Rahat Fateh Ali Khan Rocks Washington
By C. Naseer Ahmad
Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan (RFAK) had the audience in the palm of his hands as he played his instruments in the historic Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Constitution Hall in downtown Washington DC on April 7, 2017. He brought his devoted fans to their feet and dancing in ecstasy – or ‘haal’ as they would say in Punjabi. Symbiotically, the audience also knew which strings to pull to keep the ball of energy known as RFAK going like the energizer bunny.
The mesmerizing performance in Washington, which was also broadcast live on YouTube, is part of the Tribute Tour marking the “20th death anniversary of UstadNusratFateh Ali Khan and celebrates his life and legacy.” UstadNusratFateh Ali Khan still looms large in the minds as well as in the heart of RFAK who mentioned his beloved uncle in glowing and reverential terms.
With hit Qawwalis like “Ali! Ali!”, “Tera Piyar Hai Meri Zindagi” and popular tunes, RFAK delivered a memorable experience to his fans. “Saqikiharnigahpey” brought cheers and excitement throughout the massive hall. The song went on for about 18 minutes uninterrupted. It was an illustration of both the skills of the musical super star and also a testament to the strength of his vocal chords.
“Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife,” said Khalil Gibran. It seemed that RFAK’s music opened the secrets of life bringing peace and abolishing strife from the music hall and the city during the hours of this beautiful performance.
RFAK’s wide appeal as a super star was evident from both the large and diverse audience which included fans from Afghan and Indian origins in addition to his native Pakistan. His music also reflects the basic goodness in the society from which RFAK hails.
“Kisay da yarnavikhray – may no one ever lose a friend” is a song that touches the depth of the soul and friendship among fellow human beings. This was a song dear to the heart of the performer as well as the audience that sang along. The song speaks volumes about a welcoming and caring society – much unlike the horrific news that comes from the countries of the region of the musician and his fans.
In addition to a stellar record as a musician winning multiple awards year after year, RFAK has had the honor of performing at the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony as well as at the first Pakistan Day celebration in the United Nations General Assembly Hall on March 23, 2016.
FRAK has had much success as a playback singer in the Bollywood film industry. Additionally, the Tribute Tour website provides some valuable background information such as: "A subordinate role with his uncle NusratFateh Ali Khan, working in collaboration with Eddie Vedder, of the American rock band, Pearl Jam, Rahat contributed to the soundtrack of the 1995 Hollywood film, Dead Man Walking. In 2002, he worked on the soundtrack of The Four Feathers in collaboration with the American composer of orchestral and film music, James Horner. In 2002, Rahat performed with The Derek Trucks Band on the song "Maki Madni" for Trucks' album, Joyful Noise. In 2006, his vocals were featured on the soundtrack of Mel Gibson's Apocalypto." The Tribute Tour, consisting of forty-eight performances to celebrate forty-eight years of life, will be in Calgary, Canada on April 15, 2017 before moving on to other cities around the world.
A highly successful performance at the DAR Constitution Hall added to the artist’s prestige. RFAK’s grandfather Fateh Ali Khan is considered as the “father of Pakistan Qawwali musicians.” Their family is said to have an unbroken tradition of Qawwali, linked closely to the Sufi Chishti Order for over 600 years.
It is also worth noting that until recently every US president since Calvin Coolidge has attended at least one event at this historic DAR Constitution Hall, which houses the largest auditorium in Washington.
As Easter Sunday has arrived, students of history might also remember that in 1939 “the DAR denied African-American singer Marian Anderson the opportunity to sing at the Hall causing first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to resign her membership in protest DAR.” Marian Andersen who’s "voice was a rich, vibrant contralto of intrinsic beauty" then sang before a crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions.