Quwwali, a form of Sufi devotional music with a history dating back 700 years, remained an unknown entity in the West when Peter Gabriel signed Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to his fledgling Realworld label in 1989. Such was the effect of his extraordinary voice that, by the time of his death, in 1997, Khan had almost singlehandedly popularised the music beyond its South Asian heartland.
Beginning with a series of fairly orthodox recordings for the label, the music took a more progressive turn with 1990’s Musst Musst. Conceived as a fusion album between Ali Kahn and guitarist/producer Michael Brook, it’s a largely tasteful stab at giving Quwwali a contemporary Western twist. Mercifully, the Western instrumentation has been largely kept to a supporting role here, with the silky smooth Tracery, for example, placing Khan’s soaring improvised cries and trademark scats above a gossamer-thin wave of synth and guitar. Elsewhere, Taa Daam is a powerhouse of impassioned cries and thumping tablas supported by sympathetic guitar wails, while Sea Of Vapours and Fault Lines meld ambient soundscapes with ethereal vocals. Look elsewhere for the real Quwwali deal, but this is a great starting point for the uninitiated.