x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Pakistan's 'king of ghazal' Mehdi Hassan dies in Karachi

Legendary classical singer, who captivated millions of music fans across South Asia, has died after a long illness.

Asif Ali Khan (second from left), son of late Pakistani Ghazal singer Mehdi Hassan Khan, cries following his father's death. Mehdi Hassan Khan, also known as Pakistan's 'King of Ghazal,' died at a hospital in Karachi after a long illness.
Asif Ali Khan (second from left), son of late Pakistani Ghazal singer Mehdi Hassan Khan, cries following his father's death. Mehdi Hassan Khan, also known as Pakistan's 'King of Ghazal,' died at a hospital in Karachi after a long illness.

ISLAMABAD // Pakistan's legendary classical singer Mehdi Hassan, who captivated millions of music fans across South Asia, died yesterday after a long illness, his family said. He was 84.

Hassan, known as Shahenshah-e-Ghazal, or the king of classical singing among Urdu speakers across the world, died in a private hospital in Karachi.

His son Asif said that his father had been suffering from multiple lung, chest and urinary tract conditions.

Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Pakistani prime minister, expressed his condolences, calling Hassan "an icon who mesmerised music lovers" in Pakistan and the sub-continent for decades.

The Indian singing legend Lata Mangeshkar told Pakistan's private TV channel Express News that Hassan's death was a "big loss".

Hassan also won awards and accolades in India and Nepal, as well as Pakistan.

He gave voice to ghazals, a poetic form of rhyme, and was instrumental in opening up the evocative world of Urdu poetry, popularising it as a musical genre for millions of Pakistani and Indian homes.

According to an estimate by his family, Hassan gave voice to more than 20,000 songs and, apart from Urdu, also sang in Bengali, Punjabi and Pashto.

He was born in undivided India in 1927 and migrated to Pakistan after partition and independence from British rule in 1947.

Hassan's family, who came from Luna village, now in the Indian state of Rajasthan, had a strong musical background as his father Ustad Azeem Khan and uncle Ustad Ismail Khan were Dhrupad musicians.

After partition, his family had to eke out a living and the young Mehdi began to work in a bicycle shop and later became an auto-mechanic.

In his book Mehdi Hassan: The Man & his Music, the Pakistani author Asif Noorani highlighted how this phase influenced Hassan's life. "He had earned his living by repairing automobiles during his younger days. During his years of stardom, his harmonium broke and he started repairing it himself, wittingly replying to the people surrounding him that this was a piece of cake compared to the number of engines that he had repaired in the past," Noorani wrote.

The hardships of life notwithstanding, Hassan stuck to his music and received his break when he was invited to sing for Radio Pakistan in 1957 - first as a thumri singer and then as an exponent of ghazal.

He was also the uncrowned king of music for Pakistan's movie industry and pioneered a ghazal gayaki, which played upon the mood of the music rather than on the classical nuances.

After enjoying immense popularity from 1962 to the early 1980s, Hassan's career started to fade as illness took a toll and Urdu films became less popular.

In October 2010, Mangeshkar and Hassan teamed up for in the album Sarhadein. His fans included Mangeshkar, who once described his voice as the "Voice of God", and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a former Indian prime minister.

Hassan, who married twice, is survived by 14 children - nine sons and five daughters.

Click here for a YouTube video of Hassan performing.

Agence France-Presse and IANS