Tag Archives: Pakistan

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.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Live at WOMAD 1985

In 2019, to mark the 30th anniversary of Real World Records, the label released Live at WOMAD 1985, the previously unheard live recording of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s historic first WOMAD Festival performance in 1985.

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)
Live at WOMAD 1985 (Real World Records, 2019)


Artist Profiles: The Sabri Brothers

The Sabri Brothers

The Sabri Brothers are Pakistan’s best known, phenomenally successful family of devotional singers, hailing from Kalyana in the East Punjab and with over 30 years of sung religious poetry behind them.

Backed by their five instrumental accompanists, the four Sabris – whose lineage stretches back to the 16th century to the revered Mian Tansen, a singer at Emperor Akbar’s court – are led by the soaring voices of the late Haji Ghulam Farid Sabri, whose periodic refrain of ‘Allah’ between songs has become a Sabri signature, and his younger brother Haji Maqbool Sabri. Both are internationally respected for their raw, energetic, highly original style in delivering popular pieces from the traditional Qawwali repertoire, and a unique percussion style.


Balaghal Ula Be Kamalehi (EMI, 1971)
Nazana-E-Aqidat (Angel Records, 1974)
Sabri Brothers (Odeon, 1975)
Qawwal and Party (EMI, 1975)
Sabri Brothers (Angel Records, 1975)
Maqbool Sabri Sings Ghazals and Muqabala With Chanda Khanam (Star Records, 1975)
Ya Sahib ul Jamal (Odeon, 1977)
Sabri Brothers (EMI, 1979)
Sultan-e-Haram Ho Jaye Karam (EMI, 1980)
Sabri Brothers In Concert (Angel Records, 1981)
Ek Lajwab Peskash – Ghazals (His Master’s Voice, 1982)
Jhoot Ke Paon Nahin (His Master’s Voice, 1983)
Behtareen Ghazlen (His Master’s Voice, 1983)
Nazr-E-Shah Karim (AEA, 1983)
Ya Habib (Real World Records, 1990)
New Qawwalis 1990 (EMI, 1990)
Qawwali Masterworks (Piranha, 1991)
Pyar Ke Morr Live In U.K. Vol 1 (Star Compact Disc, 1992)
Doolha Heryaley (Multitone Prestige, 1993)
Ya Mustapha (Xenophile Records, 1996)
Jami (Piranha, 1996)
Maqbool Sabri Mahmood Sabri Qawwal Volume 3 (Sonic Enterprises, 1999)
Live In Moscow. Diwani (2003)


Artist Profiles: Farid Ayaz Qawwal and Brothers

Farid Ayaz Qawwal
Farid (also spelled Fareed) Uddin Ayaz Al-Hussaini belongs to the best known gharana (ancient tradition) of qawwali, Qawwal Bachon Ka Gharana’ of Delhi. This gharana, approximately over seven centuries old, was started by Saamat Bin Lbrahim, the principal student of Hazrat Amir Khusrau. The eminent ghrana has produced famous masters like the late Ustad Tanrus Khan, court musician and tutor in classical music of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mogul emperor. Fareed Ayaz and party is one of the best qawwal of the South Asian sub-continent. Fareed Ayaz started his training in classical music at a young age under the rigorous and critical tutelage of his late father Ustad Munshi Raziuddin Khan, who himself was a renowned classical musician, a recipient of the President’s Pride Of Performance Medal and was bestowed many other honors by the government of Pakistan. Farid Ayaz is an accomplished musician in the genre of classical music. He has been performing professionally for the last 30 years,  nationally and internationally. He has also been a cultural representative for Pakistan at numerous Pakistani missions abroad. Farid Ayaz and party have performed in the United Kingdom, USA, France, Germany, Italy, Holland, Portugal, Austria, India, Kenya, Nepal, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Croatia, Turkey, Morocco, Greece, Egypt, Bulgaria, Tunisia, Belgium, Iran, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and many others. Farid Ayaz has total mastery over various genres of classical music, such as dhrupad, khayal, tarana, thumria and dadra which he blends beautifully during his performances of qawwali. His mastery over classical music was acclaimed at the All Pakistan Music Conference annual festival (February 2005), where he was invited to perform as a classical singer and not a qawwal. Farid Ayaz is well versed in several languages and can ably perform in Urdu, Sindhi, Punjabi, Pashto, Hindi, Poorbi, Bengali, Marathi, Persian, Arabic and Turkish, in addition to Japanese.

