Tag Archives: Shabaz

Artist profiles: Shabaz


Shabaz combined eleven generations of vocal history with a modern global sensibility and the wicked rhythms of the dance floor. Shabaz featured the voices of siblings Sukhawat Ali Khan and Riffat Salamat, the living embodiment of the ancient Sham Chorasi singing tradition. The pair can trace their lineage back to the court musicians for ruler Akbar the Great.

Their father Ustad Salamat Ali Khan was one of the great classical Indian singers and an influence on the legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Sukhawat began singing at the age of seven and has performed around the world for presidents and kings. Renowned for his technique and passion, he shared vocal duties with sister Riffat who took Qawwali to places it’s never been before. American multi-instrumentalist and producer Richard Michos, the third member of Shabaz spent years exploring Indian music as both player and scholar.

With influences ranging from Zakir Hussain to Jimi Hendrix and dance music he brings an open Western sensibility to the band’s sound adding the colors and textures of electronic beats, dance, rock and ambient music to create a heady irresistible mix. As the Ali Khan Band, Shabaz (which translates as ‘Chief Eagle’) recorded two albums for City of Tribes. Their 1998 debut Tawsir appeared at the top of the CMJ New World Music chart and Zindagi (Urdu for ‘Life’) their follow-up disc reached similar heights in 2000.

Based in the San Francisco area, they played with artists like Femi Kuti and King Sunny Ade transporting crowds with every gig. They continued to work and shape their sound polishing and refining pushing their unique talents across more musical boundaries from the rhythmic richness of ̶Bhangra, to the experimentation of ̶Chela, where club beats frame intoxicating passionate vocals. They had their unique vision of a true world fusion where continents and histories come together in the music of the dance. As Sukhawat Ali Khan said, “It’s an extraordinary time for communicating through music. Music is becoming a melting pot a place where cultures cross.”

Sukhawat Ali Khan later formed a new band called Baraka Moon.


Shabaz (Ark 21, 2001)


Riffat Sultana at Ashkenaz

Riffat Sultana
Riffat Sultana

Pakistani vocalist Riffat Sultana will perform Sunday, February 24 at Ashkenaz in Berkeley, California. The acclaimed, trailblazing Pakistani classical-folk singer Riffat Sultana comes to Ashkenaz with her band for an evening of songs from her centuries-old family heritage.

Riffat Sultana and Party feature family Sufi songs like “Jivey Lal,” a song in praise of Lal Shabaz Qalander, saint for Muslims and Hindus alike. They also play romantic ghazals such as “Ulfat,” a song of heartbreak that laments, “My tears mix with the mud.” Over the years Sultana has performed Punjabi folk, devotional Sufi songs, and classical music as well as ghazal, geet, and electronic and acoustic fusion. She is accompanied by Shiraz Ali Khan on 12-string guitar and Gurdeep Singh on tabla and dhole. Shiraz, Riffat’s husband, is also a student of Ustad Salamat Ali Khan.

Riffat Salamat Sultana is the first woman from her family’s musical lineage to publicly perform in the West. The daughter of Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, who was universally recognized and acclaimed as the finest Pakistani classical singer of his time, Riffat comes from a 500-year lineage of musicians hailing from the Sham Chaurasi Gharana (school of music). But growing up in Lahore, Pakistan, Riffat as a Muslim girl wasn’t allowed to learn the classical music her father and four brothers performed.

On tour with her father’s band, allowed to play tambura (string drone instrument), she decided to pursue singing in the West, eventually settling in the San Francisco Bay Area. Sultana sang with her brother Sukhawat Ali Khan in his band – the Ali Khan Band, later named Shabaz – for which she wrote many of the world trance songs.

Renowned DJ Cheb i Sabbah used her singing on his 1996 breakthrough CD, Shri Durga, and she has sung with everyone from fan Quincy Jones (the 2004 “We Are the Future” concert in Italy) to Jennifer Berezan (her uplifting “Praises for the World” CD and concerts). Her own music can be heard on her CD, “Sufi, Folk and Love Songs.”

Sunday, February 24
Riffat Sultana
Doors at 7:30 pm; show at 8:00 pm
Ashkenaz Music & Dance Community Center
1317 San Pablo Ave. at Gilman, Berkeley, CA 94702

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