Shahen Shah

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Released 04 June 1989

  1. Shamas-Ud-Doha, Badar-Ud-Doja
  2. Allah, Mohammed, Char, Yaar
  3. Kali Kali Zulfon Ke Phande Nah Dalo
  4. Meri Ankhon Ko Bakhshe Hain Aansoo
  5. Nit Khair Mansan Sohnia Main Teri
  6. Kehna Ghalat Ghalat To Chhupana Sahi Sahi

Liner notes

‘Qawwali’ means literally ‘utterance’ and the Qawwal is the mouthpiece of Divine Power; ‘We do not sing, we are made to sing’. This is the devotional music of the Sufis —the mystical sect of Islam, intended to elevate the spirit and bring both performer and listener closer to God.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (1948-1997) is considered the greatest exponent of Qawwali. A man of impressive, even daunting, stature, the emotional intensity and soaring power of his voice transcends all boundaries of language and religion and has popularised this beautiful and inspirational music beyond Muslim people to audiences world-wide.

The strength and power of Qawwali as a form is used to convey a mystic, religious message. The best Qawwal draws and holds the audience’s attention, altering the listener’s state of consciousness to make it intensely receptive of the content.

At the heart of Sufism is the heart itself: devotional love of God (Allah), His prophet (Mohammed) and His friend (Ali). Music is the vehicle to reach the heart and attain a state of Grace or enlightenment, a ‘stateless state’ or ‘Ma’rifat’ —the inner knowledge.

The music provides an intangible interplay between form and content, dwelling upon particular words to create a wider context, allowing simple language to attain great depths. The trance-inducing repetition of a sentence or phrase indicates both the obvious and hidden context, taking the audience into a discovery of new meanings, sudden revelations, new significances, new departures.

Both performer and listener are drawn into this heightened experience. Words are repeated until all meaning is exhausted and only the purity of the form remains —a universal ‘understanding’ transcending even linguistic barriers.

In the lyric of one Qawwali song we are warned: ‘Do not accept the heart that is the slave to reason’, embrace the uninhibited release of energy, the pleasure of ecstasy beyond the rational plane. In the communal, ritualized setting of a Qawwali session members of the audience are often brought to a state of trance: chanting, swaying and clapping, even falling into physical convulsions. This is the ‘state of mind’ or ‘hal’ reached at the climax of the music and the point where money is showered onto the stage by the ecstatic audience.

Qawwli originated with the foundation of the Christi order of Sufis in Khorosan in the early 10th century and was brought to the Indian Sub-Continent in the 12th century. Traditionally, a Qawwali performance is heard at the shrine of a saint or a gathering of the brotherhood. Today the Qawwal will sing at all major events such as marriages and religious feasts, and even in an increasing number of secular contexts, remaining still the most popular form of musical expression in Pakistan.

The performers sit in a close group. Small hand-pumped harmoniums provide the melody, whilst the rhythm is maintained by tabla or dholak and the hand-clapping of the chorus. The music builds from the opening ‘alap’ to increasingly louder and higher crescendos. The melodies sung by Nusrat are echoed by the chorus, highlighting salient parts in the form of a refrain. Over the solid rhythmic foundation the singer elaborates subtle vocal lines, accompanied by dramatic gestures of the hands and arms.

The lyrics are generally in Urdu (Persian), drawing upon the symbolic richness and beauty of the language and its ancient mystic traditions.

For the Sufis, spiritual advancement through music comes to both performer and audience, for there are two forms of Grace, neither greater than the other. ‘Those with a melodious voice and those endowed with the faculties to appreciate them’.

Peter Gabriel discusses the creation of his album Passion, including footage of the sessions during which Nusrat and the Party recorded Shahen Shah

The Party

The illustrious Khan family of classical music masters have been developing the art of Qawwali for over six centuries. Nusrat himself, however, did not initially intend to become a Qawwal. He decided to sing only after recurring dreams convinced him it was the path to follow.

He dreamt he was singing at the famous shrine of Hazratja Khawaja Moin-Ud-Din Chishtie at Ajmer in India. At first he believed it to be absurd —no Qawwal had ever been allowed to sing inside this most famous of Muslim shrines. It convinced him sufficiently, however, that he should follow in his father’s footsteps and become the leader of the Party in 1971.

Astonishingly enough, Nusrat’s dream proved to be true. In 1979 when the singer and his Party visited the famous shrine as pilgrims, Nusrat was invited to perform —the first Qawwal to have received the honour.