Partial discography:

Soul of the Sufi (2009) Range Sufiaan, Vol. 1 (Ragni Recordings, 2018) Range Sufiaan, Vol. 2 (Ragni Recordings, 2018) From Pakistan With Love, Vol. 1 (Ragni Recordings, 2018) From Pakistan With Love, Vol. 2 (Ragni Recordings, 2018)

Artist Profiles: Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Photo by Pamila Matharu, 1999

It’s totally soul music, and I think we can call it devotional music,” said Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. “It’s spiritual music from the soul.”

He was talking about Qawwali, the musical component of the mystical tradition of Islam known as Sufism. But for him, even more momentous than serving as a musical ambassador from Pakistan to the United States, there is the mantle he is now assuming.

The legacy of a great qawwali master is not a matter to inherit lightly. Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was personally groomed by his uncle, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, for most of his life. Nusrat, who died in 1997, was considered “the voice from heaven” and the greatest living practitioner of qawwali. But Nusrat had no sons and the qawwali tradition requires that a master choose a successor. Although Nusrat appointed Rahat as his successor during his lifetime, when Rahat was still very young, according to tradition, on the 40th day after the death of the qawwali master, there was an announcement, and most of the qawwali singers in Pakistan and India attended. The head of the master’s family came out and announced Rahat as Nusrat’s successor. When Rahat was born, his father (Nusrat’s younger brother, Farroukh Fateh Ali Khan) washed the baby and brought him to Nusrat who blessed him. Rahat began his vocal training at the age of three, “even with the baby bottle in his mouth, he would remove it to sing each syllable,” said Shafiq Saddiqui, who worked with Nusrat and now works closely with Rahat.

At the age of six he was officially entered into the training of qawwali with Nusrat teaching him ragas, classic vocal training, and at nine, Rahat appeared on stage for the first time, at the anniversary of his grandfather’s death.

With Nusrat’s permission, Rahat gave his first public performance in front of thousands of people. At the age of fifteen he made his first trip outside of Pakistan as Nusrat’s second singer, on a tour of England. From then on, he was with his uncle on all of Nusrat’s worldwide tours.

And so 40 days after Nusrat’s death, according to tradition, Nusrat’s wife recognized Rahat as Nusrat’s successor. Since then, Rahat has been leading the same 10-piece band that Nusrat made famous, and carrying on the family legacy, one that goes back 600 years in their family.

I love qawwali, it’s in my spirit it’s in my soul,” Rahat said. “Qawwali is a music which stays forever, and it is food for the human spirit. Other music sounds good, but it doesn’t stay forever.”

After releasing a dozen solo albums in Pakistan, Rahat decided to bring his music to a western audience. He did not, however, in any way dilute or water down the qawwali tradition. “There is no twist in this traditional music,” he said firmly. “The only change you can say is that whoever is the singer has different vocal chords and that makes a difference and has an impact on the music, but basically it has been running for 700 years and no one ever changed it. Most of the poetry comes from Sufi saints like Rumi, who lived 600 years ago, but even if the works by newer Sufi poets are used, we do not stray far from tradition.”

My family carried the tradition for 700 years and my mission is to explore qawwali and to give the message of peace and love and lovely brotherhood to the world, without regard to race and religion, and that comes through the traditional qawwali. I am also very interested in collaborating with other singers, as well as Western singers. I will definitely do it in the future.”

Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

With two people playing harmoniums and one musician playing a pair of tablas, Rahat’s band conjures waves of ecstatic poetry, his voice rhythmically dancing with the tablas, spiraling ever upward in a gripping display of emotional and spiritual devotion. If you have never heard qawwali before, it is a powerful even life-changing experience, one in which the most sensual human impulses are perfectly united with the purest and most spiritual qualities.

Born and raised in Faisalbad, Pakistan, he could not recall when he was first inspired by qawwali because the music was such an integral part of his life. “When I first heard it, it was my wish to learn this music and become a qawwali singer. I did not go to any school, for there is no such school better than my house, which was a musical institute, I learned everything at home. We were living in a joint family all in one house.”

