‘Lost album’ by the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan by Guido Harari.

A new album of unheard recordings by the Pakistan musical icon Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan will be released on 20 September 2024, 34 years after they were recorded. The ‘lost album’ — named Chain of Light — was discovered in the tape archives of Real World Records, the label that signed Khan in 1989 and released a series of universally acclaimed albums with him throughout the 1990s. The launch of the album is being supported in part by the British Council.

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Joined by his eight-strong party of singers and musicians, Chain of Light presents four traditional qawwals (Sufi Islamic devotional songs) — including one which has never been heard before — and captures Khan at the height of his vocal capabilities in pristine sonic quality. The recording was made at Real World Studios in April 1990, during the same time he worked on Mustt Mustt, his seminal crossover album with Canadian producer Michael Brook.

Descended from a 600-year-old lineage of qawwali singers, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s voice has been singularly responsible for spreading the devotional music of Sufism to the world, ever since he became the leader of his family’s musical group in 1971. At turns heavy and hulkingly powerful, yet agile and pointedly precise, his vocal not only embodies the tradition of the Sufi qawwali but it is the emotive essence of singing itself.

Over the course of his musical career, Khan became a cultural icon whose list of esteemed fans extended well beyond the Islamic world and into the realm of western rock and pop. The late Jeff Buckley famously said of the singer “He’s my Elvis” and Khan counted amongst his fans The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder. His voice also appeared on the soundtrack of movies by Hollywood directors Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone and Tim Robbins.

Khan’s relationship with Peter Gabriel and Real World Records began after his watershed performance at the 1985 WOMAD festival, which was the first time he performed to a predominantly western audience. Shortly after that historic festival set he was signed to the label, and his international profile rose through a collaboration on Gabriel’s 1989 album Passion which featured in the movie The Last Temptation of Christ.

I’ve had the privilege to work with a tonne of different musicians from all over the world in my time, but perhaps the greatest singer of them all was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan,” says Peter Gabriel. “What he could do and make you feel with his voice was quite extraordinary and we were very proud to have played a role in getting him to a much wider global audience. It was a real delight when we found out this tape had been in our library. This album really shows him at his peak. It’s a wonderful record.”

Buried deep in a warehouse storage space at Real World Studios and unearthed whilst the label was relocating its archive in 2021, the April 1990 tape recording that comprises Chain of Light finds Khan at a crossroads, on the cusp of global greatness.

1990 was a key point in Nusrat’s career, it was the beginning of him crossing over into a western audience,” Khan’s longtime international manager, Rashid Ahmed-Din, says. “Everything just clicked. He always wanted to experiment and not be limited to one sound and these tracks express that movement beyond.”

There is an amazing clarity to these performances,” producer Michael Brook says of the recordings. “They are more harmonically adventurous than the other songs that Nusrat was recording at the time and the whole group is firing on all cylinders.”

In 1997 Khan tragically died at the age of 48. He had exposed the mystical power of qawwali and its capacity for modern interpretations to the world, but his voice was no more. Almost 30 years later, the singer’s legacy continues to attract new generations of fans, evident in the 6 million average monthly Spotify listeners and YouTube videos of his music racking up over 1 billion views.

Fans of the great maestro will be thrilled to also learn that the definitive documentary film on Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s life is in the making. Saiyna Bashir Studios, an Islamabad based company, will release their labor of love biopic Ustad at the end of 2025. The film will tell the untold story of one of the world’s greatest singers, featuring rare and unseen archive footage with contributions from a cast of close family, friends, collaborators and fans. Earlier this year, Saiyna Bashir Studios received a grant from the British Council to support Real World Records to promote Chain of Light.

Reflecting on the significance of this album producer Michael Brook says “It touches you, it is a once in a lifetime experience. Like the immanent light of the record’s title, these songs are transformative and transcendent in a way that crosses languages and cultures. It draws the listener in, no matter their expectations. Thank God, or whatever you believe in: the voice has returned.”

Chain of Light is out 20 September 2024 on Real World Records. CD, standard LP and limited edition LP versions of the album are available now to pre-order. Ustad, the feature-length documentary film, will premiere in late 2025.