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LPs from the Attic: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Michael Brook — Night Song

May 10, 2010

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Look in the eyes / Of the face of love / Look in her eyes / Oh, there is peace

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Michael Brook — Night Song (Real World, 1996)

If memory serves, Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan entered my life somewhere around 1995. The usual suspects were involved in relaying the message: other singers I admired mentioned him in various (gasp) print publications of their era (does anyone remember Spin?). Specifically, Eddie Vedder had appeared on the Dead Man Walking soundtrack that also featured Nusrat (in fact, they collaborated on the mesmerizing “Face of Love“); Robert Plant mentioned him in passing as part of his ongoing self-awarded musical Fulbright trek. Given that they are both distinctive, much-imitated singers (whether you like them or not), I had to hear what the fuss was all about. Once I had heard Nusrat’s voice, I knew, and I became an instant fan. A fan with a newfound appreciation for an old singing tradition and an adjustment in his personal Canon of great singers.

While I’m a huge fan of both Vedder and Plant as singers, neither man comes close to Nusrat’s range and control. Neither can produce but a weak facsimile of his vocal acrobatics and emotional resonance, although, at their best, both have had moments of equal impact with me.

I would have been wiser to dig into the wealth of more traditional, religious recordings Nusrat made earlier in his career than late-era collaborations. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot on offer on his and multi-instrumentalist Michael Brook’s Night Song.

From electro-like synth adornments to pulsing electric bass, it’s pretty clear that tracks like opener “My Heart, My Life” and “Intoxicated” were designed to cross over into dance, ambient, and lite jazz markets in addition to the expected world and religious genres. With a voice as powerful, flexible, and emotive as Nustrat’s, just hearing him scat-sing in a foreign language over what sounds like the rhythm section of a Byrne/Eno record makes for thrilling listening. In its quietest moments, it’s perfect for thoughtful, soul-searching moods. Michael Brook puts together appropriate sonic backdrops for N’s vocalizations, with plenty of looped beats, atmospheric guitars, and Eastern flourishes to accompany That Voice.

Generally, I recommend diving into the more traditional, intense “sacred” music in NFAK’s catalog. However, if you are like me, you might enjoy his more mainstream, late-career ventures onto what was called the “alternative rock” charts back in their day; they capture his power and talent, and they serve as good entry points into less commercial, emotionally incendiary output. Night Song is a solid add to the discography but, in keeping with its “evening soundtrack” theme, it’s more about contemplative cool-down than building fire.

Recommended tracks:

  • My Heart, My Life
  • Intoxicated
  • Longing
  • My Comfort Remains
  • Crest

Although now out of print, see if you can locate a copy of “Haq Ali Ali Haq” from Global Meditation, Volume 2.  Very stirring, very passionate, very indicative of NFAK’s traditional work.

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