His relationship to his famous uncle remains a defining factor in Rahat’s life. Having toured with Nusrat from 1985 to 1997, he spent twelve years as a member of Nusrat’s touring band and as many years before that receiving instruction. “First of all, he was my great uncle, and second he adopted me at a very young age as his son and successor. Not only that he was my best friend and my great teacher and I learned from him, from day one until the end of his life. We had not only a father-son and uncle-nephew relationship but he was also a very good friend.”

Still, for Rahat, the burden of inheriting Nusrat’s legacy has been a two-sided sword. “The positive side is that it is an honor for me to be his successor and I enjoy that and I am carrying the message of Nusrat. No one is like Nusrat and even I am not like Nusrat. That voice might not come again for centuries, but I am fulfilling his mission because I learned from him. It really surprises me when expect that I will be doing the same thing he did. I have my own vocal sound and my own styleI learned from him and he also expected me to be a different singer who carries the same message. I hope people will understand this when they listen to me.”

The first glimpse that many Americans got of Rahat was in The Voice from Heaven, a film that explored Nusrat’s legacy. Immediately after his uncle’s death, in the spring of 1998, Rahat performed at his shrine in Lahore, Pakistan, at the largest festival in South Asia. Rahat was the youngest qawwali singer in the history of the 3-day festival and more than 200,000 attended the all-night performance. He performed at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in 1998, for the Dead Man Walking benefit concert, along with Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam.

He returned to the US in August 1999 for eleven concerts including appearances in Central Park and the Hollywood Bowl, as well as Chicago, and Washington, DC. The music remains a form of spiritual practice to Rahat. “I wake up early in the morning every day, around 6 a.m., and start singing special ragas that are very difficult to practice for five or six hours a day. Qawwali is basically a form of prayer. It is a way of explaining to the world the message of those Sufis, through their phrases and poetry, which qawwali expresses through devotional music, it is basically preaching peace and love, but it is also prayer.”

Working with Rick Rubin, who co-founded one of rap’s premier labels (Def Jam), might seem an odd move for a singer of devotional music. Despite the fact that Rick comes from the rock and roll world and Rahat comes from a religious world (he prays five times day, and at the age of 12 he went to Mecca for Haj, a pilgrimage) there was never a big gap to overcome between the two men. “I didn’t feel any gap between Rick and my music,” Rahat said. “I felt him approaching the music with a spiritual attitude. I like Rick very much. I feel like he understands the music in a way only someone who lived with Sufis could understand it. So I am very happy to work with him, because our approaches are so similar, where I go, his mind is always there before me. I am very pleased he produced my record.”

For now though, Rahat remains single-pointedly focused on the message of traditional qawwali. “The qawwali music is not only music, it is a message. It was created by Sufis, and when we compose and practice this music, it stays forever. Other music comes and goes, but qawwali never goes. Once you start listening, it goes in your soul, goes in your spirit, and you become more human. I feel that this music is my duty, to go and give the message of Sufism. My future is that one day I will fulfill the desire of Nusrat to give this message to the world.”


Janasheen (Sonic Enterprises, 1999)
Aaja Mere Yaar (Sonic Enterprises, 1999)
Rahat (American Recordings, 2001)
The Four Feathers (Sony Classical, 2002)
Kinna Sonna (How Beautiful) – A Live Tribute To Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (Navras, 2010)
The Best Of Bollywood & More (Times Music, 2010)


Artist Profiles: Riffat Sultana

Riffat Sultana

Riffat Sultana channels the musical wisdom of 500 years and eleven generations of master musicians in her family in India and Pakistan. But in all those years, she is the first woman to sing in public. For a Muslim woman in a very conservative country, such a career simply was not appropriate. Perhaps one reason her performances today have such overwhelming emotional power is that she sings for all the woman in her distinguished family who never had that chance before.

For Riffat, it took moving to the United States to free her musical soul. Now, her amazing voice is being heard around the world, including a featured spot in the 2004 We Are The Future concert, produced by Quincy Jones in Rome, Italy. Where doors were always closed to her, now they are opening everywhere, and Riffat has collaborated with singers and songwriters from all over the world. At last free to create and perform as she pleases.

