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Peace through music

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi / gbOctober 23, 2012

Rahat Fateh Ali Khan combines the mysticism of Sufism with oriental beats, a genre known as Qawwali music. The Pakistani artist, known for his Bollywood hits, told DW that he plays music to promote peace.

Rahat Fateh Ali Khan in Frankfurt, Germany Photo: Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi / DW
Image: DW/W. Hasrat-Nazimi

This tradition was passed down to Rahat Fateh Ali Khanfrom his uncle, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who, even today, is still revered in many countries. The modern Sufi movement is a powerful counterpoint to the brand of extremist Islamism that is currently gaining traction in Pakistan and other countries.

DW: You began playing music as a young boy. What is your motivation; where does this passion for music come from?

Rahat Fateh Ali Khan: For more than 300 years Qawwali music and Sufism have been deeply anchored in my family's roots and we spread it around to the public. My ancestors received a command from our great savior to play this music. It is a message of peace, of friendship and love that was carried forth by Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti and which has been known for 300 years as Qawwali music. I belong to this family: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's family. Since my childhood I have always wanted to sing and learn music. Whenever I saw Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan play, I felt inspired to be like him.

A lot of people play patriotic and religious music. What would you like to express with this music?

It is not just patriotic. This music has many elements, even revolutionary, which appeal to listeners, or themes that open their eyes. With his voice, the singer can send a message that reaches the listener; for example, to put down weapons and choose the path of peace. I don't think that it is just patriotic. It is more a powerful wave that reaches everybody. And I don't mean just one theme - peace - but rather many positive themes. I would like peace for the whole world and that's why I have different songs that appeal to different people.

How do people in Pakistan view musicians? Are artists appreciated?

Yes, very much so. I am treated very well. I can't speak for the past, but today, because of this music, the name of Pakistan shines throughout the world. With his music, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan presented Pakistan in a new light and I want to continue this tradition.

Is there a difference to India? Are Pakistani singers viewed with the eyes of an enemy?

In India, people have greeted me with great love. Not as a Pakistani, but as a singer. They respect me and I feel very much appreciated.

Can your music and Sufism help diminish the growing influence of extremism in Pakistan and the region?

Music is the voice of the soul and can move mountains. People receive the message of the soul through the voice. It is a voice, the tone that moves something in people. It can speak volumes from any instrument. This can be used negatively - or positively, as in my case.

You have many fans in neighboring Afghanistan; a country that has been caught up in war for more than 30 years.

My ancestors came from Afghanistan. I would really like to go there and if I am invited I certainly will - and give a concert. Our religion, Islam, is very open and the doors are open to anyone, whether good or bad. And the people should create peace and give love. There should be no more war. If we bring peace, that is our blessing, and we should be known as a people who love peace.

You are the only artist from South Asia to have worked both in Hollywood and afterwards in Bollywood. Are you planning any future works for Hollywood to make your music accessible to a wider audience?

We are already planning a cooperative project. Several Hollywood musicians have asked and we're working on collaboration. We'll have a new music video in 2013.

Is there a certain singer that you would really like to work with and who has a similar message to yours?

There was a singer that I would have wished to perform with and that was Michael Jackson. He was a big fan himself of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and I was a fan of Michael Jackson. I love his music.

DW's Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi conducted this interview during Rahat Fateh Ali Khan's concert stopover in Frankfurt, Germany on October 19, 2012.