Pakistan singing legend Mehdi Hassan dies

File photo: Mehdi Hassan Mehdi Hassan was immensely popular in India and Pakistan

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Tributes have been paid to Pakistani singing legend Mehdi Hassan who has died of multiple organ failure aged 84.

The singer, hugely popular in India as well, was admitted to the Agha Khan Hospital in the southern port city of Karachi a few days ago.

TV channels broadcast live from the hospital and hundreds of fans gathered there on learning of his death.

Hassan's career spanned 50 years. He came to be known as "king of ghazals", traditional laments for lost love.

Ghazal, a genre of music specific to South Asia and parts of the Middle East, has been around for more than 400 years.

Hassan - whose funeral will be on Friday - also achieved huge commercial success, providing music for many South Asian films.

Legendary Indian singer Lata Mangeshkar once likened his songs to the "voice of god".

On learning of his death, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called Hassan "an icon who mesmerised music lovers" in Pakistan and the sub-continent for decades, AFP news agency reports.

'End of an era'

Hassan was born into a family of traditional musicians in 1927 at Luna village in the Indian state of Rajasthan.

At the scene

Mehdi Hassan's small and shabby looking house in the Karachi neighbourhood of Ancholi is crowded with women inside and men outside.

Most mourners are from the same area and some know him and his family personally. Everyone recognises him as a great ghazal singer.

Female members of the family are receiving condolences inside the house, where men are not allowed.

One of Mr Hassan's nine sons, Arif Mehdi, told me that family members are flying in from the US to pay their final homage to the singing legend.

Overall the house reflects the financial modesty of those who live here.

Paint is peeling off the walls, it has broken door steps and its cracked window panes all suggest the house badly needs renovation.

Neighbours sheltering in a tent told me that the family has always had serious financial problems.

However they say that since Mehdi Hassan fell ill, the family has received financial help from the government and philanthropists.

His family migrated to Pakistan in 1947 at the time of partition.

He started out as a bicycle and auto mechanic before entering the music industry. His big break came several years later, in 1957, when he got his first opportunity on Radio Pakistan as a classical "thumri" singer.

During the next three decades, he sang hundreds of songs for the Pakistani movies, scoring dozens of hits that were popular in Pakistan and across South Asia.

Subsequently, music circles in Pakistan were to discover his talent for ghazal singing.

Hassan was interviewed in 1989 by the BBC Hindi service. He told them about the history of ghazal singing in his family.

"We belong to the traditional Kalamt family and mine is the 16th generation which is into ghazal," he said.

"My ancestors use to regale the Royals of Jaipur, Rajasthan in India. We still have remains of our home around the Amber Fort. And my earlier generations were gifted by the princely state of Jaipur to another royal household called Jhunjhunu in the faraway desert.

"But be it then or now, India or Pakistan, our music is the same, full of devotion."

Hassan became a Pakistani cultural ambassador who visited India.

He cut back on his performances in the late 1980s due to illness, which included a serious lung condition. The severity of his illness forced him to give up all singing by the late-1990s.

In 2010, however, he recorded a duet with Lata Mangeshkar, a long-time admirer, for an album called Sarhadein (Borders), which was released in 2011.

Mehdi Hassan recorded his part of the song in Karachi, while Lata Mangeshkar's part was recorded in Mumbai.

The Press Trust of India said an era of ghazal singing had come to an end with his death.

"The demise of the India-born Pakistani ghazal maestro was a huge loss to the world of music and left a void that can never be filled," it reported.

The BBC's Arman Sabir in Karachi says that there is a heavy media presence outside the dead singer's home, with television channels streaming live commentary.

Our correspondent says that police have been deployed in anticipation of a stream of high profile mourners coming to say their last farewells.

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