Too much loss: Ustad Bade Fateh Ali Khan



Eighty two years ago Fateh Ali Khan was born into a family of courtly singers in the Indian princely state of Patiala. His father and grandfather had established themselves as prized royal servants and indeed, had been instrumental in founding an entirely new gharana of classical Indian music.


The young boy grew up learning the intricacies of khyal and the ancient mode of singing, dhrupad. He was an excellent student. He would sit at the side of his elder brother Amanat Ali to perform for the maharaja who quickly promoted the lads to official positions in the court.


The brothers travelled across India to sing at the major music festivals and ‘conferences’ where they wowed the staid and serious audiences. In the rarified world of north Indian classical music, Amanat and his younger brother, Fateh were as close to superstars as you could get.


Though they were blessed with golden voices (Fateh specialized in the lower registers, balancing the elegiac tenor of his brother) they shared a curse with an entire generation of Indians.


In 1947 their country was divided. A sort of inchoate whirlwind swept up Indians from all across the northern tier of the country and dropped them to earth, crushing families, livelihoods and dreams by the million.


Like countless other Muslims, Fateh’s family made its way to a new place called Pakistan, the Land of the Pure, hoping and praying it would a mini paradise on earth.   Whatever the country eventually became, in those early years, Pakistan was in chaos. The country needed administrators, soldiers, judges and teachers. Classical musicians, no matter how gifted, were completely ignored.


The family scraped together a meagre living, teaching and performing from time to time. There were offers and invitations from fellow musicians to return to India where at least some musical structures existed. Where audiences still existed. Where patronage still existed.


But Fateh and Amanat declined. They stayed loyal to Pakistan and eventually garnered a name for themselves. Radio and then TV welcomed them. Private mehfils were still few and far between but at least they were singing and recording.


Disaster struck again in 1974 when Amanat by now one of Pakistan’s most loved and accomplished voices, passed. Fateh sank into despair. In a grand gesture he refused to sing for several years, and when he at last took the stage again, tears stained his cheeks.


Yesterday, Fateh Ali Khan himself passed away. His life was bittersweet and touched repeatedly by death. His nephew, Amanat’s son, Asad, himself a master singer passed away at a young age. Despite his lineage, accomplishments and talent, Fateh was never able to make much money as a singer. The old patronage system had died in 1947. The only regular support he could count on was state TV and radio. Hardly enough to raise a family on.


He did find audiences outside of Pakistan, not just in India but in Europe, Japan and North America, too. Teaming up with his younger brother, Hamid or his son, Shafqat, Fateh Ali continued to make impressive music for many years.   But a certain sadness accompanied him throughout his life. In his eyes, voice and words there was always the tinge of regret and loss. As if all things irreplaceable had been snatched from him before their time.


We will miss you Ustadji.


Track Listing:

01 Raga Bageshri

02 Raga Naraini

03 Raga Madhmad Sarang

04 Raga Multani

05 Raga Bheemplasi

Ustad FAK

The Youngest Son of Patiala: Ustad Hamid Ali Khan

Ustad Hamid Ali Khan

Ustad Hamid Ali Khan

What we now appreciate as Hindustani (north Indian) classical music grew to maturity under the patronage of the great Mughal emperors in the 17th century.  Babur, the founder of the Empire, Akbar his grandson, Jehangir, and even the pious Aurangzeb were lovers of music.  In their darbars, in Delhi, Agra and Lahore, dhrupad singers were prominent and well respected as well as equally well-rewarded courtesans.  Music was very much a vocal art in that epoch with nothing akin to the instrumental soloists that we have become so accustomed to in the modern ear.  Still, musical instruments, many adapted from Afghan, Persian and Central Asian instruments, were common and it was during this time that the sitar began to emerge as a popular instrument.

In the 18th century, the Empire was shaky.  Ambitious marauders from the north and south could smell the rot. Tributary nobles and rajas on the fringes of Mughalistan asserted their own authority over the great Shahenshah in Delhi.  Cities like Dhaka, Lucknow and Hyderabad grew economies and developed societies to which artists of all types began to migrate. The old Indian style of music dhrupad was displaced by a lighter more imaginative style that became known as khyal.  It is this style of singing that we love today.

In these regional cities, especially in Gwalior, ambitious and cultured rulers invested heavily in the arts (to use modern language).  Singers and their families were invited to settle, practice and indeed, to a certain extent, ‘ invent’ their art. In these cities and in these times many of the established gharanas (schools) of classical music were founded.

The Sikh princely state of Patiala was fabulously rich. As the 20th century dawned and India moved towards Independence, the State’s maharaja, was a debauched fatty who loved cricket, whiskey and women more than statecraft and the social welfare of his people.  The music of Patiala was also of an exceptional quality.  Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, one of the sub-continent’s greatest male voices, was the great proponent of the Patiala gharana.

Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala

Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala

After Independence in 1947, Patiala was subsumed into the Indian state. His ‘Exhausted Highness” as the Maharaja had been referred to, had died 10 years earlier. But the Patiala gharana  lived (and lives) on.

In the new country of Pakistan, the gharana was represented by three brothers: Amanat, Fateh and Hamid.  The first two rank in the forefront of Indo-Pakistani classical singers, and in my opinion, Amanat Ali Khan had the best voice of his generation. He sang classical khyal as a duo with his brother Fateh Ali, and in the last years of his short life became a much loved singer of ghazals and nazms.  After Amanat’s premature death, Fateh was heart broken and stopped singing for many years but has since returned to the public stage and is considered Pakistan’s greatest living khyal singer.

Hamid Ali Khan

Hamid Ali Khan

Youngest brother, Hamid, is often referred to as a classical singer and indeed, he is. But his fame and honour in Pakistan and India derives primarily from his ghazal singing.  A serious singer with a strong mid-range voice, Hamid Ali Khan has sung some of the most loved ghazals in Pakistan.  The collection tonight is from the Radio Pakistan archives and includes many of these fine interpretations.  My own favorites being, Tarq-e-Mohabbat and Abad Nay Dil Kay.


Hamid Ali Khan

Hamid Ali Khan_0001

Track Listing:

01 Mujh Say Bichar Kay

02 Mumkin Ho Aap Say

03 Chehray Parhta

04 Ghairon Ko Bhala

05 Tarq-E-Mohabbat

06 Kab Woh Sunta Hai

07 Sirf Ahsas Ki Aankhon

08 Suna Kar Haal

09 Abad Nay Dil Kay

10 Nahaq Us Zalim Say

11 Ik Moamah Hai

12 Hameen Say Apni

13 Kya Tumay Mera Haal