The sophistication and complexity of Qawwali music requires years of dedication, training and absolute co-ordination within the Party as a whole. Nusrat’s rise to fame in such a short time was phenomenal. Touring world-wide and receiving prizes and recognition as the world’s greatest Qawwal in its purest classical form, he was known as ‘Shahen-Shah-e-Qawwali’: ‘The Brightest Star in Qawwali’.

About the Music

1. Shamas-Ud-Doha, Badar-Ud-Doja

‘You are the most handsome, more so than the sun, the stars and the moon…’

This is a song in the style of ‘Naat’ (meaning —in praise of The Prophet Mohammed P.B.U.H). ‘In fact you are the true picture of God… I am lucky just to be your follower. Even God holds you in such respect that he invited you to heaven.’


2. Allah, Mohammed, Char, Yaar

A devotional song chanting the names of the ‘Four Friends’ of the title and the ‘Four Saints’: Haji, Khawaja, Qutab, Fareed. Qawwali sessions are held at the shrines of these four saints and their names have thus been integral to the growth and vitality of Qawwali. Through the repetitive, hypnotic chanting of these names the believer follows the saints along the ecstatic path to heaven.


3. Nit Khair Mansan Sohnia Main Teri

‘My beloved, I have only one prayer —that you may live happily.’

A Punjabi song with lyrics by Badar. ‘Since I fell in love with you I have forgotten about the whole world —I wish only to die at your feet.’


4. Kehna Ghalat Ghalat To Chhupana Sahi Sahi

A ghazal sung in Urdu about a hypocritical lover. She says one thing but hides her real feelings. ‘She has taken my heart in her hand. Tell me the truth —what is the price of my heart?’ The key workd ‘dil’, meaning heart, is chanted over and over to an ecstatic crescendo.


5. Kali Kali Zulfon Ke Phande Nah Dalo

‘Oh beautiful, long black hair —don’t ensnare me in your bewitching net.’

A ‘ghazal’ or romantic song, a dialogue between love and beauty. This popular form calls for acute interpretation and sensitivity from the Qawwal.


6. Meri Ankhon Ko Bakhshe Hain Aansoo

‘You have bought tears to my eyes…we are separated by great distances. I asked for love but have given only sorrow.’

A ghazal sung in Urdu.


  • ...transcendentally mystical but with all the visceral presence of rock; ancient forms renewed with tremendous energy and immediacy. City Paper (USA)



Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Main Vocal; Mujahid Mubarik Ali Khan Nusrat’s cousin and senior singer; Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan Nusrat’s younger brother, singer and harmonium; Iqbal Naqbi Chorus and manager of the group; Asad Ali Khan Chorus; Dildar Hussein Tabala; Kaukab Ali Pupil singer; Atta Fareed Chorus; Ghulam Fareed Chorus; Mohammad Maskeen Chorus.

Recorded and mixed at Real World Studios, March 1988. Recording Engineer: David Bottrill. Mixing Engineer: Richard Evans. Musical Director: Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan

Original Design: Mouat @ Assorted Images. Photography: Dave Peabody. Nusrat during his performance at the 1988 WOMAD Festival. With thanks to Mr Mohammed Ayuub of Oriental Star Agencies. Back cover: Dasht-i-kavir, the windblown desert floor of the salt flats and salt lake, Iran.

All tracks traditional, arranged by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Party. Published by WOMAD Music Ltd/EMI Music Publishing Ltd

  • 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.
  • Love & Devotion

    Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

    Released 09 November 1992

    Love & Devotion brings together two of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s finest recordings, 1992’s Love Songs and Devotional Songs. They are perfect companion pieces, snapshots of a musical giant at the very height of his considerable powers, whilst the artistry of his accompanying Party is also faultless.

Further reading

Les Amazones d’Afrique assert women’s freedom of expression with new single ‘Kuma Fo’

The track features on their forthcoming Jacknife Lee-produced album Musow Danse.

The Unfolding: Bristol Light Festival

Bristol Light Festival is returning to the city from this Friday 2nd - Sunday 11th February, 2024 wi...

Track of the Day: ‘Chavale’ by Kerieva, from Dub No Frontiers

Today sees the release of Kerieva’s ‘Chavale’, the second track to be revealed from the forthc...

Sheila Chandra: The pursuit of radical vocal expression

Sheila's trilogy of albums for Real World is being re-issued on CD, and on vinyl for the first time.