"I used to listen to it through radio Pakistan"
Ghazal, a form of poetry, has a unique place in the world of music. Pakistani ghazal singers have successfully transported this poetic genre across Pakistan and around the world.
With their distinct voices and subtle tones, the beautiful verses expressed by these wonderful singers touch the soul.
Fans find ghazals to be comforting on many levels – be it emotionally or romantically.
Pakistan has produced some of the finest ghazal singers of their time. The Late Mehdi Hassan is certainly one of the best ghazal gems Pakistan has lost.
Singers often perform ghazals in mehfils (gatherings) and mushairas (evenings of poetry). Besides Urdu, ghazals in regional languages are also popular.
Ghazal music also features and remains popular in South Asian films.
Music shows like Coke Studio and Nescafe Basement frequently showcase renditions of popular ghazal songs with a contemporary twist. Promoting this genre through such television programmes has also attracted the youth.
Here are 20 popular Pakistani ghazal singers who do complete justice to this music genre:
Malika Pukhraj was a highly successful folk and ghazal singer.
When she was nine, she visited Jammu, performing in front of Maharaja Hari Singh. Finding her voice impressive, Singh made Malika a court singer in his kingdom.
She became one of the most popular ghazal singers of 1940s British India. Following the partition, she migrated to Pakistan. She performed frequently for Radio Pakistan, earning much success.
Despite moving to Pakistan, India did not forget her. Upon invitation, Malika performed at the All India Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1977, along with collecting the ‘Legend of Voice’ award.
She is famous for her rendition ‘Abhi Tou Mai Jawan Hoon’ by eminent Pakistani poet Hafeez Jalandhari. Acknowledging her services, the Government of Pakistan gave her the Pride of Performance Award in 1980.
Her sad demise in Lahore on February 4, 2004, was a big loss for Pakistani ghazal music. Her life is recorded in the memoir she wrote, Song Sung True (2003).
Ustad Amanat Ali Khan
Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, a popular name across the ghazal genre, was born in 1922 Hoshiarpur, India. He was the grandson of the Patiala Gharana founder, Ali Baksh Jarnail.
Popular singers Asad Amanat Ali Khan and Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan are his sons.
He earned recognition through his performances at Radio Pakistan. He also toured South Asia representing his Patiala Gharana.
Some of his best Ghazal include ‘Insha Ji Utho’ and “Honto Pe Kabhi.’ A YouTube user commenting about the ghazal ‘Insha Ji Utho’ on the social media platform wrote:
“It’s my favourite for the last forty years. I used to listen to it through radio Pakistan… those were my College day.”
Amanat Saab had a short life as he met death on September 18, 1974.
Noor Jehan, one of Pakistan’s most iconic singers, was born as Allah Wasai in Kasur, Punjab, Pakistan on September 21, 1926.
She is familiar around the world as ‘Malika-E-Tarannum’ (The Queen of Melody).
Initially an actor, she started her Pakistani playback singing career in 1960. Jehan had command over several music genres, including the ghazal.
Her hit ghazals include ‘Chandni Raatein‘ (Dopatta: 1952), ‘Ja Apni Hasraton Par’ (Sasural: 1962) and ‘Humari Saanson Main’ (Meray Huzoor: 1977).
A popular name around the world and a recipient of several awards, she has performed at different international venues.
She sadly passed away in Karachi on December 23, 2000, leaving a huge loss for both India and Pakistan.
The late Mehdi Hassan was a popular name in Pakistani ghazal music. Born on July 18, 1927, Mehdi is familiar to many as ‘Shahanshah-E-Ghazal’ (King of Ghazal).
A popular playback singer for Lollywood, he is famous for introducing ghazal music to a global audience.
In 1957, Mehdi had the chance to sing on Radio Pakistan as a thumri singer. He began experimenting with ghazals, gaining him popularity in this genre.
He sang the ghazal ‘Gulon Mein Rang Bharay, Baad-e-Naubahar Chale’ for the Pakistani film Farangi (1964), originally written by famous Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
Faiz was so impressed with Hassan’s version that he stopped presenting it at his mushairas. He instead asked the audience to request Hassan to sing the song.
Unfortunately, in the late 1980s, his music career came to a halt as he was suffering from a severe illness. He breathed his last in Karachi on June 13, 2012.
