Saturday, October 8, 2011

Of Bees and Butterflies: Nazakhat and Salamat Ali Khan

Everyone knows that old saying about Mohammad Ali that he ‘floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.’

Well there were two brothers who sang together to whom that same seemingly incongruous description could equally be applied. They are Nazakhat Ali Khan and Salamat Ali Khan until their demise the great lampbearers of the Shamchaurasi gharana.

Like that other pair of singing siblings Amanat Ali Khan and Fateh Ali Khan, Nazakhat and Salamat were child prodigies born into families of rich musical heritage. Sons of Ustad Vilayat Ali Khan the brothers were steeped in the dhrupad style of singing and brought a solid foundation in that form into their khayal.  They got their start as pre-teen youngsters. What follows is a recollection of someone who was in the audience at one of their first major performances.

I had the pleasure of first hearing them in 1945 at the Durgiana Temple in Amritsar. During that time, an annual musical event used to take place at the historic temple, mainly devoted to classical music. I saw that there were two youngsters attired in black achkans, white pyjamas and red fezzes, sitting on the stage in preparation to open the second day’s proceedings. They were probably aged around ten or eleven, had dark complexions, smiling faces and dazzling eyes. The organiser announced that the two boys by the name of Nazakat Ali- Salamat Ali were the scions of the Shamchaurasi gharana and the disciples of their father, Ustad Vilayat Ali Khan. They had been specially invited from Shamchaurasi as a source of encouragement and would present raag Malkauns. I noticed that Ustad Bhai Lal was also on the stage tuning the tanpura for the brothers. When the performance started, it seemed like a feast of musical notes had descended upon us in the audience. Every member of the audience was amazed and in complete awe of the duo. It was almost unbelievable that boys of that age could give such a fine performance. When the drut portion started, the brothers gave a blazing display of taans, sargams and layakari, which left the audience stunned. On completion of the recital, the brothers received a fabulous response from the audience, many people came up to the stage congratulating the boys and their father. The brothers were showered with flowers, bouquets and garlands and were even offered nazaranas in the form of monetary amounts. It was certain that the youngsters would one day capture the imagination of all music lovers and achieve great heights in the field of classical music. (

They continued to wow audiences all across India and then moved to Pakistan after the 1947 Partition. After a quiet period in Multan during which they continued to practice and develop their art, they moved to Lahore from where, like many mighty rulers before them, they conquered the world.

Nazakhat Ali Khan
Salamat Ali, the younger of the two brothers, was especially expressive and creative in his singing. He has been called a genius for both his feathery touch and his ‘thundering’ taans.  Indeed, I’ve yet to hear anything quite so delicate and powerful in Hindustani classical music as his cascading runs. They simply astound you with their lightness yet cocksure progress.  Elder brother, Nazakhat was no side kick. His alaps set the scene and opened the way for his younger brother to follow.
Salamat Ali Khan

In later years the two brothers, as is so often the case, fell out and stopped performing together. Nazakhat died in the early 1980s leaving his brother bereft in more ways than one.  Salamat continued to sing with his sons, one of whom, Shafqat Ali Khan, has been highlighted in a previous post. He passed away in 2001 leaving the world deeply saddened by the loss of an absolute stellar singer.

Tonight’s post is a recording made in India in the mid 1960s during one of their many tours to that country.

Both the artistes normally perform together but each has his individual style of developing a theme. The elder brother Nazakhat has a gradual and elaborate method of workmanship whereas the younger Salamat is spectacular and his artistry matchless for its beauty, form and conception. Nazakhat Ali has a soft and mellow voice and his style is necessarily subdued. Salamat has a powerful and well modulated voice that enables him to perform through an unusually wide range and at an extremely fast tempo with perfect east and grace. (liner notes)

In other words, these guys, float like that proverbial butterfly and sting like the bee.

         Track Listing:
         01 Raga Madhuvanti (Tumhare Daras Bin Balama)
         02 Thumri (Naheen Paro Maiko Chaina)
          03 Raga Poorvi (Prabhune Maiko Sab Kuchh Deeno)

Listen here.


Anonymous said...

Any chance of a re-up? I would love to hear this...

Anonymous said...

Nevermind! I just found it. Must have grabbed it the first time round.

Once again, though, I am deeply grateful for your generosity.

Nathan Rabe said...

you are welcome.