4 South Asian Artists Who Elevated World Music Forever

We’re celebrating World Music Day by highlighting the music and stories of some of the most successful artists from around the world. Check out our World Music Map featuring the artists who transformed their musical landscape, and listen to all of their music!

A. R. Rahman


Fearless and forward-thinking, A.R. Rahman is a global ambassador for Indian music. By combining classical instruments, melodies, and compositions with modern, international sounds — including cutting-edge production techniques — Rahman has created an innovative, internationally-renowned sound that continually pushes the limits of musical innovation and technology.

With hundreds of works bearing his name, including film soundtracks, scores, independent albums, and vocal contributions, Rahman’s talent is matched only by his prolificacy. But according to legend, Rahman’s childhood dream was to become a computer engineer. We’re grateful that he chose not to go in that direction!

Rahman’s father, R.K. Shekhar, passed away when the young prodigy was only 9, and the family had to rent out the late composer’s equipment to support themselves. Still, Rahman — then known as A.S. Dileep Kumar — managed to focus on music, contributing to bands, and performing in an orchestra. At the age of 23, Kumar converted to Islam and adopted the name that the world knows him by today.

His debut film soundtrack, Roja, remains one of the most surprising and timeless film scores ever. From there, the only way was up — and Rahman soon followed with classics like BombayRangeelaDil Se, and Taal. He’s won multiple Filmfare and National Film Awards, as well as two Academy Awards and a pair of Grammys — to name just a few! He even found time to collaborate with Mick Jagger, Joss Stone, Damian Marley and Dave Stewart in 2011, as the supergroup SuperHeavy. In a word? Icon.

Atif Aslam


If you need proof that talent transcends boundaries, look no further than Atif Aslam. The Pakistani vocalist is one of Bollywood’s most bankable names (and voices), having broken into Hindi cinema in 2005 with “Woh Lamhe Woh Baatein” and “Lamhe” from Mohit Suri’s Zeher. At the time, he was known for the popular song “Aadat,” which he sang as part of the band Jal.

Beloved by his fans, and even the actors who perform to his songs, Aslam’s passionate, vocal style gives voice to the spirit of love. When it comes to Hindi film music, Atif is definitely a man of the moment — as recent hits such as “O Saathi,” “Dil Dayan Gallan,” and “Tere Sang Yaara” can attest.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan


When we think of world music, we think inevitably of the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. The voice — and soul — of Qawwali, he helped popularize his family’s spiritual tradition all over the world. Though he sadly passed away in 1997, his influence continues to resonate throughout the world, with artists as diverse as A.R. Rahman, Gaudi, Jeff Buckley, Nadia AliPeter Gabriel, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Zayn Malik all drawing inspiration from him.

The Ustad’s legendary performances defy belief — he was known for performing flawlessly, with relentless energy, for up to 10 hours. Throughout his lifetime, the Nusrat continually collaborated with Western musicians, including an incredibly partnership with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder in 1995. In the process, he spread awareness and appreciation for Qawwali music, and his native Pakistan. The Fateh Ali Khan’s 600 year-old family tradition continues today in the form of Nusrat’s nephew, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan

Pandit Ravi Shankar


The immortal Pandit’s legacy can be best expressed through the world’s recognition for the sitar — an instrument that billions around the planet know, and instantly associate with India. His skill, dexterity, and improvisational magic helped Western musicians discover the instrument, and led some to incorporate it seamlessly into their own work. George Harrison in particular was inspired by Shankar, and his later solo works featured the instrument frequently and expressively.

In a life and career that was more inspiring and remarkable than even a Hollywood scriptwriter might have imagined, Ravi Shankar did some incredible things — including performing at Woodstock, visiting the White House, winning the Bharat Ratna and multiple Grammy awards. His achievements in music and popular culture have helped promote understanding between the western world and South Asia for generations, and will continue to resonate for a very long time.

If it were up to us, every day would be World Music Day! We hope you enjoy listening to these playlists on Saavn as much as we enjoyed curating them.

Tags : #A.R. Rahman #Atif Aslam #Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan #Ravi Shankar

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