Night Song

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Michael Brook

Released 01 March 1996

  1. My Heart, My Life
  2. Intoxicated
  3. Lament
  4. My Comfort Remains
  5. Longing
  6. Sweet Pain
  7. Night Song
  8. Crest

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Michael Brook

Liner notes

As this millenium comes to a close and invisible communications spread, cultures clash and merge with increasing frequency. The learning curve is steeper than at any previous point in history.

Ruminating on the challenges he encountered as collaborator and producer on Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s latest Real World album— Night Song— Michael Brook describes the now-legendary singer as “pedal to the metal”. His intensity and stamina, in other words, consistently rise to peak levels which westerners can find both intimidating and inspiring. The only comparison we can make is with exceptional musicians such as the late John Coltrane, visionaries who give over their whole being— body and spirit— to music.

Brook recalls an example of the lessons to be learned from combining two radically different cultural norms. Producing the 1990’s Mustt Mustt— he considered how to adapt Qawwali singing for its new global markets. “In the traditional music it’s just non-stop vocal,” Brook explains. “We run out of steam trying to listen to that. On Mustt Mustt we tried to create a bit of structure that would match western listening ability a bit more. Nusrat’s nephew, who acts as translator, called up and said, ‘There’s these gaps in the song. We’ll have to change it when we release it in our market because it’ll sound like he forgot the words’. So it just shows you how you could never anticipate that. They really are coming from a different pace.”

In the physical world, that place is Pakistan, but within the spiritual domain, Qawwali is a vigorous expression of Islamic Sufism, particularly the Sufi belief that music and poetry possess a unique power to lift the consciousness of listeners. Qawwali should fill an audience with ecstasy, energy, enlightenment; although most western listeners have little understanding of specific song meanings or the Sufi background, they can still experience an exhilarating uplift when they hear a great singer like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

In fact, Nusrat is generally considered to be the greatest Qawwali singer in our time. Born in 1948 in Lyallpur (now named Faisalbad after decolonisation in 1979), Nusrat was the son of a famous Qawwali vocalist— Ustad Fateh Ali Khan. Trained to be a doctor but studying Qawwali tradition secretly or with his father, Nusrat only accepted the vocation of singer after a dream: Ustad came to him, ten days after his death, and asked his 16-year-old son to sing. Nusrat declined, but after his father had touched his throat, he found the gift had come to him. As the dream continued, his father took him to a holy place, the dargah of Ajámer Sharif in Rajasthan, India.

With that Vision, Nusrat devoted himself to Qawwali, his powerful voice and concentrated expression lifting the music above the vulgarisations that represented Qawwali’s populist face in the Bollywood film industry. But despite a huge back-catalogue of more traditional concert recordings, Nusrat is no purist. His collaborations with Peter Gabriel, Bally Sagoo, Massive Attack and, most recently, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder for the acclaimed Dead Man Walking soundtrack or a proposed duet with Bjork, have pushed Qawwali beyond all previous boundaries.

Even Michael Brook, now a veteran of four world fusions and architect of some of the most striking Qawwali/ambient/funk hybrids, admits to a degree of puzzlement. How can a singer of sacred music, in the deepest sense a traditionalist, maintain his integrity whilst recording in styles which range from Sagoo’s tecuhnicolour Anglo-Asian-American hip-hop to Massive Attack’s urban dub or the folkish balladry of Vedder? “I think we can’t map our idea of the sacred and profane on the way he thinks about it,” Brook speculates. “The way he thinks about it, he’s not exactly spreading the world but he’s spreading the sacred music.”

The original EPK which was issued to press and media on the release of Night Song in 1996, including footage of Nusrat and Michael Brook in Lahore, Pakistan.

