Khan Sahib Mehdi Hassan: The Sound of Perfection

Posted on November 29, 2009
Filed Under >Fawad, Music, People
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The music of Khan Sahib Mehdi Hassan Khan has been the backdrop to my own life as well as of so many music enthusiasts in Pakistan. Cliche as it might sound, there is no one – and i mean no one – who is in the same league as Mehdi Hassan. Just as Noor Jahan was just ‘Madam’ for her fans, Mehdi Hassan was just ‘Khan Sahib,’ and he will always be remembered as such.

Khan Sahib has been an indelible influence on me for as long as I can remember and I have long wanted to write something about his life and craft but have not found myself equal to the task. A performer of his caliber needs an in-depth and first rate evaluation. Sadly, to my knowledge, no such effort has emerged, at least in English or on the internet. Finally, a recent conversation with Adil Najam has prompted me to at least share some of my favorite Mehdi Hassan pieces in this post. These can at least be my humble personal tribute to one of the greatest sub-continental singers of the post-partition era.

It is deeply sad that even though his music still has many passionate devotees only the bare bones of Mehdi Hassan’s biography are documented. The most comprehensive facts on the internet have been collected by Mr. Anis Shakur whose biographical sketches (even if somewhat unsystematic) of many Pakistani artists and musicians are an invaluable contribution for the preservation of Pakistani cultural memory.

Mehdi Hassan was born in 1927 in the town of Luna, district Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan. Luna is about 100 miles from Jaipur. He was born in a family of musicians and his father Ustad Azeem Khan and uncle (‘chacha’) Ustad Ismail Khan were notable classical singers of their time. Mehdi Hassan started learning at a very young age from his father. It is said that his first public performance was at age eight at the palace of Maharaja of Baroda.

Mehdi Hassan moved to District Khushab in the Sargodha region in Pakistan after partition and worked as an automobile mechanic for some time. Eventually, to pursue his life’s calling and seeking a career in music he moved to Karachi. Here he made his debut from Radio Pakistan in 1952 singing one of his best known ghazals (by Faiz Ahmed Faiz), “GuloN meiN rang bhare baad-e-nau bahar chale”. The composition is by Pandit Ghulam Qadir, who was Mehdi Hassan’s older brother and an exceptionally talented composer. I have not been able to find even rudimentary information on Ghulam Qadir other than Mehdi Hassan’s statement in a TV program that his older brother was also the composer of two other masterpieces; Hafeez Hoshiarpuri’s ghazal “Mohabbat karne waale kum na hoNge” and Razi Tirmizi’s “Bhooli bisri chand umeedeiN”.

And now for my selection of five personal favorites. With one exception, I have tried to choose some of the lesser known gems in the Mehdi Hassan oeuvre. The last video is the only non-ghazal piece I have included. That semi-classical composition in Raga Tilak Kamod demonstrates Khan Sahib’s virtuosic brilliance like few other performances. The effortless beauty of the vocals are mesmerizing and for those who enjoy classical music this is the piece de resistance of my selection.

First off the most well known of my selections is Ahmed Faraz’s “Ranjish hi sahi”:

Ik umr se hooN lazzat-e-girya se bhi mehroom
Aye rahat-e-jaaN mujh ko rulane ke liye aa

Next is Aziz Hamid Madani’s ghazal “Taaza hawa bahaar ki”:

Taaza hawa bahaar ki dil ka malaal lay gayee
Paa-e-junooN se halka-e-gardish-e-haal le gayee

A ghazal by Hakeem Momin Khan Momin, “Navak andaaz jidhar deeda-e-janaaN”

Phir bahaar aayee wohi dasht nawardi hogee
Phir wohi paaoN wohi khaar-e-mugheelaN hoNge

Khan Sahib’s divine singing of Razi Tirmizi’s ghazal “Bhooli bisri chand umeedeiN” mentioned above:

Bhooli bisri chand umeedeiN chand fasanay yaad aaye
Tum yaad aaye aur tumhare saath zamaane yaad aaye

And finally the marvelously executed semi-classical number, “Dukhwa meiN kaase kahooN moray sajni” in Raga Tilak Kamod:

Note: This is based on a post on Fawad’s blog Moments of Tranquility.

17 Comments on “Khan Sahib Mehdi Hassan: The Sound of Perfection”

  1. Taimur says:
    November 29th, 2009 2:01 pm

    Ahh. Wonderful selection.

    Truly, there is no one else who even nears the perfection of Mehdi Hasan. Even though I think he sang too many film songs and not all great ones, the legacy of this giant is like no one else’s.

  2. Khan says:
    November 29th, 2009 2:16 pm

    What about Masood Rana? He was also one of the best pakistani singers!

  3. AA says:
    November 29th, 2009 2:28 pm

    Since when did Mehdi Hassan became Khan Sahib Khan, and why?

