, a few impervious fans will enjoy the filmi aspects of the album.
Highlights: ‘Zaroori Tha’, ‘Dil Ke Taar’