Riffat’s father, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, was a musical icon, one of the most respected classical singers in India and Pakistan. In 1947, when Pakistan became a nation, he walked hundreds of miles from his Punjabi village, Sham Churasi, into Pakistan. At the time, Sham Churasi had no fame, but soon it would be widely known as the name of Ustad Salamat’s school & of music, or garana. Riffat’s mother Razia is also a gifted vocalist, from India, descended from a line of highly respected Shiite musicians. However, as with all other women in the family, she was never allowed to perform in public, only in Sufi ceremonies held in the family home. For Riffat, one of four sisters and four brothers, this prohibition became a torment. “Music is in my blood, my soul,” she says. “I saw my father wake up early in the morning and practice, my brothers sitting next to him, and me standing outside the room, so interested. I didn’t want to go to school; I didn’t want to do anything. I just wanted to be like my brothers and learn music.”

Denied the chance to study classical music, Riffat took to learning romantic ghazals and other traditional/ popular songs from relatives, tapes and the radio. Family friends recognized her unusual talent and remarkable ability to hear songs and sing them readily.

Some offered to teach her, but her father always refused. Riffat’s troubles compounded when her engagement to a cousin, also skilled musician, was unexpectedly broken, leaving her heartbroken and desolate. Despite his insistence that women not sing, Riffat’s father was a kind and loving man, and always a friend to her. It wounded him to see his daughter so unhappy, so he made the unusual move of offering to take her on tour with him in Europe and the United States in 1990-91. For a young woman who had not even seen much of Lahore, the city in which she lived, this was a remarkable opportunity. Riffat would still not be allowed to sing, and would have to work very hard to fulfill the domestic needs of her father and brothers during the tour, but she was allowed to play the tambura (a stringed, drone instrument) onstage, a great honor, and also an eye opener.

I had never seen any of my father’s shows in Pakistan,” recalls Riffat. “The first show was in Holland, a big show in a beautiful church. I was so happy. I didn’t care how much work they gave me. I just felt that I was sitting in heaven.”

The family continued on to North America, where they were welcomed by adoring Pakistani communities. They performed in cities throughout the United States, basing themselves in among Pakistani friends and admirers in San Francisco when on the west coast, and Queens, New York, when on the east coast. Between performances, Khan Sahib and his sons took the opportunity to make collaborative recordings with several U.S. based artists. The group then returned to tour in India, but the next time they came to the United States, Riffat and her brother Sukhawat asked their father’s permission to stay longer. Riffat still ached from lost love, and her brother convinced her father it would be helpful for her to stay for an extended time in the U.S.. The presence of significant Pakistani communities, including several master musicians, in Queens and in San Francisco, helped give Khan Sahib confidence that his daughter would be in good hands, and he consented.

Working within these American-Pakistan communities, Riffat began to make forays into the world of public performance as a singer. Pakistanis in the U.S. loved and encouraged her, and in time, Sukhawat became the first of her brothers to accept her as a fellow musician. For years, though, things were complicated. If word of one of her shows got back to the family in Pakistan, she had to lie and say there must have been some mistake. Once, when the family returned for an extended tour and remained longer than expected in San Francisco, Riffat had to send her brothers to perform a concert that had been advertised under her name. The local promoter was disappointed and angry, but under the circumstances, Riffat felt compelled to honor her family’s traditions for women. With one foot in the restricted world of the past, and the other in a promising new realm of possibilities, Riffat’s life proved awkward and challenging.

During this time, San Francisco-based guitarist Richard Michos, began spending time with the family, studying with Riffat’s father and brothers when they stayed in town between concert tours. Richard was a UC San Diego graduate with a degree in composition. He was working as a session player and doing live shows, and his passion for South Asian music led him to the door of Ustad Salamat Ali Khan. Richard and Riffat found themselves spending a lot of time together, and in time, they fell in love. Ultimately, they would marry in 1996, and Richard would help give Riffat the clarity and confidence she needed to establish her own voice as a musician.

Riffat’s musical career became an open secret, and finally, her father acknowledged the fact and gave her permission to sing, teaching her the classical forms of his unique style of music and vocalization. Filled with a new love and given lots of encouragement, Riffat immersed herself in her music training. In 1995, she joined Sukhawat and Richard to form the Ali Khan Band, an acoustic group of world musicians that performed a variety of traditional and popular music from India and Pakistan. The group started out working in the Bay Area. Then Michos introduced a prominent Algerian DJ, Cheb I Sabbah, to Riffat’s father and brother. The meeting proved fateful when Sabbah persuaded Khan Sahib to let him record the family and mix the music for the dance floor. The 1996 release, Shri Durga, became one of the most successful DJ albums of the year, and introduced the music of the Ali Khan family to a whole new audience. Subsequently, the Ali Khan Band opened for Cheb I Sabbah at the Sound Factory in San Francisco, and word began to spread fast.

