Artist Profiles: Shafqat Ali Khan

Shafqat Ali Khan

As heir to a singing dynasty, Shafqat Ali Khan is one of the master classical vocalists of India and Pakistan.

Shafqat Ali Khan was born June 17, 1972 in Lahore, Pakistan. He began his professional career at the prodigious age of seven, performing two very difficult ragas at the Punjab Music Festival in 1980; his professional training had already begun when he was four years old. “People were amazed. I sang for twenty minutes.” Afterwards, he was approached by Radio Pakistan, which led to a series of on-air recitals which spread the fame of this preternaturally endowed talent. By the age of eight, Shafqat had already proved his mettle, earning widespread regard as a classical artist of merit. Further classical performances on area television stations enhanced his public profile.

The Oakland, California-based producer Doug McKeehan and Shafqat met in 1994, during a visit to the U.S. by Shafqat’s father, the renowned Indian vocalist Salamat Ali Khan. McKeehan, a keyboardist who had performed with the world fusion group Ancient Future, has long harbored a love of Indian music and culture; he studied the classical sounds of the subcontinent with no less a figure than the sarangi virtuoso Ram Narayan. The urge to collaborate was immediately apparent to both Doug and Shafqat upon their initial encounter. After preliminary forays into recording, the line-up of players and the style of arrangements best suited to Shafqat’s voice both fell into place, leading ultimately to the recordings which yielded the World Class release, Shafqat Ali Khan.

In Indian classical music, a musician’s worth is often framed within the context of the gharana (the term defines a cross between a family tree and an intellectual circle) within which that musician has been educated. Shafqat received his training from his father, a product of the Sham Chaurasi gharana, named for the small town in East Punjab in India where Shafqat’s family originated. The style of raga interpretation favored over several centuries by Sham Chaurasi singers was the austere, almost minimal form known as dhrupad. In recent years, however, Shafqat’s father initiated a change in style, adopting the relatively modern, more elaborately ornamented style known as khyal singing; the latter term literally means “imagination.” The khyal form demands improvisational flexibility as well as careful attention to nuances of intonation, phrasing and rhythm. Combining the endurance and rigorous tone demanded by dhrupad training with the expressiveness encouraged by khyal style, Shafqat is capable of articulating heretofore unexplored nuances in centuries-old music, stretching his interpretations of notoriously difficult ragas to extraordinary lengths.

Shafqat’s entire life has been spent in preparation for his own career in khyal singing, yet he has experimented previously with pop forms in the late ’80s in Englandand additionally with a further fusion/ambient project recorded in Europe; the latter found Shafqat duetting with his father on a project called Princes of the Sea. Though he established his name as a classical singer, the role which Shafqat still considers his principal calling, he was given permission by his father to apply his considerable talents to newer, more popular forms such as ghazal, the poetic love songs which originated in Punjab in the 19th Century. The repertoire represented on Shafqat’s self-titled World Class debut comprises a selection of ghazals chosen for both their innate beauty and their interpretive possibilities.

In Shafqat’s view, music represents a single language shared by mankind. His own tastes in recreational listening – including symphonic works, pop, jazz and opera – evince a fundamentally eclectic nature and a willingness to experiment. Both Shafqat and his father share a love of Nat King Cole’s singing. Shafqat cites Cole’s vocals as coming “Straight from the heart. Nowadays, everybody in the music business dreams only of creating a public image and becoming wealthy. But when you go back to the ’50s, artists wanted to be represented by their work. In this world, today, that’s how I am as well.”

Shafqat Ali Khan lives in Lahore, Pakistan.

Discography

Princess Of The Sea (Keytone, 1993)
Voices Of Spheres (X DOT 25, 1997)
Shafqat Ali Khan (Hearts Of Space Records, 2000)
Sufi Songs (ARC Music, 2003)
Sublime Sufi: New Perspectives on Ancient Sufi Roots (ARC Music, 2007)
Dus Kahaniyaan (Eros International, 2007)
Poland – Pakistan (Music Without Borders) (Wydzwiek, 2016)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.

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