With this understanding, Brook’s own work with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan revels in a growing spirit of iconoclastic freedom. Night Song may be the most daring of these collaborations but simultaneously, it is the most integrated, accessible and inspirational. The airy, drifting synths of past albums have almost disappeared; replaced by ear fluttering sub-bass, fraying guitar tones, rich Hammond Organ and harmonium. Just like drum ‘n’ bass, trip-hop and hip-hop, these sessions take their pleasure from distressed textures, visceral rhythms and frequency extremes. As well as creating more space in tracks, Brook encouraged Nusrat to sing with less of his usual pell-mell intensity. This has highlighted his extraordinary control of pitching and time: a vocal line that curves around a chord change with exquisite grace or a staccato burst of syllables that will suddenly pull up and stretch across the beat, dragging behind or pushing ahead.

"Night Song is a Westerner’'s dream of mysticism" The New York Times

Michael Brook agreed that this rhythmic virtuosity is an underestimated aspect of Nusrat’s singing. “That’s very much part of his choreographing what he does,” says Brook. “Not just the rhythms he sings but the way he toys with or flexes the rhythm. A great deal of his expressivitiy is in that. Some of the stuff he did where there’s this incredibly fast scat singing thing and yet it’s not just an exercise in technique. The passion was there.”

Improvisation is one key; passion is the other. Through working on an extended series of projects with Nusrat, Brook has come to learn that short songs are meaningless to him. Brook records a number of very lengthy takes, then selects the hottest material and painstakingly edits it down. Nusrat’s improvisational gifts are always there, yet they really take flight after twenty or thirty minutes of continuous singing, Heat rises, the throat opens, conscious inhibitors fall and the vocal flow becomes a torrent of tonal, temporal nuances. Again, the comparison with John Coltrane, an improvisor who preferred in his later life to play improvisations lasting more than five hours, is apposite. The content of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s songs may remain mysterious; this spectacular improvisational fluidity, however, matched by the passion in his voice, speak not just across genres of music but across age, religious or philosophical beliefs, nationality and culture.

 

David Toop, February 1996

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Michael Brook. Photo credit: Stephen Lovell-Davis

Reviews

  • Nusrat’'s incredible vocal control and gift for wending his way round an evocative melody is bolstered by Brook’'s sensitive ambient, gently beat-based arrangements ... no-one deserves the extra exposure more than this peerless singer. The Guardian (UK)
  • Another potentially prophetic collaboration from the Real World studios Q Magazine (UK)
  • Elegant and entrancing The Observer (UK)
  • This collaboration with Michael Brook and his guitars provides the most natural complement to Nusrat’s harmonium-tabla drums formula yet never overshadows the mystical power of his voice The Daily Telegraph (UK)

Listen

Credits

All tracks written by Michael Brook and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan except track 7 written by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan vocals

The Musicians: Caroline Dale cello (6) Dildar Hussain tabla (2, 5) Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan harmonium (2, 5) James Pinker drums (1, 3, 5, 6) percussion (1) hi-hat (8) Jo Bruce hammond organ (2) woodwinds (8) drums (8) Kauwding Cissokho kora (1, 4) Masamba Diop talking drum (1) Michael Brook infinite guitar (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8) string arrangement (2) keyboards (4) electronic percussion (2, 4) bass (second half of 6) drone (7) buzz bass (8) Mick Karn bass (2) Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan harmonium (3) keyboards (7) Richard Evans mandola (2) acid wah treatment (3, 8) Robert Ahwai bass (1, 4, 5, first half of 6)

Produced by Michael Brook Mixed by Michael Brook and Ben Findlay with thanks to Jo Bruce Recording engineers Richard Evans, Ben Findlay, Michael Brook Recording second engineers James Cadsky, Russell Kearney Mixing second engineers Jo Bruce, Meabh Flynn Editing engineer and blade wizard Ben Findlay Mastered by Tony Cousins at Metropolis Mastering

A Real World Design. Photography by Robert Leslie

Further Listening

  • 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.
  • Yol Bolsin

    Sevara Nazarkhan

    Released 03 February 2003

    A collection of folk and peasant songs from Uzbekistan, a country that formally broke with the Soviet Union in 1991 and has worked hard to reassert its rich cultural identity ever since. Imbued with echoes of Persian classical music and the meditational Sufi tradition, traditional Uzbek music takes the form of poetic songs called ‘maqams’.

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