Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Shahen-Shah

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This 1988 recording helped to launch Peter Gabriel's Real World label. It also introduced Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to the non-Pakistani world, presenting him as a kind of world music rock star. Nusrat and his nine-man "party" perform their trademark qawwali here without alterations for the Western market. They sing in Urdu, using religious and romantic texts drawn from the poetry of Sufiism, the mystical sect of Islam. And yet, all the elements that would make Nusrat a world pop sensation are here, above all his enormous voice, husky and trenchant, powerful as a hurricane, severe and foreboding on the darkest tracks, but always bursting with the ecstatic joy of revelation, as on the classic, "Shamas-Ud-Doha, Badar-Ud-Doha." The relentless hand clapping and tabla drum accompaniment convey an aggressive tranciness that combines the contemplative serenity of Indian classical music with the headbanging frenzy of punk rock. Droning harmonium melodies introduce each of these six, ten-minute-plus tracks, and then wind through the escalating vocal fireworks. Singers repeat lines with building intensity, each repetition squeezing more emotional juice from the words. Nusrat's scat-like improvisations are always a high point, often leading to swelling unison chant melodies sung by the entire party. This release effectively rallied a host of samplers, re-mixers, and film scorers who would keep Nusrat busy for the remaining decade of his life. But in retrospect, nothing they created surpasses this, Nusrat's first session at Real World. "Shahen Shah" means the "brightest star," and though qawwali music now has other international stars, Nusrat still merits his title.

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