Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Ecstasy: An Essential Selection from the Genius of Qawwali

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When Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan died at 49 in 1997 of renal failure, music lovers the world over mourned his untimely passing. The rotund, merry-faced Pakistani tenor had brought the joyous sound of qawwali, a Sufi (Islamic mystic) devotional tradition, intact and unadulterated to international audiences. Khan was descended from six generations of qawwals and, like his predecessors, he applied memorized religious texts and poems to intricate, improvised musical themes. Flanked by his party (accompanying musicians) on harmonium, hand claps, backup vocals, and tabla drums, Khan's exquisite, preternaturally flexible voice turned repetitive phrases and even nonsense syllables into trance-inducing incantations and audiences into dancing, raving, sobbing ecstatics. Even more astonishing, he could praise Allah while working with Western styles and musicians without losing an iota of his power or integrity. His bhangra-flavored experiments with Bally Sagoo are legendary, as are his collaborations with Michael Brook (Night Song), Peter Gabriel (Passion, the soundtrack for Last Temptation of Christ), and Eddie Vedder ("Long Road" from the Dead Man Walking soundtrack). His output was enormous; tapes of literally hundreds of his concerts are still in circulation. A mid-priced collection of traditional live tracks, Ecstasy is a good place to begin an exploration of his legacy. It features five long and fairly representative pieces, all of which display Khan's effortless technical aplomb and jubilant energy. Jameela Siddiqi, who produced the compilation, hosted the BBC's radio series Songs of the Sufi Mystics, which included Khan's last interview with a British journalist. Siddiqi also contributed to the Rough Guide to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and wrote the excellent liner notes.

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