Soon After the group was asked to open for Ben Harper at the Fillmore, and then to record a single for compilation on the City of Tribes label, the buzz grew. Clearly, it was time to start doing some serious recording. Two Ali Khan Band albums for City of Tribes’ Tawsir (1998) and Zindagi (2000) did well on CMJ, and with a growing youth audience paying attention, the inevitable happened: the group went electric. By now Richard had become Riffat’s husband, and was developing an original approach to accompanying her Pakistani Sufi songs on guitar, as well as in producing the albums, and as he added electronics and other instruments, the soundscape continued to expand, allowing Riffat and Sukhawat to compete dramatically for the affection of audiences.

In 1999, the group came to the attention of entertainment manager and producer Dawn Elder, and then President of Mondo Melodia Records/Ark21. This label, owned by Miles Copeland, was receiving a lot of attention for its growing success in world music. Dawn signed the Ali Khan Band, but at this point, the name, so reminiscent of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, seemed unnecessarily confusing. The musicians wanted to establish a separate identity for their more electronic and Western fusion project. So, for their Mondo Melodia release, they became Shabaz, literally ‘King Eagle,’ but also a reference to the family’s beloved Sufi saint, Lal Shabaz Qalander.

Riffat participated in an international songwriters’ retreat that took place in the South of France in 2001. With such luminaries as Khaled, Hakim, Jeff Beck, and Simon Shaheen on hand, Riffat, working with Narada Walden, composed one of the most popular songs of the retreat, “Queenie’s Jam,” which became a track on the Shabaz album. Shabaz offered groove music with intensely exciting vocals from Riffat and Sukhawat. The album had the misfortune of being released in September, 2001, and did not get the attention it deserved. But many took notice, including Quincy Jones, who would later sign Riffat up for his mega-concert in Italy in the spring of 2004.

Riffat has grown to become a confident composer and performer. Along with Richard and her brother, she wrote more than half the material on Shabaz. But for the moment, she prefers to sing & compose acoustic renditions of beautiful compositions by her relatives in Pakistan. It is a way of honoring them, and showing the world more richly who she is. This return to her musical roots is the theme for her solo debut album, Sufi Folk & Love Songs.

Over the years, Riffat has performed Punjabi folk, devotional Sufi songs, classical music, as well as ghazal, geet, and electronic and acoustic fusion.


Tawsir (City of Tribes, 1998)
Sufi, Folk, and Love Songs (2005)
Zindagi (City of Tribes, 2000)
Shabaz (Ark 21, 2001)
Shabaz (2006)


Artist Profiles: Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali

Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali – Photo by Vince Goodsell

Pakistan’s fresh young ensemble, Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali, though still in their teens, are already proving to be masters of the Sufis’ devotional music. The two young brothers who lead the group, Rizwan Mujahid Ali Khan and Muazzam Mujahid Ali Khan, have an impeccable musical pedigree — their grandfather was an uncle of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and personally taught Nusrat the art of Qawwali singing. These nephews of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan come from a direct family line of Qawwali vocal music that spans over five centuries. Their inventive reinterpretations of spiritual love songs based upon classical Islamic and Sufi texts were first showcased in the UK, in July 1998, at the WOMAD Festival in Reading (Great Britain), and received much critical acclaim.

Performers of Qawwali believe that they have a religious mission: to evoke the name of Allah in a quest for total transcendence. They use music as a vehicle to enlightenment or to achieve inner knowledge — via rhythmic hand clapping, percussion, harmonium and a vast repertoire of sung poetry. By repeatedly chanting salient phrases, they transport audiences to a spiritual nirvana or trance-like state. Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali is made up of two lead singers (Rizwan and Muazzam), five secondary singers leading the choral response and vigorous hand claps, two harmonium players and a tabla player. They perform in traditional Qawwali style — sitting on the ground rather than on seats — which they believe brings them closer to God.

A typical Qawwali song will usually begin with a slow instrumental vamp that introduces the melody. The lead singer then meanders in with the first line and establishes a call-and-response pattern. Phrases are repeated over and over again, punctuated by sudden and furious breaks of florid virtuoso singing by the leader. As the piece progresses, the tempo and volume are gradually increased, elevating the listeners to higher and higher states of entrancement. Traditionally, women are forbidden to sing Qawwali.

