Ustad Gulshan Bharti is a seventh generation qawwal from his family. Born to Ustad Askiq Ali sahab as Shamshuddin his name was changed later as the name was said to have been unlucky for him as he used to fall sick often as a child. Therefore, upon advice from a sufi named Shafaq Shah Chisti he was named Gulshan Bharti, taking inspiration from ‘awazon ka gulshan, Vivid Bharti’ the AIR (All India Radio) broadcast and Bharti being synonymous with is home country.
Bharti, being the grandson of the late great Bande Ali sahab, started learning qawwali and shastriya sangeet from the age of four from his father and uncle, Masoom Ali. He was a gifted student and was equally diligent with his training so much so that by the time he was nine he had already started performing for the public. Talking about his first performance he says how when he was 9, his father accompanied him when he performed ‘unka khayal dil mein jo laata gaya, main aalam-e-tamam pe chaata chala gaya’. He elaborates how it was two-thirty in the morning and the crowd was so spellbound that a couple of people woke up from their sleep and praised his performance.
At 17, he was offered to teach at Bhatkhande when he didn’t take the job up upon advice from his father and decided to practice more to master his artform. Just a year later he started performing with the likes of Pt. Krishnan Mohan Maharaj and Kapila ji. Subsequently, went on to perform abroad and this went on till 2011. He speaks how Lucknow has always been dear to him and the city has shaped his career and both him as a person. Working with Muzaffar Ali was frequent for him when he was done touring and came back to the city for good. Bharti jokes about how Ilyas Hussain Khan was jokingly referred to as his wife before he got married in 1994. Ilyas was at his beck and call while he used to riyaaz for hours on end with no regard for food or rest.
His community is called ‘Qawwal Bacche’ and is an inherent part of the qawwali scene in the city and the country as a whole. His family of mausiqikikar(s) started from the likes of ‘Sidi’ Haideri who he calls the star of his gharana and talks about an incident he had with Gaziuddin Haider Shah where Haideri stood in front of Shah carriage without performing a ‘salaami’ like the rest of the crowd, upon request by the badshah his minister told him that the man was a prestigious gawaiya. Haideri was questioned by the wazir and upon answering that he had no clue who the badshah was, he was invited to his court to perform.
The day Haideri performed at his darbaar he noticed, the guests and various members of the mandali weren’t paying any heed to him. This made him highly exasperated and he decided to give a very ill-sounding performance that made Shah look bad. Upon this grave insult of the badshah he ordered Haideri’s beheading. As a last saving grace he was shown the mercy of performing a number to save his life, Haideri burst into the most melodious song Shah had ever heard. As a reward he was asked to put forward any demand under the sky, brimming with determination Haideri told that the crown wouldn’t be able to fulfil his wish. Upon insistence he revealed that all he wanted was to be excused from performing for Gaziuddin Haider Shah for the rest of his life.
Gulshan’s pride and dedication towards his craft was passed on by the same ancestry and this reflects in his lush and robust qawwali.