Artist Profiles: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Shahen-Shah-e-Qawwali (The Brightest Star in Qawwali) is a title reserved for the leading voice and spirit of qawwali, the devotional music of Sufi Islam. No other term better describes the late Qawwali master.

Born on October 13, 1948 in Lyallpur in the Punjab province of Pakistan, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan made his first recording in 1973, beginning an astonishing recording career spanning over 20 years and 50 albums. As one of the Indian subcontinent’s brightest talents, he incorporated elements of traditional classical khyal repertoire in his performance, producing his own unique style – and broadening the appeal of qawwali to listeners of all faiths.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s father was also one of the great qawwals of his time. With the best of intentions, the father attempted to persuade his son to become a doctor instead of following the family’s 500-year tradition of qawwali performance. But, even his father’s wishes could not keep the young Nusrat from the exquisite art formas a child, he eavesdropped on his father’s music classes to learn the fundamentals. It was only after his father’s death, when Nusrat was 17, that he began to perform in public, joining his uncle’s group and before long becoming one of the most popular qawwali singers in Pakistan.

Mesmerized by one of Nusrat’s live performances, Peter Gabriel invited him to perform at WOMAD during the 1980s, bringing the beauty and hypnotic intensity of the qawwali master’s gift to Western audiences for the first time. The response was overwhelming and resulted in a longstanding alliance between Nusrat and Peter Gabriel’s Real World label.

ShahenN-Shah, his first recording for Real World, marked the beginning of Nusrat’s growing influence and celebrity outside Pakistan. In attempts to make qawwali more accessible to Western ears, he recorded Mustt Mustt in collaboration with Canada’s atmospheric composer/guitarist Michael Brook, replacing traditional songs with classical vocal exercises backed by Western rhythms. A-later remix of Mustt Mustt by Massive Attack led to a surprising club hit through Great Britain and the United States.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Over the next few years, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan became an awe-inspiring and globally powerful world music force. His music has inspired some of this century’s greatest filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone, and has been incorporated into soundtracks for such films as Dead Man Walking and The Last Temptation of Christ. Khan performed with music icons from all genres — including Peter Gabriel and Joan Osborne At the time of his death in 1997, he was due to record with Bjork and Luciano Pavarotti.

From archives in Nusrat’s hometown of Lahore, Pakistan, Real World discovered studio recordings that were released for the very first time. The first of two high-quality archival releases came out with the title Dust to Gold. It presents the great innovator and bearer of tradition at the height of his powers.

The title Dust to Gold reflects Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s philosophy of life, as he considered himself a pinch of dust from a holy place.

In 2002, Real World released Body and Soul, a recording made in Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s hometown of Lahore shortly before his untimely death. The recording was retrieved from his family archive and much work was required to recreate the power of the original performance. Mixing engineer Stuart Bruce worked on the original master tapes for many weeks at Real World Studios. The recorded masters were very inconsistent and it was difficult to assess the strenth of the material due to the random technical nature of the recordings. It was necessary to re-balance the voice and instruments and correct the anomalies and distortion. The whole album was then remixed and remastered. Through this work, Real World was able to restore the energy of the original performance to enable the listener to get as close as possible to the full effect of Nusrat’s singing.

Partial Discography:

