'Dub Qawwali': Honoring Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

The new album Dub Qawwali takes the vocal stylings of the Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who died 10 years ago, and puts them over a reggae beat. Nusrat, a Pakistani singer, has sold more records worldwide than Elvis.

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ALEX COHEN, host:

And now, music from man who sold more records than Elvis. His name is Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and the music he plays is called Qawwali. Qawwali is the devotional music of the mystic Sufi tradition.

(Soundbite of music)

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

But apart from being featured on the soundtrack of the film "Dead Man Walking," Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is not very well known to most of us here in America. He died 10 years ago this month at the age 49. Some of his rare early recordings are just now coming out.

COHEN: A British-based producer named Gaudi took them and created something called "Dub Qawwali," a new album released to mark the anniversary of Nusrat's death.

DAY TO DAY music contributor Derek Rath sat down with Gaudi to talk about the new album and about Nusrat.

(Soundbite of music)

DEREK RATH: Like reggae superstar Bob Marley, Nusrat is revered for his spirituality. His voice alone transcends all borders, even if you don't understand the language. In bringing these rare recordings of the late Nusrat back to life, Gaudi decided to unite common elements of two of his favorite artists. He knew reverence was the order of the day.

Mr. GAUDI (Producer): Absolutely, 100 percent. The message of spirituality, peace and love is what come through, majorly, come from reggae music, which is exactly the same message. And I simply tried to fuse the two different genre but keeping that unifying element of the peace and love message.

(Soundbite of music)

RATH: Lovely concept, but easier said than done. These songs from early in Nusrat's career were often 20 or 30 minutes long. To construct his orchestrations, Gaudi had to decipher the melody and harmony in the songs from the vocals, and also shorten them.

Mr. GAUDI: You know, I couldn't keep the full 25 minutes vocals. I had to choose what phonetically for me was good, but also with an interpreter with me, understanding what Nusrat wanted to say at the time. Spiritually, phonetically, melody, chords, it was a really hard job.

RATH: The CD, "Dub Qawwali," took a year and a half to complete. Listening to this track, "Ena Akhiyan Noo," with a full orchestra of musicians playing the new arrangements, is to witness triumph over adversity.

(Soundbite of song, "Ena Akhiyan Noo")

RATH: The problems started with the 40-year-old 16-track studio master tapes Gaudi had to work with. It was so daunting he almost gave up.

Mr. GAUDI: You know, quality from back in the '60s is not the same quality that we have nowadays. But in the same track of the vocal, for example, I found the Sarangi, I found the Tabla, so it was really nearly impossible to separate the second track. I pretty much decided not to do it.

(Soundbite of song, "Ena Akhiyan Noo")

RATH: Gaudi persevered, reconstructing and rearranging for live musicians what he couldn't use from the original. In the course of arranging "Dil Da Rog Muka Ja Mahi," he hit serendipitous inspiration.

Mr. GAUDI: I was singing on top of these new chords and this voice. Just for fun I tried the baseline and the melody from Kraftwerk it and it was matching perfectly with Nusrat.

(Soundbite of song, "Dil Da Rog Muka Ja Mahi")

RATH: Modern computer technology was used in cleaning up and editing the tracks, but to maintain the sound integrity, Gaudi decided to record the new material with analog equipment.

Mr. GAUDI: All involved amplifiers and good microphones, and transistor just to give the good, warm body.

RATH: Gaudi always felt that technique was the servant to something much bigger, and at the end of the day he feels happy with the results.

Mr. GAUDI: So I did with my (unintelligible) knowledge of reggae music primarily, and Asian music, secondly, thinking to create a sort of tribute and homage to the master, thinking and hoping that if he was alive, he would say good, you did a good job.

(Soundbite of music)

RATH: For NPR News, this is Derek Rath.

COHEN: You are listening to the new album titled Dub Qawwali, featuring the late Sufi vocalist Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

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