Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan needs no introduction. He is famous for his qawwalis and songs and has sung more than 50 title tracks of television serials and over 100 film songs in both Hollywood and Bollywood. Khan has performed in numerous high-profile concerts across the world and amassed a global following, achieving over one billion views online. His vocals were featured in Mel Gibson’s movie soundtrack of the 2011 movie, ‘Apocalypto’.
Recently, Khan has been conferred with an honorary degree in music by the University of Oxford. In 2017, Oxford had also named a rehearsal hall after him - the Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan Music Room. That was the first time that a South Asian artiste received such an honour.
In a one-on-one interview with You! magazine Khan talks about his music journey, passion for singing and shares his views on women’s emancipation. Read on...
You! How long you have been singing?
Rahat Fateh Ali Khan: I started singing at the age of three under the tutelage of my father Ustad Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan. However, my formal training began at the age of seven by my uncle Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. My first stage performance was for my grandfather on his death anniversary in 1979 when I was only nine years old. I used to go with Khan Shahib in concerts and gahzals/qawalis nights. I performed my first solo ghazal ‘Mukh Tera Sohneya Sharab Nalon Changa Ae’ in a concert at Birmingham in 1985.
You! Did you want to join some other profession or you always wanted to become a singer?
RFAK: I was born into a family of qawwals whose name has become synonymous with South Asian musical tradition, so becoming a singer was a natural progression. Joining some other profession was out of question.
You! Who is your music icon?
RFAK: My mentor Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
You! What kind of relationship you enjoyed with your uncle (late) Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan?
RFAK: I enjoyed a unique relationship with my uncle Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Since he had no son, he treated me like his own and trained me with much affection. When he passed away in 1997, I was made his successor. Since then I have been carrying out my 600-year-old family legacy by performing across the globe.
You! Your claim to fame songs:
RFAK: ‘Lagi Tum Say Maan ki Lagan’ & ‘O Re Piya’. My 2014 track ‘Zaroori Tha’ from my album ‘Back 2 Love’ is also one of my hit songs.
You! When did you start singing for Indian movies?
RFAK: Since I recorded my first song for Indian movies - ‘Lagi Tum Say Maaan ki Lagan’ (2003). This song was from my (unreleased) album ‘Lagan’.
You! How did you feel when you received an honorary music degree from Oxford?
RFAK: It’s an honour for me and for my whole family who has been in this profession since 600 years. I was among eight other individuals who received their honorary degrees at the ceremony. When my name was announced for my degree, they called me Mr. Fateh Ali Khan, my grandfather’s name. It was a proud moment for me.
You! Can you name some of your popular music albums?
RFAK: ‘Charkha’ (2007); ‘Bina Mahi’ (2012); ‘Back 2 Love (2014) and ‘Darbar-e-Sufi’ (2016).
You! How much time does it take you to produce one music album?
RFAK: I cannot tell you exactly. Since it is creative work, it may take few months or sometimes more than a year to produce one album which is normally a compilation of 10 tracks.
You! How do you define Sufi/Qawwali music?
RFAK: Qawwali music is not only music, it is a message. It was created by Sufis, and when we compose and practice this music, it stays forever. Sufi music has no boundaries and is limitless. Sufiana kalaam can be performed with ragas and thumris and in many other styles.
You! What is your most memorable concert?
RFAK: When I was invited to concert at Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony in 2014 where I performed Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s most memorable qawwali ‘Tumhe Dillagi’ and ‘Mast Qalandar’ there.
You! What are your views on women’s education and their freedom to work?
RFAK: I think all women should be educated. I am all in favour of education for women. As far as work is concerned, I think it’s up to one’s family’s tradition/ norms. Sometimes they have freedom of work and sometimes are not allowed by their respective family. And I think women should get liberty within limits.
You! Do you think celebrities can play a meaningful role in changing the mindset of the society?
RFAK: Yes, they can. But first we need to stop being judgmental. If we stop judging others then society can be transformed automatically.
You! How do you take criticism?
RFAK: I just ignore. (laughs).
You! There are so many folk singers out there who despite being talented, live in poverty, do you have any plans to do something for them since you enjoy a celebrity status in the society?
RFAK: It’s so sad that our Government is not paying attention to our folk singers. It’s a sheer negligence on the government’s part. It is high time music companies also start investing in deserving artists. I am also thinking of forming a music academy for the benefit of artists.
You! In how many countries have you performed?
RFAK: Besides Pakistan, I have performed in a number of countries including United States, Canada, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Turkey, Morocco, South Africa, Kenya, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Dubai etc.
You! Which country and its audience did you like the most?
RFAK: England. (smiles)
You! What do you like most about Pakistani women?
RFAK: Their modesty - the way they carry themselves with grace.
You! You have an enchanting voice, what do you do to keep your voice in tact?
RFAK: As they say practice makes a man perfect, so I practice a lot. I do ‘riaz’ regularly in order to keep my voice in perfect form.
You! Do you take care of your diet?
RFAK: Not as such. I don’t make much effort. I also drink cold water and I eat pickle and rice. It’s all God’s blessings that I am bestowed with a good voice naturally.
You! How do you keep balance between your family life and professional life?
RFAK: I am so preoccupied with my tours, recordings and concerts that I hardly get time for my family. I feel guilty about it. The credit goes to my family who understands and cooperates with me and accommodates according to my schedule/engagements.
You! How do you relax?
RFAK: Sleep is a luxury for me and my only way of relaxation.
You! Any message you want to give to your readers?
RFAK: Be good to others.
You! What advice would you like to give to aspiring singers?
RFAK: Only one thing - hard work, be it practice, concerts, playback. Only hard work can take you places.
You! What’s the secret of your success?
RFAK: Prayers of my mother and my Ustaad.
You! How do you deal with your female fans?
RFAK: I treat them with respect.
You! Your future plans:
RFAK: Will continue with my passion - Qawwali, qawwali and qawwali. I make money as a play back singer but qawwali is my first love. I am also working on my new qawwali album that will be released soon.
You! Your ultimate desire:
RFAK: Proliferation of qawwali all over the world.