Track of the Day: ‘Mustt Mustt’ by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s seminal album Mustt Mustt —his first collaboration with Western musicians— we take a look at the album’s incredibly popular title track, recounting how it was composed, its widespread popularity, and the success of Massive Attack’s much-loved remix.

During a trip to Pakistan to visit Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in 1996, we were given a copy of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: A Living Legend — a biography of the singer written by Ahmed Aqil Rubi which was published in 1992 in Lahore. Translated from the writer’s original language to English, the book contains personal stories told to him by the singer, offering a rare insight into the life of Pakistan’s most loved musician. In this passage, he tells the story of how ‘Mustt Mustt’ came to Nusrat in an unexpected moment of inspiration after a recording session at Real World Studios:

Mustt Mustt

Sometimes, they say, a great creation, a masterpiece, a picture, a poem or a song, just happens, and is not deliberately brought into existence. Even the artist does not know what he is creating. But the thing created is important and memorable and bestows immortal fame to the artist.

The great poet of the sub-continent Mirza Asadullah Ghalib always praised his Persian poetry and never gave a thought to his Urdu verse. He advised his friends to read his Persian if they wanted to enjoy some of his best creative effort but as fate will have it, his reputation depends entirely on his poetry in the Urdu language.

The British poet Lord Byron composed his poem ‘Beppo’ in a rather off-hand way, while changing his dress after returning from the ballroom. But the poem proved to be a great piece of literature. The story of ‘Mustt Mustt’ is not much different.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and his brother Farrukh recording in The Work Room at Real World Studios.
 

Peter Gabriel took Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to his studio to add his voice to the soundtrack of the film The Last Temptation of Christ, and with him was his brother Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan and tabla player Dildar Hussain. There in the studio, Nusrat went on reciting a number of ragas and Peter kept on recording.

The session went into the night. Nusrat, Farrukh and Dildar were tired. As the recording came to an end, Peter Gabriel said, “I wish you could sing something with Western musical instruments.” Nusrat played on the harmonium, rather in an absent-minded way. Farrukh said, “Khan Sahab please do something. We then can go back to our rooms for some rest.”

Nusrat’s fingers danced on the harmonium keyboard in a lighter vein and he smiled and rendered the scale: sa re sa, ni sa pa ni ma pama ni ga re ga.

Even Dildar, who was rather exhausted after the long session, laughed with Farrukh. The three did not realise the significance of the rendition that had come to Nusrat just like a light diversion. Peter loved it immensely and called on Michael Brook, Darryl Johnson, James Pinker and Guo Yue with their instruments — electric harmonium, bass and flute — to work with Nusrat on an album with Western influences. From these sessions, the song ‘Mustt Mustt’ was recorded, and others which formed the album of the same name.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was not conscious of the impact that his recording would create. As the composition now enjoys unprecedented popularity, he says that the recording was not ‘done’, it just ‘happened’.

The album Mustt Mustt is a favourite cassette in many countries. Everyone is humming it. From 7 to 70 years old, everyone’s favourite happens to be this composition based on qawwali rhythm. You can hear it in all drawing rooms and all kinds of vehicles: taxis, wagons, trucks and pick-ups and even luxury cars. In the legends recited by the narrator Hatim Tai, the hero Hasan Shami has a glimpse of his beloved and says, “I have seen her once and want to see her again and again.” That is what happens to the listener of ‘Mustt Mustt’. It is not enough to listen to it again but rather again and again.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan on stage at WOMAD Yokohama 1992.

The words are not important. People of every country enjoy the composition in their own manner and are affected by it differently. As Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan relates, once a group of Hindu Sannyasi men and women came to him, introduced themselves to him as those who impart training in meditation. They sat before him cross-legged and joined their hands in a prayer-like stance and said: “Your singing has crossed all earthly limits. It relieves the mortals of all greed and worldly ambition. The soul has an experience of salvation after going through great suffering and sacrifice.”

“We sit, with closed eyes, and put on the cassette of ‘Allah Hoo Allah Hoo’ and ‘Mustt Mustt’,” they added, “and the distance between body and soul is finished.”

In Pakistan, Mustt Mustt surpassed all other discs and tapes in the market in its popularity. It spread around like a flood swamping everyone in the sweep: Hindu, Sikhs, Christians, Muslims, Japanese, and the English, all were swept off their feet by a composition that just happened in a moment of light amusement, when the great artist himself laughed at his own random rendering.

Ahmed Aquil Rubi

(Edited and adapted from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: A Living Legend by Ahmed Aqil Rubi, published in 1992 by WOW, Lahore, Pakistan)

Mustt Mustt

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Michael Brook

 
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Party perform 'Mustt Mustt' in a more traditional setting live at WOMAD Yokohama in 1992.

‘Mustt Mustt’ also gained further recognition when the masters were handed over to Bristol trip hop legends Massive Attack in 1990 for them to create what would be their first ever remix. First known as ‘Mustt Mustt (The Duckpond Dub Mix)’ —a reference to the pond at Real World Studios where the track was created— the remix was a landmark convergence of Sufi Qawwali singing and Bristol dub vibes. It was also the first song in the Urdu language to reach the UK charts. Asian artist and DJ Nitin Sawhney described the single as “one of the best remixes of all time”.

Listen

Lyrically, the song draws upon the spiritual Sufi text  ‘Dama Dam Mast Qalandar’ (دما دم مست قلند), in honour of revered Sufi saint Lal Shahbaaz Qalandar. It was written in the 13th century by the poet Amir Khusrow. The word ‘mast’ refers to a state of intoxication and love of the saint.

LYRICS

Original Urdu lyrics

Dam Mast Qalander Mast Mast
Dam Mast Qalander Mast Mast
Mera vird hai dam dam Ali Ali
Saqi Laal Qalander Mast Mast
Jhoole Laal Qalander Mast Mast
Aakhi Ja Malanga Akhi Ja Malanga
Tu Ali Ali Ali Akhi Ja Malanga

English translation

Upon my breath and in my intoxication is the great Qalander
My worship and upon my breath is the name of Ali
I am intoxicated with the beloved Qalander
I am intoxicated with Jhoole Laal who is intoxicated with Qalander
Keep repeating his name you follower of Ali
You Ali! Keep saying his name

The album Mustt Mustt was released on Real World Records in November 1990, and to date has sold over 600,000 copies outside of Pakistan and the Indian sub-continent, where bootleg sales are believed to surpass this. The album was the first of many successful collaborations between musicians from different cultures and backgrounds, an approach which became a signature of the record label throughout the 1990s. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan returned to Real World in 1993 to work once again with producer Michael Brook on a second collaboration, the Grammy-nominated album Night Song.

Featured release

  • Mustt Mustt

    Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Michael Brook

    Released 12 November 1990

    The late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is today acknowledged as the great master of Qawwali who popularised this beautiful and inspirational music beyond Muslim peoples to a worldwide audience. Mustt Mustt is the first of two albums on which the singer collaborates with Canadian producer Michael Brook to place the music in a contemporary setting.

By Online Editor

Main image: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and his brother Farrukh on stage at a WOMAD festival in the early 1990s. Photo credit: Sue Belk.

Published on Wed, 11 November 20

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