Today, 16 August 2017, marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, also known as Shahen-Shah-e-Qawwali, ‘The Brightest Star in Qawwali’.
Qawwali music is a form of Sufi devotional music popular in South Asia with a tradition which stretches back for hundreds of years. Nusrat was responsible for bringing Qawwali music from Pakistan to the Western world and his collaborations on Real World Records with Michael Brook – 1990’s Mustt Mustt and 1996’s Night Song – are regarded as modern classics.
Nusrat also collaborated with Peter on a number of occasions, most notably on the track Signal To Noise and on the Passion album.
“Working together was fascinating. We weren’t quite sure how each other worked. I didn’t want to offend him, I didn’t know what he would be prepared to do or experiment with; how loose he’d be. But in fact he was an extraordinary improvisor. He was capable of coming up with great melodies spontaneously. There are only two or three other musicians I’ve ever met who can do that but I think what he had, perhaps better than them, was the sense of overall structure as he was going into an improvisation. It seemed as if he had a sense of timing, the build, the peaks, the valleys and the climaxes all in his head or it was magnificent composition if he didn’t carry it in his head.
Unlike many artists working with devotional music Nusrat was very open and very generous and willing to try almost anything with anyone who was enthusiastic and it was great for us that we had the wonderful chance to work with him on the Passion soundtrack. It was probably the most magical evening of that whole recording and there’s a scene in the film with Christ carrying the cross and it is deeply spiritual music for me and I think Scorsese too was delighted with that performance and it’s really Nusrat’s voice that builds it and lifts it.
We worked together live a couple of times, the last time was in Los Angeles for the human rights organisation WITNESS and we had perhaps two rehearsals prior to filming in front of a large TV audience and each time he was coming up with very different improvisations and they were stunning. I’m very pleased that we’d had quite a few years working together prior to that and there was a relationship and trust because I think that would have been a little difficult otherwise. We both tried to make space for each other to do what we could, me more on the arrangement side and him in terms of the voice, but it is a performance that I’ll remember always and I think blew away a lot of the Hollywood audience.
It was an amazing experience to be able to work with him and I miss him enormously.” – Peter Gabriel
Nusrat’s voice and music continue to enrapture and entertain audiences worldwide and his legacy lives on, inspiring artists from all different creative backgrounds.
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: 13 October 1948 – 16 August 1997.