Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Womad 1985: the qawwali star invokes rapture



Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s voice is quite unlike any other. At turns heavy and hulkingly powerful, yet also nimble and pointedly precise, his vocalisations have come to epitomise not only the tradition of the Sufi qawwali but the art of singing itself.


The qawwali is an Islamic devotional music designed to bring its performers and audience to a state of rapture and trance-like communion with the divine. Born of a 600-year-old line of qawwali singers, Khan’s grasp of music as a form of spiritual communication was acute. For the few thousand attendees at the Womad festival in 1985 witnessing Khan perform for the first time outside of south Asia, their experience would have been one of unexpected transcendence.


Peter Gabriel had begun the festival only three years earlier as a western showcase of music from around the world, as well as that of his peers. The first edition, held in the Somerset town of Shepton Mallet, saw performances by Gabriel, Indian sitar player Imrat Khan and free jazz trumpeter Don Cherry. Poor access to the festival site and low attendance almost sunk Womad in its first year, but a well-timed reunion concert for Gabriel’s old band Genesis kept them afloat.


Read the feature in the Guardian.


[This piece was published on 15/07/20]