Pakistani Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan drives people wild with his music, which is an unbelievable combination of rich, soaring, complex sounds including something that is hard to describe but reminds us of yodeling. His music has been featured on movie soundtracks and in concert halls around the world, and his ecstatic voice haunts all who hear it. Here, the sensational singer Jeff Buckley talks with the man who has, for so long, inspired him
Born in a region where music is as much of a birthright as breathing, singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is held to be the brightest star in Qawwali, a form of Islamic devotional music, in all of Pakistan – “bright,” that is, as in blinding. A vocal art over seven centuries old, Qawwali is passed down orally from father to son (in rare cases to daughters) by Sufi masters. Sufism is a Muslim philosophical and literary movement dating back to the tenth century. Borrowing tenets from other world religions, including Buddhism and Christianity, this mystical order stresses the personal union of the soul with God through poetry and symbolism. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has single-handedly transformed this art from a static antique into a brilliant explosion of light. Through his ecstatic performances, Khan’s Qawwali acts as a living testament to music’s power to link all humans, unashamed of emotion, to the divine. At once soaring and penetrating, these sounds seem to rip open the sky, slowly revealing the radiant face of the beloved. Qawwals don’t sing, they are born to sing, and the men who accompany Khan in his ensemble do not just play music, they become music itself. Every Qawwali performer is excellent, mind you, for they all, by definition, must sing from a heart burning with a passionate love for Allah (God), the Prophet Muhammad, and the saints, and must be totally open to the divine. For them, there is nothing else. Six years after first discovering his music, I was able to meet the man whose voice has healed the fuck out of me. We talked in a vast hotel room in New York City, through his interpreter, Rashid Ahmed Din, who knows Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s story better than anyone. I wouldn’t lie to you, this is the man.
JEFF BUCKLEY: The first real Qawwali I ever heard was called “Yeh Jo Halka Halka,” from the album The Day, the Night, the Dawn, the Dusk on Shanachie Records.
NUSRAT FATEH ALl KHAN: You liked it?
JB: It saved my life. I was in a very bad place.
NFAK: Where were you?
JB: Just depressed. Continue reading