Classical music of Pakistan won’t be the same due to the death of Ustad Fateh Ali Khan of lung disease on Wednesday 4 January 2017, aged 82.
The legendary Bade (elder) Fateh Ali Khan (1935-2016) was born in Patiala, Punjab, when it was colonial British India. At the age of 12, he and his elder brother Amanat Ali, 14, became the Maharaja of Patiala’s chosen singers at his darbar (court). He founded the Patiala Gharana form of vocal Hindustani classical music, with his grandfather Ustad Ali Baksh Khan, known for ghazal, thumri, and khyal styles of singing. He has influenced a range of singers across South Asia.
Khyal, an Arabic and Urdu word for ‘imagination,’ is the modern genre of classical singing, which provides scope for improvisation. It is a modal form with a single melodic line – the modes are called raga.
Trained by their father Akhtar Hussain Khan, Fateh Ali and his brother Amanat Ali, first performed together in 1945 in Lahore, which was a great success leading to their teenage stardom.
Life changed dramatically for the brothers when India was partitioned in 1947, and the family opted to migrate to Pakistan. In 1969 the President of Pakistan presented Fateh Ali and Amanat Ali with the Pride of Performance Medal.
Amanat Ali died in 1974, and Fateh Ali was reported to have suffered deep depression for 18 months.
Fateh Ali then joined Radio Pakistan as a supervisor while people urged him to restart his singing career. He would burst into tears every time he tried to sing. He commenced singing again with his younger brother Hamid Ali Khan and his nephews Asad Amanat Ali Khan (1952-2007) or Amjad Amanat Ali Khan (both sons of his brother).
Although trained in the medieval dhrupad genre, the uncle-nephew duo restricted their repertoire of songs to the modern mainstream genre, khyal, and the romanticist genres, thumris, dadra, and ghazal. The uncle-nephew combination performed widely in Europe, North America, the Middle East, and South Asia, and released several recordings. One highly unusual CD released in 1992 was ‘Ragas and Sagas’ in collaboration with Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek.
One of his students was Deeyah from Norway with half-Afghan and half-Pakistani heritage. She is now living in the United Kingdom and is an Emmy award-winning film maker.
Ustad Fateh Ali Khan received many awards and crossed the India-Pakistan divide with praise for his singing wherever he performed. Even though his awards were hardly a means of financial success, he said, “I would live my life exactly the same, if I had another life”.
He suffered lung disease in the last week of December 2016, and was admitted to hospital in Islamabad for 10 days, where he died on 4 January.
Nephew and singer Shafqat Amanat Ali announced his uncle’s death on social media. “Today marks the end of an era for all of us here at Patiala Gharana as the doyen Ustad Fateh Ali Khan Saheb has left us for his heavenly abode. He breathed his last today afternoon in Islamabad and leaves behind an unmatched legacy. His absence is impossible to imagine and has created a void that will not be fulfilled. We are grateful to his fans and friends for their support in this moment of grief. We pray for his soul.”
Photographs: Ustad Fateh Ali Khan Facebook