I first discovered the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in early 1993, when he was teaching here at the University of Washington. I had missed his debut concert in Seattle, but out of overwhelming curiosity generated by the interviews and concert reviews in the local papers, I began by listening to tapes and CDs donated to the University's Music Library; and then I bought this tape. I wore it to shreds within six months. In the beginning, I knew nothing about either Pakistani qawwali music, Nusrat himself or Indian classical music; but this tape is a superb introduction to all three.
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It consists of three of Nusrat's most popular qawwalis, or Sufi Islamic devotional/mystical songs, performed in the traditional qawwali style in a live concert setting. The songs traditionally begin slow and non-rhythmically before launching into the main chorus line (usually, also the title of the piece), and building steadily and naturally into ecstatic and passionate fireworks. This music has often been called "Islamic Gospel music", and for good reason--in a live setting, a good qawwali performance can drive people to dance in the aisles, throw money toward the performers, even to faint or bang their heads against the stage floor. Even when listening to the tape, I have often been so thoroughly entranced that I lost all sense of time going by, afterwards exclaiming to myself, "What is this music DOING to me?!!" Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, of course, was the best-known Qawwal, or Qawwali singer, ever known to date in the western world; he was surely a master at inducing altered states in his audiences, whether singing live or over a recording.
To thoroughly enjoy this recording, however, you will need a good 30 to 60 minutes of free time to burn. The shortest song is eight (8!) minutes in length, and the final track, "Ni Main Jana Jogi De Naal", lasts a mind-boggling 28 minutes. Typical qawwalis last an average of 12 to 18 minutes each, and I have heard individual songs on other recordings that run more than 40 minutes. Keep in mind, moreover, that there is far more to a qawwali song than the basic verses, chorus and melody. There are extended segments of improvisation in Indian classical fashion; secondary and tertiary chorus lines within the main theme, fragments of other songs inserted by the lead vocalist when the notion strikes him; frequent repetitions of specific lyric lines; wordless vocal solos from several different group members trading turns, and occasional tabla solos. Nusrat was the undisputed master of blending traditional qawwali, Indian classical singing and western sensibilities together in his own singular style, which also reminded me often of the energy levels of the most high-powered Celtic bands now playing. Whether or not you ever heard Nusrat perform live, this recording will give you a good idea of the musical journeys on which he led those of us who eagerly participated.
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