The original Qawwali repertoire of Farsi (Persian), Punjabi, and BrajBhasha (an old form of Hindi) has given way in recent times to Urdu and Arabic. Romantic love is used as a metaphor for spiritual adoration and mystical enlightenment, drawing upon a rich vein of poetic imagery. It is not surprising, therefore, that Qawwali has become a staple of Hollywood film scores.

Day of Colours, released in 2004, was recorded in four days in a tiny studio in Lahore. It features customary praise songs to Allah and Mohammed, along with praises to Sufi saints such as Ali Ahmed Sabir and Khawaja Muhammad Deveen in languages ranging from Persian to Urdu to Punjabi.

Qawwali is a precious thing that has stood the test of time,” Rizwan said. “The songs connect to the human spirit and freshen the human soul. Its main message is love and the aim of this record [Day of Colours] is to spread peace and understanding.”

We know that no one can emulate Nusrat,” Muazzam added. “We just want to carry on where he left off and, God willing, we can take the craft forward.”


Attish: The Hidden Fire (WOMAD Select, 1998)
Sacrifice To Love (Narada, 1999)
A Better Destiny (Real World Records, 2001)
People’s Colony No I (Real World Records, 2001)
Day Of Colours (Real World Records, 2004)
Sufi Sama (Tabaruq Records, 2007)


Artist Profiles: Salamat Ali Khan

Salamat Ali Khan

Ustad Salamat Ali Khan was born in 1934 in the Hoshiarpur district of Punjab in what was then the British colony of India. He is the father of an entire family of vocalist-musicians.

Salamat Ali Khan performed at the age of nine with his brother Nazakat Ali Khan, as the famed Ali Brothers. They were internationally renowned as superstars in the 1960’s and 1970’s for their immense talent and artistry in the classical form.

Now the next generation is becoming increasingly recognized for their great talents. The children are Sharafat Ali Khan, Shafqat Ali Khan, Sukhawat Ali Khan and Riffat Salamat.

Salamat Ali Khan died on July 10, 2001 in Pakistan.


A Tribute To Hazrat Amir Khusrau (EMI, 1975)
Ustad Salamat Ali Khan (EMI, 1976)
Classical Vocal (Star Cassette, 1979)
Musik Aus Pakistan: Khyal Und Tarana (International Institute For Traditional Music Studies Berlin, 1986)
Salamat Ali Khan (Nimbus Records, 1991)
Raag: Desi Todi Abhogi Kanada (Weston, 1991)
Salamat Remembers Nazakat (Magnasound, 1992)
Classical Vocal & Instrumental (EMI, 1993)
Princess Of The Sea (Keytone, 1993)
Breath Of The Rose (Water Lily Acoustics, 1993)
Raga Darbari Kanarra (World Network, 1995)
Raga Madkauns, Raga Suha Kanada, Raga Verag Todi, Raga Kalavati (Nimbus Records, 1995)
Voices Of Spheres (X DOT 25, 1997)
Durbar-E-Khaas: The Legendary Salamat Ali Khan Volume Four (Virgin, 2004)
Nida è Salamat (Navras, 2007)


Artist Profiles: Shafqat Ali Khan

Shafqat Ali Khan

As heir to a singing dynasty, Shafqat Ali Khan is one of the master classical vocalists of India and Pakistan.

Shafqat Ali Khan was born June 17, 1972 in Lahore, Pakistan. He began his professional career at the prodigious age of seven, performing two very difficult ragas at the Punjab Music Festival in 1980; his professional training had already begun when he was four years old. “People were amazed. I sang for twenty minutes.” Afterwards, he was approached by Radio Pakistan, which led to a series of on-air recitals which spread the fame of this preternaturally endowed talent. By the age of eight, Shafqat had already proved his mettle, earning widespread regard as a classical artist of merit. Further classical performances on area television stations enhanced his public profile.

The Oakland, California-based producer Doug McKeehan and Shafqat met in 1994, during a visit to the U.S. by Shafqat’s father, the renowned Indian vocalist Salamat Ali Khan. McKeehan, a keyboardist who had performed with the world fusion group Ancient Future, has long harbored a love of Indian music and culture; he studied the classical sounds of the subcontinent with no less a figure than the sarangi virtuoso Ram Narayan. The urge to collaborate was immediately apparent to both Doug and Shafqat upon their initial encounter. After preliminary forays into recording, the line-up of players and the style of arrangements best suited to Shafqat’s voice both fell into place, leading ultimately to the recordings which yielded the World Class release, Shafqat Ali Khan.