Asif Noorani wrote his biography titled Mehdi Hasan: The Man and his Music (2010). Describing his musical prowess, journalist Raza Rumi writes in a piece for The Hindu”
“Hassan proved to be a musical Midas.”
“Whatever he touched turned to gold — from the poetry of famous Urdu poets to romantic film numbers.”
The Times of India gave Pakistani vocalist Farida Khanum the title, ‘Queen of Ghazal.’
In addition to ghazals, Khanum is a master in classical music as well. Farida learnt classical from Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan who hailed from the Patiala Gharana of music.
She earned mainstream success in 1950 when she joined Radio Pakistan, attracting the attention of her listeners.
She is famous for performing the popular ghazal, ‘Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo,’ by poet Fayyaz Hashmi. Farida made her Coke Studio debut in 2015 (Season 8) with this hit ghazal.
Due to her soulful voice, Farida had fans not just in Pakistan, but also across India and Afghanistan. Farida has several accolades to her name including the Hilal-e-Imtiaz (2005).
Sunny Benjamin John (SB John) is a noted Pakistani ghazal singer who was born during 1934 in Karachi. John’s grandfather, also a singer, was his inspiration when growing up.
Pandit Ram Chandar Trivedi was his initial music teacher. He began his music career from Radio Pakistan and then moved onto Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV).
Recording popular ghazals in his voice, he quickly rose to fame.
John is best known for his ghazal ‘Tu Jo Nahin’ which he sang for the Pakistani film Savera (1959). Master Manzoor Hussain was the composer of the song, with the lyrics penned by renowned poet Fayyaz Hashmi.
He was presented with the Pride of Performance Award by the Government of Pakistan on August 14, 2010.
John is enjoying retirement in Karachi. His contributions to ghazal music cannot be forgotten.
Iqbal Bano is among Pakistan’s most critically and commercially acclaimed ghazal singers.
She studied under Ustad Chand Khan of the Delhi Gharana. Thus after undergoing training, her entry into music initiated.
She sang the first time for All India Radio. She moved to Pakistan during partition and earned a name for herself. Bano sang in popular Pakistani films like Gumnaam (1954) and Qaatil (1955).
Bano performed her first concert at the Lahore Arts Council in 1957. She was famous for singing the poems of revolutionary Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
Bano’s hit ghazals include ‘Daagh E Dil Hum Ko Yaad’ (1977) and ‘Woh Iss Adda Se Jo Aye’ (1999).
Such was her versatility, that she could sing in Urdu, Punjabi and Persian. She was awarded the Pride of Performance by the Government of Pakistan in 1974.
Bano passed away in Lahore on April 21, 2009.
Born December 5, 1940, Ustad Ghulam Ali is a popular Pakistani ghazal singer. He comes from the Patiala Gharana of music.
He is famous for blending the unique style of Hindustani classical music with ghazals, earning him a big fan base worldwide.
‘Chamakte Chand Ko’ (Awaargi: 1987), ‘Hungama Hai Kyun’ (Awaargi: 1990) and ‘Hum Tere Sheher Main’ (1996), are among some of his most popular ghazals.
He started his singing career in the 1960s with Radio Pakistan, performing ghazals. An asset to Pakistan, he has sung ghazals in various languages including Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi and Nepali.
He is the first recipient to receive the Swaralaya Global Legendary Award. Commenting on receiving the award, he said:
“I have been singing for around 55 years. I have never before seen or experienced such love for my music.”
“This day is very important for me. I am just a small time singer. I am not a big artiste.”
Hailing from Charsadda from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province in Pakistan, Ikramullah Gran is a popular name in Pashto ghazals.
Born in 1941, Ikramullah is the pioneer of contemporary Pashto ghazal.
As a writer, his ghazals have been covered by many popular Pashto musicians like Haroon Bacha and Gul Panra.
‘Che De Khwala Pa Anangi’ and ‘Zama Da Zra Pa Kor’ are among his best Pashto ghazals.
An integral part of Pashto ghazals, Ikramullah died in 2014. Hamesh Khalil, a Pashto scholar speaking about Ikramullah told The Express Tribune:
“His work will always be the pride of Pashto poetry and ghazals.”
Born in Delhi on April 17, 1942, Aziz Mian was a popular Pakistani Qawwal and a singer of ghazal music. He began learning qawwali at the age of ten under Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan.
Aziz Saab was famous for writing his own lyrics. But he also put his voice to the works of other artists as well. Aziz was unique because he sang ghazals in a qawwali style.
