Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

The Last Prophet

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By the time Nusrat returned to Real World Studios to record this set of four long pieces, he was an international phenomenon. The music he and his "party" perform, qawwali, goes back to the tenth century origins of Islam's mystical branch, Sufism. The art is the sonic counterpart to the whirling dervishes of Turkey. Just as the mantra-like repetition of the whirling motion deepens the trace of the dervishes and their audience, the repetition of lines in a qawwali piece deepens the expression of the ideas and sentiments within the words. Almost a decade after Nusrat first performed at Womad and alerted the non-Islamic world of his extraordinary voice and music, this session finds him at the height of his powers. Unlike the Love Songs and Devotional Songs Real World released in 1992, these fresh recordings allow Nusrat and his musicians to stretch out, in one case over 20 minutes, letting the group deliver its full-press spiritual punch. The opener, "Maki Madni," celebrates Muhammad, the "last prophet." It also plays like an 18-minute pop song, with a refrain so sweet and memorable that the time just vanishes. The party appears here in classic form, with tablas and harmonium establishing the harmony and rhythm, male singers swelling around Nusrat's central vocal and using hand claps to drive the tempo. At times, Nusrat gets a rough, tearing quality in his voice here, which only heightens the emotion. Meanwhile, the high, sailing voice of his nephew is particularly intense on this recording, making an evocative contrast. This would be Nusrat's last pure qawwali session at Real World Studio. Even without that sad distinction, it's a recording for the ages.

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