The “New Nusrat Record” – Believe the Hype
Today’s Halloween month piece concerns someone who has gone to the great qawwali party in the sky. If you haven’t heard the “new Nusrat record,” as everyone seems to be calling it, you should, if hypnotic sounds or dance music are your thing. Credited to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Party, this live recording– never before released – from the 1985 WOMAD Festival, was the iconic Pakistani qawwali singer’s first-ever performance in front of a western audience. It’s streaming at Spotify.
The show begins with swirling harmonium over a spare tabla beat. Some of the male members of the party onstage trade ecstatic, imploring, melismatic verses as the harmonium resonates gently behind them; finally, the crowd clap along as the rhythm kicks in and the first number, Allah Ho Allah Ho gets underway. It’s twenty full minutes of hypnotic revelry, pretty much everyone raising his or her voice. Khan’s is both honeyed and gritty, maybe feeling the effects of being on the road.
The catchy, singalong second number, Haq Ali Ali is even longer and slower, in a broodingly chromatic, Middle Eastern-tinged mode; the bristling vocal cadenzas tend to be more incisive and brief. The group take it doublespeed at about the eight-minute mark and don’t look back.
Everybody onstage joins in the rapidfire exchanges of call-and-response in the concert’s most hypnotic number, Shahbazz Qalandar, “A very famous tune,” as Khan succinctly explains. They close with the sprawling Biba Silda Dil Mor De, returning to an uneasy Middle Eastern-flavored mode. Obviously, miking everybody onstage– vocals, percussion and harmonium – was a potential minefield for the sound engineer, but the recording levels are seamless.
It would be a stretch to call any of this Halloween music – but, this blog did promise you dead people earlier this month.