One of the most popular singers of ghazal, in Pakistan and in wider Indian subcontinent, Mehdi Hasan was considered to be a master amongst singers.
His mellow, velvety baritone voice began attracting a following, first in the Indian subcontinent and then beyond. Urdu poetry, which springs from Persian, is filled with pathos, yearning, political and social injustice, loss, unrequited love and pleasure. Mehdi Hasan evoked these with rare mastery, which is why devotees flocked to hear him from far and wide. His fans included members of the rock and hip-hop generation, and his influence was so great that even some leading Pakistani and Indian classical vocalists took up ghazal singing.
Singer and composer and known amongst friends and family as Khan Sahib, Mehdi Hasan Khan was born into a family of professional musicians, in the town of Luna in district Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan, India. By the time he was 18 he had mastered the classical forms of dhrupad, thumri, khayal and dadra, and begun performing at royal courts and public concerts with his brother Ghulam Qadir. Hassan’s family moved to the newly formed nation of Pakistan in 1947. Unable to establish himself as a singer, he opened a bicycle repair shop and later worked as an automobile mechanic.
In 1952 Mehdi Hasan began singing on Radio Pakistan, where his uncle was a music director. In 1958 he made his debut as a so-called playback singer, recording a song with Noor Jehan for the film “Qaidi.” He would go on to record songs for the soundtracks of some 300 movies. His reputation as the “king of ghazal” was established when he had three hit songs in 1962.
In 1966, King Zahir Shah of Afghanistan invited Mehdi Hassan to visit there. After a two-week state visit to Afghanistan, Mehdi Hasan toured the world to packed auditoriums.
Known to have sung more than 50,000 ghazala, a book titled Mehdi Hasan: The man and his music, written and edited by Asif Noorani is available at Liberty Books, Karachi.