The Supreme Collection, Vol. 1
Caroline Records

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the legendary Pakistani singer who died of a heart attack two weeks ago in London at 49, was undoubtedly one of the great voices of his time. After his breakthrough performance at the 1985 WOMAD Festival, he went on to become a major figure in world music circles, inspiring younger Western musicians like Eddie Vedder (who sang a duet with Ali Khan on the "Dead Man Wallking" soundtrack), Joan Osborne, and the late Jeff Buckley, who wrote the liner notes to this collection. His ecstatic style of devotional Sufi singing crossed all musical and cultural boundaries, and those who heard it were often deeply moved. A classically trained bearer of the Qawwali tradition, Ali Khan was also a world-class innovator who spent his lifetime exploring uncharted improvisational languages.

The Supreme Collection is a 2-CD set that gives both new fans and old a chance to savor the early recorded work that set the stage for Ali Khan's emergence as an international superstar. In the deeply passionate liner notes, Buckley writes about being overwhelmed the first time he heard the singer: "Then came the voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Part Buddha, part demon, part mad angel...his voice is velvet fire, simply incomparable."

According to Qawwali belief, between the world of the flesh and the world of the spirit lies the void. The Qawwali is the messenger who leaps into the abyss and brings back messages of love from Allah. At the consummation of a performance like the one heard on the track "Tum Agar Yuhi Nazren", the messages are said to come in bursts of light into the hearts and minds of listeners. But no religious dogma will be found on this recording. To the Sufi, all meanings of the music exist simultaneously, and the only pilgrimage is to the light within the heart.

Unlike other reissues of Ali Khan's early work, translations for the lyrics are included in this set. One of the most intoxicating tracks, "Mazaa Aa Gaya", features indescribable flights of otherworldly vocalizations. The translation is, "My desired one, the very first time you looked at me with your beautiful eyes, it was a wonderful feeling I enjoyed so much. It was like the snow falling at the same time as a great fire starting in my heart." The track, which runs over 17 minutes with those simple lyrics, includes some serious improvisation, and is a perfect example of the hypnotic effect of repetition. He may have left us, but the gentle mountain of a man who was known as Shahen-Shan, the Brightest Star, still shines brightly. - Sandy Miranda

See also: John Cho's overview of Qawwali, Asian music on RootsWorld


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