In 1966, he received a gold medal after performing before Mohammed Raza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran.
Notable ghazals of Aziz Mian include ‘Kabhi Na Kaha’ (Rang-e-Zindagi: 1978) and ‘Teri Soorat’ (1990).
He had the honour to receive the Pride of Performance Award from the Government of Pakistan in 1989.
His death in Tehran on December 6, 2000, was a sad day for ghazal-qawwali music loving fans.
Feroz Gul was a popular Sindhi ghazal singer born on June 16, 1943. He had also composed for more than forty Sindhi films.
His composed songs have been sung by Abida Parveen and Mehdi Hassan (late). He had a big hand in introducing some of the best musical talents to the film industry.
‘Toon Acheen Acheen Ne Jaan E Jaan’ and ‘Mehfil Haseen Tuhunjee’ are among Gul’s best-known works.
A user on YouTube writing a comment about ‘Mehfil Haseen Tuhunjee’ said: “Wah wah, Great Ustad Feroz Gul.”
At the relatively young age of 53, Gul passed away on October 14, 1996.
He was posthumously awarded the Tamgha-E-Imtiaz, Pakistan’s highest civilian award in 2011.
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
Born in Faisalabad on October 13, 1948, late Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was a popular singer and musician of Pakistan. He is popularly familiar as ‘Shahanshah-E-Qawaali’ (The Emperor of Qawaali).
His songs feature in Lollywood, Bollywood and Hollywood. He has fans in every corner of the world.
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan became famous for promoting Pakistani music on an international scale.
‘Mere Rashkekamar’ (1988) and ‘Halka Halka Suroor’ (1991) are among his popular works. There are several covers and remix versions to his ghazals.
He is a recipient of many awards in Pakistan and internationally. His death on August 16, 1997, was not just a loss for Pakistan, but for the entire world.
Music critic Chris Nickson says:
“There was magic when he opened his mouth, a sense of holy ecstasy that was exciting and emotional.”
“It wasn’t uncommon even for Western listeners, who didn’t understand a word he was singing or follow his Sufi traditions, to be moved to tears upon hearing him.”
Born in Karachi 1950, Mehnaz Begum was a popular Pakistani ghazal singer.
Mehnaz who was the daughter of popular singer Kajjan Begum inherited her mother’s powerful musical genes. She began her career at Radio Pakistan before heading to PTV.
‘Kaise Kaise Khwab’ and ‘Kisi Ki Yaad Ko Dil’ are among her popular ghazals.
Apart from ghazals, she sang in many different genres such as thumri, drupad and khayal. She was also a playback singer for many top Pakistani films.
She is the recipient of thirteen Nigar Awards and won ‘Lifetime Achievement’ at the 2011 Lux Style Awards.
Mehnaz died in Manama, Bahrain on January 19, 2013.
Popular ghazal singer Nayyara Noor was born in Guwahati, Assam, India on November 3, 1950.
She moved to Pakistan with her family in the late fifties. From a young age, Nayyara found inspiration from the ghazals of Begum Akhtar.
Despite having no formal training, Nayyara was discovered when she was singing for her friends and teachers during an annual dinner at the National College of Arts (NCA) Lahore.
Noor was then asked to sing for Radio Pakistan and later on moved to television and film.
Her rendition of ‘Ae Jazba-e-Dil Gar Main Chahoon’ by poet Behzad Lakhnavi (1900-1974) remains popular amongst her fans.
Other hit non-filmi ghazals of hers include ‘Rang Barsaat Nay Bharay Kuchh Tou’ (poet: Nasir Kazmi) and ‘Barkha Barsay Chhat Per, Mein Teray Sapnay Deikhuun’ (poet: Faiz Ahmed Faiz).
Nayyara is the recipient of many awards including three medals from the All Pakistan Music Conference.
One of the most prominent names in ghazal music, Tina Sani is a vocal powerhouse. She was born in Dhaka, East Pakistan (Bangladesh).
After briefly staying in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tina’s permanent home became Karachi.
Tina’s father who had learned to play the sitar encouraged her to learn music.
Ustad Nizam Uddin of the Delhi Gharana trained her in classical music. Sani was also trained by Mehdi Hasan, the King of Ghazal.