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Mujahid Mubarak Ali Khan (EMI Pakistan Ltd., 1978)
Mehfil-E-Qawwali (Polydor, 1980)
Nit Khair Mangan (Star Cassette, 1981)
En Concert À Paris (Ocora, 1986)
Best Of Qawwal And Party Volume One (WOMAD Records, 1986)
The Ecstatic Qawwali (JVC, 1987)
En Concert À Paris Vol. 2 (Ocora, 1985)
Greatest Hits Vol 2 (Serengeti Sirocco, 1988)
Greatest Hits Vol 3 (Serengeti Sirocco, 1988)
En Concert À Paris – 4 (Ocora 558685, 1988)
ShahenN-Sha h (Real World Records, 1989)
Mustt Mustt (Real World Records, 1990)
Qawwali: The Vocal Art Of The Sufis II (JVC, 1990)
Vol 4 Punjabi (Star Records, 1990)
The Day, The Night, The Dawn, The Dusk (Shanachie, 1991)
House Of Shah (Oriental Star Agencies, 1991)
Magic Touch (Star Records, 1991)
Dam Dam Ali Ali Vol 9 (Oriental Star Agencies, 1991)
Live At Islamabad (Rhythms of The East, 1992)
Mae Ni Mae (Oriental Star Agencies, 1992)
Sham Savere (Oriental Star Agencies, 1992)
Naat (Oriental Star Agencies, 1992)
Traditional Sufi Qawwalis Vol I (Navras, 1993)
Traditional Sufi Qawwalis – Live In London Vol II (Navras, 1993)
Sanam – Live In Concert (Star Compact Disc, 1993
Kali Kali Zulfon (Oriental Star Agencies, 1993)
Allah Hoo Live In Concert Vol 25 (Oriental Star Agencies, 1993)
Akhian Udeek Diyan – Live In Concert Vol.75 (Star Cassette, 1993)
Bandit Queen (Milan, 1994)
Traditional Sufi Qawwalis – Live In London Vol IV (Navras, 1994)
Sanson Ki Mala (Jaro Medien, 1994)
Live In London III (Navras, 1994)
Yadan (Star Compact Disc, 1994)
Vol.47 House Of Shah 3 (Oriental Star Agencies, 1994)
Live In Concert – Washington University USA (Star Compact Disc, 1994)
Revelation (Interra Records, 1995)
Dum Mast Mast – The Best Of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (T-Series, 1995)
Sangam Sonic Enterprises, 1996
Night Song (Real World Records, 1996)
Mast Nazron Se (Super Cassettes Industries, 1996)
ISHQ (Star Cassette, 1996)
Unki Gali Mein Aana Jana (T-Series, 1996)
Loay Loay Aaja Mahi Vol-56 (Star Records, 1996)
Ali Ka Girveedah (Magnasound, 1996)
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Michael Brook: Remixed – Star Rise (Real World Records, 1997)
Allah Hoo Allah Hoo (T-Series, 1997)
…Aur Pyar Ho Gaya His Master’s Voice, 1997
Pakistan – En Concert A Paris – 5CD (Ocora, 1997)
Only One (Anarkali Records, 1997)
Sweet Pain: Pride Of Pakistan Volume 4 (Sonic Enterprises, 1997
Ecstacy (Terrascape TRCD 4110-2, 1997
Novum Gaudium, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Oriente/Occidente (Materiali Sonori, 1997
The Prophet Speaks (M.I.L. Multimedia, 1997)
Jewel (Terrascape, 1997)
Michael Brook & Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Night Songs Remix (Sonic Enterprises, 1997)
Live – Greatest Hits Ever (RPG Music, 1997)
Jani Door Gaye Volume 7 (Sonic Enterprises, 1997)
Live In New York City (M.I.L. Multimedia, 1997)
Salaam (RPG Music, 1998)
Kachche Dhaage (Tips, 1998)
Swan Song (EMI, 1998)
Pride Of Pakistan Volume 26: Ustad Qawwal – Last Recording 1997 (Sonic Enterprises, 1998)
Best Of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Remix (T-Series, 1998)
Imprint (Hi Horse Records, 1998)
Allah And The Prophet (Exworks Records, 1998)
Live At The Royal Albert Hall (EMI Music Arabia, 1998)
Missives from Allah (MPG, 1999)
Visions Of Allah (ExWorks Records, 1999)
Passion (NYC Music, 1999)
Opus (Vanstory, 2000)
The Final Studio Recordings (American Recordings, 2001)
Jaag Uthe Hain Dard Purane Album 33 (Timeline Records 2001)
The Final Moment (Birdman Records, 2001)
Les Plus Grands Concerts (EMI, 2001)
Sufi Qawwalis (ARC Music, 2002)
Tun Khayaal Ton Wi Sohni (Nupur Audio, 2002)
The Master Of Qawwali (Latisphere, 2002)
Poetry Of Bulle Shah In The Voice Of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (Nupur, 2002)
Parchaiyan (Saregama, 2003)
Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Qawwali Vol: 43 (Sonic Enterprises, 2003)
A Sufi Supreme (Manteca, 2003)
Qawwal Volume 42 (Sonic Enterprises, 2003)
Mele Ne Vichhar Jana Volume 91 (Oriental Star Agencies, 2004)
Yusaf Zulaikha Vol. 98 (Star Compact Disc, 2004)
Sufi Soul (Saregama, 2005)
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (Deluxe, 2006)
Dub Qawwali (Six Degrees Records, 2007)
Dub Qawwali Remixes (Six Degrees Records, 2008)
Mast Qalandar (Navras, 2010)
Shahen-Shah (Real World Records, 2012)
Best Of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Vol. I (Sony Music, 2012)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.
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