In Indian classical music, a musician’s worth is often framed within the context of the gharana (the term defines a cross between a family tree and an intellectual circle) within which that musician has been educated. Shafqat received his training from his father, a product of the Sham Chaurasi gharana, named for the small town in East Punjab in India where Shafqat’s family originated. The style of raga interpretation favored over several centuries by Sham Chaurasi singers was the austere, almost minimal form known as dhrupad. In recent years, however, Shafqat’s father initiated a change in style, adopting the relatively modern, more elaborately ornamented style known as khyal singing; the latter term literally means “imagination.” The khyal form demands improvisational flexibility as well as careful attention to nuances of intonation, phrasing and rhythm. Combining the endurance and rigorous tone demanded by dhrupad training with the expressiveness encouraged by khyal style, Shafqat is capable of articulating heretofore unexplored nuances in centuries-old music, stretching his interpretations of notoriously difficult ragas to extraordinary lengths.

Shafqat’s entire life has been spent in preparation for his own career in khyal singing, yet he has experimented previously with pop forms in the late ’80s in Englandand additionally with a further fusion/ambient project recorded in Europe; the latter found Shafqat duetting with his father on a project called Princes of the Sea. Though he established his name as a classical singer, the role which Shafqat still considers his principal calling, he was given permission by his father to apply his considerable talents to newer, more popular forms such as ghazal, the poetic love songs which originated in Punjab in the 19th Century. The repertoire represented on Shafqat’s self-titled World Class debut comprises a selection of ghazals chosen for both their innate beauty and their interpretive possibilities.

In Shafqat’s view, music represents a single language shared by mankind. His own tastes in recreational listening – including symphonic works, pop, jazz and opera – evince a fundamentally eclectic nature and a willingness to experiment. Both Shafqat and his father share a love of Nat King Cole’s singing. Shafqat cites Cole’s vocals as coming “Straight from the heart. Nowadays, everybody in the music business dreams only of creating a public image and becoming wealthy. But when you go back to the ’50s, artists wanted to be represented by their work. In this world, today, that’s how I am as well.”

Shafqat Ali Khan lives in Lahore, Pakistan.


Princess Of The Sea (Keytone, 1993)
Voices Of Spheres (X DOT 25, 1997)
Shafqat Ali Khan (Hearts Of Space Records, 2000)
Sufi Songs (ARC Music, 2003)
Sublime Sufi: New Perspectives on Ancient Sufi Roots (ARC Music, 2007)
Dus Kahaniyaan (Eros International, 2007)
Poland – Pakistan (Music Without Borders) (Wydzwiek, 2016)


Artist Profiles: Sukhawat Ali Khan

Sukhawat Ali Khan

Sukhawat Ali Khan is the son of the legendary Indian-Pakistani Vocalist Ustad Salamat Ali Khan. Sukhawat belongs to the school called Sham Chorasi which was established by two brothers – Mian (maestro) Chand Khan and Suraj (son) Khan. They were the court musicians of Akber the Great. Akber the Great was one of the great artistic kings of India. These brothers belonged to the group of nine Jewels of the court.

Sukhawat Ali Khan started his training at the age of 7 and started performing with his father soon after. He toured with his father to England, France, Holland, India, Sri Lanka and America. He has performed at the Columbia University, the Asian Society of New York, The Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Smithsonian Museum of Washington, D.C. Sukhawat Ali Khan has taught music throughout the United States.

Sukhawat Ali Khan now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and is the lead singer with the Alikhan Band.

Sukhawat Ali Khan, in his own words. . . March 1998:

I am so glad to be able to live in this time. Music is becoming the melting pot, a place where cultures cross, boundaries break down. It’s an extraordinary time for communication through music. I hope it continues this way. I hope people reach new understandings of each other through the love of music. We are very small, [Ali Khan] but we can do something, and I believe that that something will count.”

