Mustt Mustt

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, 2012

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 and into a whole new musical territory. Mustt Mustt shows Nusrat's willingness to experiment with his music - to strive for new ideas and to listen to new styles - and to create more contemporary albums that could sit alongside the traditional collection.

In their Qawwali performances, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Party had begun to modify their style to suit the audience. Around the time this album was released, 1990, the Asian younger generation didn't bother with Qawwali - it bored them and was too slow. They wanted faster beats. 'I made my own style.' said Nusrat, 'We update Qawwali with the times.'

Nusrat was happy to experiment on this album - he was always striving for new ideas, just as he was always listening to new styles of music. This, however, didn't mean Nusrat would stick entirely to modern techniques - traditional albums like Shahen-Shah (RW3) and those recorded in Pakistan would continue to be made.

The opening song, 'Mustt Mustt', draws upon various devotional lyrics about a particular Sufi saint, upon which Nusrat has then improvised. While 'Tery Bina' is a romantic song, based upon the Qawwali style, in which a lover claims: 'I cannot live peacefully without you for even a moment. I miss you terribly when you are away.'

These are the only two songs with actual lyrics; the rest are classical vocal exercises in which the words have no meaning but are used for the quality of their sound. These notations are selected to fit particular ragas. The generic term for them is tarana, of which there are many different kinds.

'Music is an international language,' said Nusrat, pointing out that words are unnecessary to appreciate his music.

Producer Michael Brook emphasised that they had no real communication difficulties. 'You have language problems, but in fact you need a very simple vocabulary to talk about music if you're playing it.' He was surprised by 'the mutual enthusiasm of Nusrat and all the musicians. Everyone was excited there really was a collaboration and that's all we could have hoped for...'

Instruments from different continents were used, like the big Brazilian drum - the surdu, and the Senegalese djembe, alongside Indian tabla and harmonium, plus bass, keyboards and Michael's invention, the 'infinite guitar'. The project also mixed musicians from different cultures. Michael from Canada, Nusrat, Farrukh and Dildar from Pakistan, Robert Ahwai culturally West Indian, Darryl Johnson from New Orleans, James Pinker from New Zealand. As Michael pointed out, 'Although is wasn't painless - it worked.'

'I'd really hoped we could show a more delicate side of Nusrat's singing. I love all the fireworks and the heavy metal solos that he does, but I thought it would be nice to bring out a slower, more introspective component,' explained Michael.

Different tracks came about in different ways. 'Fault Lines' was changed a lot after it was recorded, with the basic pattern becoming a small part of the track. 'Sea of Vapours', like other tracks, had the 'infinite guitar' added afterwards because of time constraints. By contrast 'Avenue' has everyone playing live. 'The Game' started from a drum pattern donated by Peter Gabriel. 'Tracery' has nine beats in one cycle and eleven in another cycle. 'Nusrat liked the challenge of that. He is an amazing musician. The whole chorus line fits perfectly and feels very natural. The palette he has to choose from is mind-bogglingly large,' Michael commented.

When the melodic phrase of a Qawwali, or devotional song, is repeated, it conveys the meaning of the accompanying lyrics even when the words are not sung. 'A lot of the tracks were much longer so we shortened things, cut phrases out, moved the voice around, repeated sections and joined sections together.' This is where the only problem arose. 'We made some edits that were not acceptable to Nusrat, because we'd cut a phrase in half - sometimes there were actually lyrics that we made nonsense of. Sometimes even though they were just singing Sa Re Ga we had interfered with the meaning of the phrase.' A compromise was achieved - important lyrical phrases were restored without losing the musical structure Michael had developed.

So a halfway point was reached between east and west in songwriting, in performance, and in attitude.

(Drawn from interviews by Helen M. Jerome)



All songs by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (published by WOMAD Music Ltd) except 3, 7, 10 by Michael Brook (published by Opal Music); 8 by Michael Brook and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan; 4 by Robert Ahwai, Michael Brook, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Darryl Johnson and James Pinker (published by Opal Music /WOMAD Music Ltd)

Recorded and mixed at Real World Studios
Produced by Michael Brook. Engineered by David Bottrill. Assistant engineer Richard Blair. Mixed by Michael Brook and David Bottrill except track 11 mixed by Massive Attack

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: vocals
Robert Ahwai: guitar 1, 2, 3, 4, 10
David Bottrill: djembe 1; synthesizer 6; surdu 8; digital edit on the Real World tablet 9
Michael Brook: guitar 1, 2, 3, 7, 8; bass 2; djembe 4; infinite guitar 4, 5, 6, 10; surdu 5; synthesizer 6, 8; percussion 8
Darryl Johnson: bass 1; synthesizer 2; moog bass pedals 4, 5, 7; piano 4; djembe 5; buzz bass 6; clay drums 10
Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan: harmonium, vocals
James Pinker: djembe 1; hairy drum 2; gong bass 3; bongos 4; djembe 5, 10; percussion 7
Dildar Hussein: tablas 2, 3, 7, 8, 10

Reviews

  • ...ecstatic quality of Nusrat's voice... You don't have to understand the foreign tongues to appreciate the ecstatic quality of Nusrat's voice, as he chops up words and phrases in long, flowing linest. As a bonus, the reissue includes Massive Attack's famous trip-hop remix of the title track, which became the first record sung in Urdu to make the British charts. Hi-Fi Choice - Real World Gold (UK)
  • ...one of the great East-West fusion releases... ...a beguiling mixture of electronics, harmoniums and tabla, Brazilian percussion, Guo Yue's Chinese flute, guitar and the master's soaring vocals.' John Clewley (UK)