Q: Today, the original intent of Qawwali has undergone variations to suit the entertainment factor of the music industry. What do you think about this change?
A: Qawwali is the most enjoyed form of music and the most criticized too. 300 years ago, qawwali catered towards an audience that was classically rich in lineage. And music has changed its presentation over the years and the form of qawwali is no different. Nusrat saheb has added elements into the form without losing the original substance. That’s the beauty of his rendition and composition. The spiritual voice through which this is rendered is called sufi. The singer cannot be sufi.The form of spiritual music delivery is Sufism. I have tried to add my own style to it as well, but without compromising the audience needs. Yes, some people have tried to commercialize it, but the audience is the biggest judge.
Q: Has the essence of music changed with your international collaborations and entry into bollywood?
A: The essence of music is lost when people do not want to listen to music. Whether it is bollywood or not, people still want to listen to music that stirs their souls. The genre of music I sing, which is qawwali touches people’s souls. So, in effect, the essence is enhanced and not diminished. International collaborations happen because that is the only way music or a musician of a particular region can display his creative prowess so that the work is internationally accepted and the awareness is multiplied.
Q: You were pretty vocal when remixes of Nusratji’s songs were publicized in the media.
A: Yes. I am strongly against Remixes. Remaking music is good. Remixing is not. It is sad to see how the originality is lost and people do this for sheer commercial purposes. You can write me down as the most vocal opponent of any remix happening today. Making a lot of noise and presenting that as music is not the right thing to do. I feel very sad about this.
Q: Tell us a bit about your entry into Bollywood? How did it happen?
A: In 1998, a year after Nusrat saheb’s death, the morale was down. However, I did an album recording for Shameerji In Karachi. The album name was Mann Ki Lagan. We did not know that Pooja Bhatt who had arrived in Pakistan in 1998 was scouting for some music for her upcoming film. Interestingly, she chanced upon the song and signed us up for the film. The film “Paap” did not release until 2004. I thought the song got canned, but much to my surprise, it was a hit and was loved by the Indian audience. This opened for a healthy musical collaboration between Pakistan and India.
Q: As a musician, what is more challenging? Do you have any creative control of your songs?
A: Music itself is challenging – making music, writing good lyrics, the vocals, the instrumentation, the orchestration, maintaining harmony – everything is a challenge. To me, all songs are challenging. I make it a point to give my 100%, as always, the success of the singer is dependent on the audience perception and reception. Creative control depends on the music. In Collaborations 2 with Sukshinder Shinda, I did not know that he would be singing the song with me, the composition was excellent. I have been listening to Latin, Flamenco, Blues, Jazz, World music and all the other genres too. Music should be synchronized in the soul of a musician and the musician in return should preserve its identity without any creative compromises.
Q: Coming from a musical gharana with a rich lineage of singers – your dad Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan and your uncle Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, was there a constant push to perform?
A: (strongly nodding his head in the affirmative) – Absolutely. Music connoisseurs cannot be cheated. For me, there was constant challenge to perform; even more after Nusrat saheb’s death. One thing that worked in favor of me is my experience of touring and performing with Nusrat sahib. Bass guitarists, drummers, sax players- the entire entourage including the qawwali band travel with me. From Afreen to Mast Kalandar to O Re Piya, Mann Ki Lagan to Jiya Dhadak Dhadak…I have come to connect with audience. To me, it is their happiness that counts. That led to me customizing my concerts based on my audience. You have to understand that none can replace Nusrat saheb. He is one of a kind. I compare him to the Banyan Tree. I am just a branch of his teaching and guidance.
Q: What does success and practice mean to you? What is your signature style?
A: (laughs) My style resembles Nusrat saheb. Whatever I do, I owe it to him. His originality, his dedication to his voice- he treats it so religiously –his work of art is divine. Even if I am half of what he is, I consider myself a success.
Practice is very important. There were times when I used to end my concert at 2:00a.m. in the morning and get up again at 4:30 a.m. to practice. Lots of hard work, down to earth attitude, tireless commitment, dedication, trust in your musicians and listening to the pulse of your audience will define your success.
Q: If you have to sum up your musical relationship with Nusrat saheb, how would you describe it?
A: It was an interesting relationship. It was love. Not the girl-boy type of love but similar in depth. When you admire someone’s voice, style, their soulful interpretation of lyrics through their musical energy and expression – you fall in love. That was the relationship. It was a divine connection for me. I am privileged and honored to be born in a family that understood the language of music.
Q: What is your most favorite Bollywood number? Also, if you have to pick one favorite number of Nusrat saheb, what would it be?
A: Tough question. I love all the songs. If you force me to pick one, then it is “O re piya” from Aaja Nachle. I love all of Nusrat saheb’s songs because they are all soul-stirring. My personal favorite is Sanson Ki Mala.
Rahat is excited to collaborate with musicians on a global platform by creating tracks within the portals of the state-of-the-art studios. However, he is passionate about spreading the art of Qawwali and the message it brings with it. During his conversation, he constantly referred to the fact that Qawwali is not only about music, it is about a message that was created by Sufis. Rahat’s entry into Bollywood has given a new dimension to Bollywood music. Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s every vocal nuance represents a joyful rendition from the soul by an emergent master.