Each song I do has classical thought behind it and I know how to sing it properly, but my style comes from my life too. I spent time in New York. I go to clubs. I like the hip hop beat, Latin, rave… I’ve toured with Ben Harper, even opened for Jane’s Addiction. I’ve listened to a lot of Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, you know, all the classic stuff. I love Nat King Cole’s voice. These people have something that is really exciting. There’s a performing energy there that I also feel. Its the same kind of energy a good Qawwali singer has, and we can really express it freely in America.”

Ali Khan’s singers are heirs to a 500 year lineage of devotional Sufi Qawaali singing, a passionate style made popular by the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Although Qawwali is becoming more and more popular, to be considered a true Qawwal (vocalist), one must have extensive classical understanding. Sukhawat Ali Khan and his sister Riffat come from a long line of Qawwals and have been singing all their lives. Their father and his brother were renowned singers in the 60s and 70s, and certainly Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who was in the next generation, looked to the Ali Khan brothers for inspiration at the time. The Ali Khan family’s musical lineage can be traced directly back to India’s Moghul Age, where two famed court musicians to Akbar the Great planted the seeds for one of the truly distinguished families in music today.

In 2001, Sukhwat and his sister formed a new band called Shabaz.


Laaj (2013)
Taswir (1998)
Zindagi (2000)
Shabaz (Ark 21, 2001)
Shukriya (Jah Nur Music, 2007)
Samaya (A Benefit Album For Cheb I Sabbah) (Six Degrees Records, 2012)


Pakistan’s Sachal Ensemble Announces First North American Tour

Sachal Ensemble

Pakistani 10-piece Sachal Ensemble will be touring the United States for the first time during October and November 2017. The group, formed by philanthropist and music producer Izzat Majeed, mixes typical Western instruments like piano, bass and drums with traditional South Asian ones, such as tabla, dholak and sarangi.

The Sachal Ensemble’s repertoire on this 2017 tour will combine traditional Sufi music, ragas and treasured Pakistani cinema songs (like “Ranjha Ranjha,” from the movie Raavan) with distinctively South Asian versions of Western classics, including The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts,” Michel Legrand’s “The Windmills of Your Mind,” and, their unique recreation of Dave Brubeck’s hit “Take Five” that became a YouTube sensation with over 1 million views.

The international phenomenon created by the “Take Five” video led to an invitation in 2013 for the Sachal Ensemble to collaborate with trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The musicians’ remarkable journey from Lahore to Lincoln Center was captured in Song of Lahore, a documentary film by Award-winning director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Andy Schocken.

An album released in the United States soon followed, Song of Lahore (Universal Music Classics, 2016), featuring the Sachal Ensemble collaborating with Wynton Marsalis, Meryl Streep, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Nels Cline of Wilco, Madeleine Peyroux and Sean Lennon.

A recent Pakistan-only release, titled Jazz and All That, includes Sachal Ensemble ‘s versions of Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo A La Turk,” and songs such as Stevie Wonder’s “You’ve Got It Bad Girl”, Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Wave” and Henry Mancini’s “The Pink Panther.”

The current lineup includes:

Baqar Abbas – bansuri
Nadeem Abbas – bass
Rafiq Ahmad – daff
Asad Ali – guitar
Danish Ali – piano
Najaf Ali – dholak
Zohaib Hassan – sarangi
Ijaz Hussain – tabla
Ali Shaiba – drums
Nijat Ali – conductor

Sachal Ensemble 2017 North American Tour

Friday, Oct. 27 – Vienna, VA at The Barns at Wolf Trap
Sat, Oct. 28 – Schenectady, NY at PrOct.or’s Theatre
Sun, Oct. 29 – Cambridge, MA at Berklee Performance Center
Mon, Oct. 30 – Saratoga Springs, NY – Saratoga Performing Arts Center
Thu, Nov. 2 – Easton, PA at Lafayette College / Williams Center
Sat, Nov. 4 – Miami, FL at Miami Dade College / Olympia Theater
Sun, Nov. 5 – New York, NY at NYU Skirball Center
Tue, Nov. 7 – Calgary, AB, Canada, Arts Commons / Jack Singer Concert Hall
Thu, Nov. 9 – Markham (Toronto), ON, Canada at Flato Markham Theatre
Sun, Nov. 12, Phoenix, AZ at, Musical Instrument Museum
Tue, Nov. 14, Northridge, CA at CSU Northridge / VPAC
Wed, Nov. 15, Stanford, CA at Stanford University / Bing Concert Hall
Sat, Nov. 18, Folsom, CA at Harris Center / Stage 1