She got discovered in 1980 when she sang during a music show ‘Tarang’ on PTV. Sani cites many renowned ghazal singers such as Mehdi Hassan and Malika Pukhraj as her inspirations.
She is famous for her ghazal renditions of many popular Pakistani poets.
‘Anokha Ladla’ (1985), ‘Koi Baat Karo’ (1989) and ‘Mori Arj Suno’ (1990) are among some of her most popular works.
Regarded as the Queen of Sufi music, Abida Parveen is a living legend. Born on February 20, 1954, Parveen started singing at the early age of three.
Her father Ustad Ghulam Haider found a devotional music school in Larkana, Pakistan. She was born and raised in the same place.
Her late husband Sheikh Ghulam Ali retired from his job as a producer for Radio Pakistan and started managing her music career in the 1980s.
Following the death of Abida’s husband in the early 2000s, her daughter Maryam began managing her.
She is a versatile artist and can sing different genres of music including Sufi music and ghazal music. Some of her most popular ghazals include ‘Rang Baatein Karen’ (TV Hits: 1985) and ‘Jado Ishq Laga’ (TV Hits: 1985).
Madhumita Dutta in her book Let’s Know Music and Musical Instruments of India (2008) states:
“After the death of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, many consider her the next great mystic singer on the world stage.”
Asad Amanat Ali Khan
Born in Lahore on September 25, 1955, Asad Amanat Ali Khan was a popular Pakistani ghazal singer. Being the son of Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, he got exposure to music at an early age.
He recorded his first song when he was ten years old for his grandfather Akhtar Hussain’s debut album.
‘Zara Zara Dil Main Dard Hua’ and ‘Jo Bhi Dil Ki ‘are among his hit ghazals. He was also a playback singer for the Bollywood film, Meet Mere Man Ke (1991).
Khan had a job with Pakistan Television (PTV) for several years, which contributed to his popularity. His younger brother Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan is also a popular Pakistani singer.
His death in London on April 8, 2007, left a void in ghazal music.
Munni Begum, a popular name across ghazal music was born in Kushtiya, West Bengal, India on June 20, 1955.
After initially moving to East Pakistan, she came to Pakistan following the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.
Ustad Khwaja Ghulam Mustafa Warsi, a popular musician was her mentor.
Her music career started in 1970. She released her debut album, which featured a collection of ghazals.
‘Dil Ko Hale Karar Mein Dekha’ and ‘Bhoolne Wale Se Koi Kehde’ are among her most famous ghazals.
She was presented with the Pride of Performance Award by the Government of Pakistan in 2008.
Begum is frequently invited to sessions on ghazals and concerts referred to as Sham-E-Ghazal (ghazal night). She continues to captivate the audiences with her powerful voice.
Khalil Haider, an influential name across ghazal music was born in Lakhanwal, Punjab, Pakistan on May 4, 1965.
Following the completion of his primary studies, he shifted to Lahore. He learnt classical music under Ustad Sadiq Husain.
He earned recognition in the 1990s when he did a rendition of the ghazal, ‘Nai Kapre Pehen Kar Jaon Kahan’ by poet Nasir Kazmi.
”Gali Gali Meri Yaad (2010) and ‘Aah Tou Jate Hain’ (2010) are some of his successful ghazals.
Haider has appeared on Pakistan TV, performing ghazals. He has also had some memorable performances when touring the US, UK and Canada.
He has released numerous commercially and critically successful albums including Gila (1992) and Preet and Ghazal (2010).
Asif Mehdi is a famed Pakistani ghazal singer who was born in 1966. He is the son of renowned late ghazal singer Mehdi Hassan.
His father and uncle Ghulam Qadir began training him from the age of thirteen. At the age of seventeen, accompanying his father he performed for the first time in Los Angeles, USA.
He went to India in 2009 for the concert tour named Music for Peace, performing alongside the late Jagjit Singh.
He primarlily sings ghazals of poets such as Mir Taqi Mir, Ahmed Faraz and Hafeez Jalandhari.
Mehdi received the Nigar Award in 1999 for playback singing. He has sung for over sixty Pakistani films. The remarkable Mehdi resides in Karachi, Pakistan.
Hamid Ali Khan and Tahira Syed, daugter of Malika Pukhraj are other big Pakistani ghazal singers.
Despite the presence of western and contemporary musical genres in Pakistan, ghazal remains popular in the country.
The future is bright, with several young ghazal artists emerging and making a name for themselves.