Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Partying With Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

In this post September 11, 2001 world, it’s quite refreshing to know that there are still people out there who try their best to foster understanding between Islam and the West.

By: Vanessa Uy

Despite of Pakistan being in the limelight of recent geopolitical events, I only know of two Pakistani musicians namely the rock band: Junoon and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to me is probably one of the most unique musical performers who gained crossover stardom that’s mostly centered at the “College Radio Alternative Rock Community.” Even though he passed away on August 1997 at age 48, his worldwide fan base is still growing on a daily basis. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is probably one of the most exotic sounding musician who had gained reverence of the Western MTV generation.

Khan performed Islamic devotional music or “qawwali” exclusively. Drawing from a thousand-year-old tradition of Sufi poetry like the works of Bhulle Shah, Shams Tabrez, Shah Hussain, and the great Sufi poet and scholar, Amir Khursrav.

During the start of the 1990’s, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s music began to gain serious inroads into the United States. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, and Joan Osborne are said to have been inspired by Khan’s music. Probably in an effort to increase their creativity.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Party’s “The Supreme Collection, Volume 1” is the CD which I am currently listening. Qawwali is primarily an Islamic devotional music with the inclusion of carnal metaphors. This is somewhat similar to what Ray Charles had done to Southern Baptist spiritual music thus creating R&B. A qawwali- performing group is called a “party.” Khan’s “Supreme Collection” CD is an example of a traditional Pakistani qawwali performance where the principal or lead vocalist is backed by harmonium, tabla, handclaps, and choir. Traditionally qawwali “songs” are usually 2 hours long, repeating the lines as to make their meaning melt into clarity. As a common practice when recorded, the songs are shortened to more or less 20 minutes. I think the intended message the “songs” are trying to convey remained intact in this truncated form basing on my very basic colloquial Urdu.

To me, this is probably one of the most exotic / different / far out sounding music that had entered circulation into the music repertoire of the alternative/ college radio community. Since qawwali has been around for centuries, one could conjecture that it might had influenced Western music long before the birth of rock n’ roll. I think the end of “Neptune” on Gustav Holts’ “The Planets” was probably inspired by qawwali. More recent examples are The Gathering’s space punk song “Liberty Bell” or Veruca Salt’s “Loneliness is Worse” and “Earthcrosser.”

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan might also have influenced a younger generation of Pakistani musicians. The rock band Junoon has been playing their own interpretation of qawwali using the electric guitar, bass, and drum kit set-up with wonderful results.

So far , a terribly large majority in the West only thinks that Islam is about Osama Bin Laden and terrorism. They should seek enlightenment via qawwali.

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