In terms of emotion, prowess and mesmeric power, there is no equal to the voice of the legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the genius singer of qawwali, the devotional, ecstatic sound of Islam's Sufi mystics. Like no other, Nusrat's performances transcend religious boundaries, and his music caresses the soul with its passion. Artists as diverse as Massive Attack, Eddie Vedder and Peter Gabriel acknowledge Nusrat as one of the world's most inspired and inspiring singers.
"The first time I heard the voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was in Harlem, 1990. My roommate and I stood there blasting it in his room. We were all awash in the thick undulating tide of dark punjabi tabla rhythms, spiked with synchronized handclaps booming from above and below in hard, perfect time. I heard the clarion call of harmoniums dancing the antique melody around like giant, singing wooden spiders. Then, all of a sudden, the rising of one, then ten voices hovering over the tonic like a flock of geese ascending into formation across the sky. Then came the voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Part Buddha, part demon, part mad angel ... his voice is velvet fire, simply incomparable. Nusrat's blending of classical improvisations to the art of Qawwali, combined with his out and daredevil style and his sensitivity, outs him in a category all his own, above all others in his field. His every enunciation went straight into me. I knew not one word of Urdu, and somehow it still hooked me into the story that he weaved with his wordless voice. I remember my senses fully froze in order to feel melody after melody crash upon each other in waves of improvisation; with each line being repeated by the men in chorus, restated again by the main soloists, and then Nusrat setting the whole bloody thing aflame with his rapid-fire scatting, turning classical Indian Solfeggio (Sa, Re, Gha, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni) into a chaotic/manic birdsong. The phrase burst into a climax somewhere, with Nusrat's upper register painting a melody that made my heart long to fly. The piece went on for fifteen minutes. I ate my heart out. I felt a rush of adrenaline in my chest, like I was on the edge of a cliff, wondering when I would jump and how well the ocean would catch me: two questions that would never be answered until I experienced the first leap. That is the sensation and the character of Qawwali music, the music of the Sufi's, as best as I can describe it."Jeff Buckley