Shabaz isn't so much one band as two -- or one band with two different names. Vocalists Sukhawat Ali Khan and his sister Riffat Salamat joined with multi-instrumentalist and producer Richard Michos in 1994. Michos has been studying Indian music and ragas with Khan and his father, the famed Indian classical singer Ustad Salamat Ali Khan (a man who at one time had taught the legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and had a formidable reputation in his own right). Michos and Sukhawat Ali Khan began working together acoustically under the name the Ali Khan Band. However, a band is exactly what they weren't. That didn't happen until a DJ, Cheb i Sabbah, asked them to open for him in a show in their native San Francisco at the Fillmore in 1996. For that they needed to go electric, and did, a turning point from which they've never looked back. Over the next couple of years the trio refined their sound, until releasing their 1998 debut, Taswir, on the local City of Lights label. Michos brought the studio expertise, and his rock guitar background, to a disc that blended dancefloor-programmed beats and samples with rock music and vocals that ranged from Indian classical to qawwali to some that moved beyond easy classification, adding rapping, pedal steel guitar, and even a didgeridu to the mix. The album was successful, rising on world music charts, and the band opened for such major stars as King Sunny Ade and Femi Kuti. Two years later came Zindagi, which followed its predecessor into the charts, but more adventurous, adding bhangra and hip-hop to the burgeoning list of styles that worked with Indian classical music -- the band would also sometimes take one of Khan Sr.'s classical pieces and put it to a fur-beat with a groove. However, in 2001 they changed labels, signing with Mondo Melodia, and decided to change their name to avoid confusion with other Ali Khans out there, most specifically the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. It was a dangerous move, having built up a reputation under one moniker, to drop it and start afresh, but they were willing to try. In August 2001 they released their eponymous "new" debut, which featured a pair of tracks, "Raga" and "Queenie's Jam," which were recorded in May of the year, when they were invited by labelhead Miles Copeland to take part in a recording week at Chateau Marat in France with a number of other artists, including American musician/producer Narada Michael Walden, British electronica duo Zohar, and Egyptian singer Hakim.
by Chris Nickson