In his lifetime, Mehdi Hassan Khan achieved what musicians can only dream of making possible. He refined ghazal singing as a genre, ruled Lollywood as a playback singer and inspired many of today’s stalwarts to become who they are.
No matter how much we appreciate the role played by bands such as Junoon and Vital Signs for earning global recognition for Pakistan, it has always been great musicians like Hassan and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who put Pakistan on the map when it comes to music classics.
It was Hassan’s beautiful voice and perfect rendition of ghazals that set him aside as a brilliant singer. His will to break conventions made him an unparalleled sensation of the subcontinent. There were occasions where he walked onto a stage in India and senior artists rose to applaud him — like Sonu Nigam, who sat by Hassan’s feet to watch him sing.
As we mourn the loss of this timeless legend, it is important to celebrate the legacy and influence he left behind.
“Our contributions as pop musicians are insignificant in front of someone like Khan sahab,” said singer Immu from Fuzon. “The fame he has brought to Pakistan is unmatchable. We can only dream of returning the gifts he left behind.”
Singer Mohammad Ali Shyhaki, who comes from an era where pop music was in its infancy, believes that Hassan is the true god of music and that the honesty in his delivery of songs is divine.
“His songs are not just music given to words,” Shyhaki told The Express Tribune. “They are a source of enlightenment and solace.”
“His surs (melodies) were so perfect that you could use his vocal chord as an instrument for tuning other instruments,” he said.
Shyhaki also said that the most important thing for any singer to learn from Hassan is the respect he had for sur, adding that only naturally gifted artists can achieve the nirvana of music he had reached.
No royalties for the king
According to EMI Pakistan, the record label that released most of Hassan’s recordings, he had released approximately 115 albums and 468 songs. These figures do not include some of his recently recorded works. Most of his albums were widely popular, but due to the state of intellectual property rights in Pakistan, the distinguished artist did not get his fair share of royalties. It is no wonder then that Hassan required government support and donations for the treatment of his lung condition. The lack of action taken against piracy has been the reason for great trouble for our artists. If the government and record label companies don’t change their attitudes about the timely provision of royalties, then another case like Hassan’s shouldn’t come as a surprise.
“It is sad that legends like Mehdi Hassan end up in a dismal shape despite their huge contribution to the music industry,” Zeeshan Chaudhry from EMI Pakistan told The Express Tribune.
Negating any claims of the non-provision of royalties to Hassan from EMI Pakistan, he said: “We are the only label that has been giving timely royalties to artists. We even gave an amount to Khan sahab last year. The problem is piracy — it remains unattended and unregulated.”
It is a pity that a star like Hassan was not given his due in a country where he is loved and celebrated. As Ayla Raza, Secretary of the All Pakistan Music Conference, puts it: “He was ill for about 12 years; it must have been painful to see that he achieved so much but was helpless in his last few years. It must have been a painful journey for him.”
But the praise can never be enough, as she adds: “He had the most handsome voice in playback singing. The emotive quality of his voice made him such a wonderful performer. We lost the voice so long ago. But I hope his legacy lives on. I hope he rests in peace.”
A National tragedy
Sabri: For listeners of ghazal; it’s a stroke of a lifetime that they now have to live with. It’s sad day. The appeal for his grave site to be within the premises of Mazar-i-Quaid should be accepted and respected
Qawwal Amjad Sabri
Bunny: He recorded two of his last albums in my studio six years ago, and believe it or not, the texture and quality of his voice was still the same
Jahanzeb: Mehdi Hassan Khan was a legend because he reinvented ghazal and set the bar when it comes to classical music
Singer Ahmed Jahanzeb
Ali: He had a very mellow and melodious voice with an immense command on diction at the same time. You don’t need anything else to make an outstanding singer
Singer Shafqat Amanat Ali
Published in The Express Tribune, June 14th, 2012.