On what would have been Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s 67th birthday, mammoth search engine Google dedicated its doodle to the legendary Sufi qawwal.
The Google doodle is an illustration of Khan with the signature hand raised in the air, performing with the rest of his qawwal party in the background.
Born in Faisalabad, hailing from a family of qawwals, Khan had his first public performance at age of 16, at his father’s chehlum.
In an interview in 1996, the singer said he dreamed of his father placing his hand on his throat, awakening his voice. By 1971, he had become the leader of the family’s party. He kept up with changing times, slightly speeding up the songs to make them more appealing for that generation.
Popularly known as Shahenshah-e-Qawwali meaning ‘The King of Kings of Qawwali‘, Khan is widely credited with introducing qawwali music to international audiences.
During his lifetime, he collaborated with many foreign artists such as Eddie Vedder, Peter Gabriel, Jeff Buckley, Michael Brook, to name a few; he even taught as a visiting faculty member at University of Washington in Seattle for some time.
The Halka Halka Suroor Hai vocalist also holds the Guinness world record for producing the largest recorded output by a qawwali artist — a total of 125 albums as of 2001.
Many fans worldwide celebrated his birthday and mourned his loss.
British novelist, music journalist, and biographer, Chris Nickson said: “There are great singers, and then there are those few voices that transcend time. The late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan could not only transcend time, but also language and religion.”
“There was magic when he opened his mouth, a sense of holy ecstasy that was exciting and emotional. It wasn’t uncommon even for Western listeners, who didn’t understand a word he was singing or follow his Sufi traditions, to be moved to tears upon hearing him.”
He died of a sudden cardiac arrest on 16 August, 1997 but had also suffered from liver and kidney issues for some time before he passed away. He is survived by a daughter.