Religious services were held in Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Toronto, London and his hometown, Los Angeles to mark the death of Caribbean singer Azeez Khan on Wednesday, November 28th 2001. The large gathering paying homage at his funeral included several people from other parts of North America and the Caribbean.
Mr. Khan, 65, was born in Guyana but lived in Trinidad and Tobago for many years following his marriage to Rahil Khan of Diego Martin.From an early age he began to demonstrate that he had inherited the singing talent of his father, Mohammed Ishmael Khan who was one of Guyana’s leading Qawali singers. Soon he was a feature singer on Radio Demerara and would quickly become a lead and popular performer with the reigning popular Georgetown Band, Indian Hott Shotts .
Azeez first came to Trinidad in 1959 for a training programme while in the employ of Bookers in their British paints division. He would return three years later on vacation and took that opportunity to meet the leading Indian orchestras and other musical personalities in the country.
In Trinidad the young Azeez would be introduced by Kamaluddin Mohammed to the Naya Zamana Orchestra. Fans remember his first ever performance to a sell out crowd at the Cameo Cinema in Port of Spain. He would win the audience with what would become one of his signature tunes ‘Tu Hindu Banaye Gha Tu Musulman Banaye Gha’. He received several encores and his performance that evening included ‘Raha Mil Gaya Ho Mai’ from the immensely popular Indian movie ‘Dil Deke Dekho’.
Azeez would formally emigrate to Trinidad in 1963 and was instrumental with the father and sons of the family of Zynool Abid Ali of Diego Martin in the formation of Junglee Merrymakers Indian Orchestra, named after a movie in which Mohammed Rafi would firmly establish his long reign as India’s most popular male Indian singer.
He led the fledgling Junglee Merrymakers to win a national competition at Skinner’s Park judged by Hemant Kumar the first ever Indian playback singer to visit Trinidad. Azeez’s correct pronounciation of the hindi words in the song ‘Kashi Dekhi’ from the film ‘Nagin’ would impress Hemant Kumar who would admonish the Indian orchestras that ‘noise is not music’.
The audience at that seminal musical event included the then Indian High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago who invited Azeez to perform at the Indian Independence celebrations where he would earn acclaim from a distinguished audience of members of the government and the diplomatic corps.
Azeez cemented his connection with Junglee and with Trinidad through his marriage to the eldest daughter of the family, Rahil (Zal.) He continued to win support among the musical community and became a fixture at functions organized by the Indian High Commission. It came as no surprise when he was among the first Caribbean performers to be selected to further their musical professions in India.
Together with Harry Mahabir (music) and Krishna Raj Kumar Persad ( Dance) he began an intensive program at Delhi’s famous Kala Kendra School of Music. In India he had the honour to sing for both India’s President Zakir Hussain and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The second year of his scholarship was spent in India’s film capital, Bombay where he would meet Mohammed Rafi, who remained a major influence in his music career, and Manna Dey.
The trio returned to an emotional welcome organized by impresario Moean Mohammed, who would soon usher in the formation of the National Indian Orchestra under Harry Mahabir with Azeez Khan as the lead singer. In the years following Azeez would continue to wow audiences in Trinidad and Tobago and other parts of the Caribbean with both the national orchestra as well as Junglee Merrymakers.
Azeez and his family emigrated to the United States in 1969, moved to Toronto in 1972 and four years later would settle in the lush San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. There he would immediately begin to earn accolades both for his singing skills as well as community service. He used his singing talent to entertain and inspire people of all religious backgrounds and was particularly respected for his ability to properly inflect and pronounce the languages in which he sang. His repetoire included film songs, Qaseedas, Bhajans and Qwaali.
In 1992, this Caribbean man of song was invited to an international event held in the United Kingdom to commemorate the migration of East Indians to the Caribbean. He received a standing ovation to his rendition of ‘Pawar Diga Re Alaam’. In 1998 he journeyed to Toronto to receive a lifetime achievement award at the West Indian Grammy, presented by Kumar Sanu. Last year he was honoured by the Indo Caribbean Organisation of Southern California and his last major public performance was at their Eid celebrations.
Azeez Khan is survived by his wife Rahil, and his sons Sayyad and Sajeed. Though now no longer with us, his melodious voice will continue to lift the moods of many people throughout the world.