  4. Rashid Ali says:
    November 29th, 2009 3:36 pm

    Fawad, congratulations on introducing an icon on this post. My earliest teenage memories of Mehdi Hasan were the national songs, written by Raees Umrohi and others, which were composed and sung throughout the 1965 war with India. Mehdi Hasan and Noor Jehan kept nation’s moral up and their voices became symbols of the nation. Since then Mehdi Hasan has become undisputed King of Ghazal singing. It was Lata who said “God speaks through the voice of Mehdi Hasan”. Where ever in the world Urdu is spoken or understood, Mehdi Hasan’s voice is present. In Pakistan and India he is also regarded as the musician of intellectuals although popular in all echelons of public interested in the art of Ghazal singing and recitals.

  5. Faheem says:
    November 29th, 2009 3:45 pm

    Nice tribute to Khan Sahib. He is a living legend.

    God that we remember him while he is still alive since we usually do this after people die.

    His health is bad and he is in bad shape these days. Do please all pray for him as you enjoy his eternal music.

  6. November 29th, 2009 4:31 pm

    Some Mehdi Hassan favorite songs as posted by readers of the ATP Facebook Page:

    - “zindagi mein to sabhi pyar kiya karti hain”
    - “Same”
    - “pyar bharay do sharmilay nain , well i luv all of them :)”
    - “goloon mein rang barai”
    - “he the great singer of pakistan”
    - “He recorded grt songs..”
    - “apni jan nazar karon..”
    - “My favoirite is “Ranjish he sahi”
    - “Another favorite, “Abb kay hum bichray tou shayed”
    - “gazal ka badsh”
    - “My favorite song is” mujhay tum nazar say gira tu rahay ho””

  7. PAKISTANI says:
    November 29th, 2009 4:41 pm

    Mehdi Hassan was truly great. Even anti-pakistan singers like Jagjit Singh praise his genious.

  8. Humaira says:
    November 29th, 2009 6:10 pm

    Fawad, this is an excellent selection.

    And I love the first picture. This is how I want to remember Khan Sahib always.

    One of my favorites is:

    Tum mhje nazar say gira tou rahey ho.

  9. Rafique says:
    November 29th, 2009 8:41 pm

    Great selection.

    Did not realize that ‘Guloun mein rang bharey’ was his first recording. I think its is still his best work of all.

  10. AHsn says:
    November 30th, 2009 10:57 am


    I do not know why you hae totally ignored his Lahore period. Before going to Karach and working as an Auro Mechanic he tried his luck in Lahore and had a bicycle repairing shop. Is repairing a bicycle shameful?

    “After the independence, 20 years old Mehdi Hassan and his family migrated to Pakistan and settled in Cheecha Watni, district Sahiwal. He sang in few musical functions in Lahore but could not achieve any success. He also worked at Pancholi film studio Lahore and began working in a bicycle shop and later became a car and diesel tractor mechanic. Despite the hardships, his passion for music didn’t wither and he kept up the daily routine of practice.”


  11. Jabbar says:
    November 30th, 2009 1:32 pm

    Great post Fawad. And great selection. Thank you for posting it. He really is the greatest ghazal singer of his generation, by far.

    P.S…. @AHsn… why in such a nasty mood. maybe the Lahore period was not “ignored” on purpose (you make it sound like a conspiracy) … must everyone at like a Mullah or like hamid Mir all the time!!!!!

  12. David Plumber says:
    November 30th, 2009 3:39 pm

    Hi,Sorry to bother you .Can any body tell me why The McDonald is shut down in North Nazim Abad ,I think it was first branch in Karachi.

  13. November 30th, 2009 5:45 pm

    Some Mehdi Hassan favorite songs as posted by readers of the ATP Facebook Page:

    - “Mujhe tum nazar se gira to rhe ho ”
    - “awesm ha”
    - “rafta rafta n ek baar chale ao….”
    - “dekh toh dil ke jaan se uthta hai, yeh dhuan kahan se uthta hai (Mir)”
    - “what a singer he is i really lyk his songs he is Legend..”
    - “in ne suna nai hae iny but in ki tareef bahot suni hae he is the hero of Pakisan.”
    - “he is legend”
    - “according to music critics he is more lucky than a great singer. he learnt through his career not a born great man. But once he became the rising sun of the music industry he had no match undoubtedly. My comment was factual not biased.”
    - “‘Ranjish’ undoubtedly!”

  14. Hira Mir says:
    December 1st, 2009 6:09 am

    the sound of perfection is what we need rite now. The majority of Pakistan that is peace loving has been unfortunately silent for a long time. It is time now that they raise their voice. The entire country should know that we want a peace loving country where everyone is gifted with the basic necessaties of life. We do not have any space of extremism in our country at all at any price.

  15. Irfan says:
    December 1st, 2009 9:31 am

    Great effort.

  16. SANJITA says:
    March 23rd, 2010 10:07 am

    Does anyone know of the Mehdi Hassan song “Jaame shirin mein wo mithas nahin, jaane man, aaj too jo paas nahin, jaane man….. Have only heard it on Eastern Eye long time ago, which album is it from please.

  17. May 30th, 2011 11:19 pm

    wahhhhhhh mostiche hoon to aisee lajawab

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