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25 août 2007

Gaudi: Dub Qawwali's architect

Italian electronic producer talks about taking on the catalog of the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, one of the world's most popular and revered artists.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's popularity in the West might be limited to collaborations with Eddie Vedder and Peter Gabriel, but his catalog wasn't something that Italian producer Gaudi took on lightly.

Granted permission by the revered Pakistani icon's label to remix his catalog and full access with which to do so, Gaudi treaded lightly but still managed to take his epic, spiritual songs in a new direction, giving them an extra bounce by setting the vocals to dub and reggae beats.

Reached at his home in London, Gaudi spoke to about his first discovery of Ali Khan's music, diving headfirst into a body of work that is unparalleled in Eastern music, and the possibility of taking the music on tour...

Audio : Gaudi and Nustrat Fateh Ali Khan - "Bethe Bethe Kese Kese"


I'm curious when you first discovered him, his music. Was it a long time ago, like, in the '80s or something?

Exactly, yeah. It was early '80s. I was passionate about reggae music and world music, and had quite a collection of reggae vinyl and I wanted to explore world music. But back in the early '80s or late '70s, it wasn't that easy, especially for me. I used to live in Italy. So it was very difficult to find the artists and discovering the other side of the globe, musically speaking.

And I came across Nusrat. Obviously I didn't speak any Punjab or Urdu but the message that came across from his voice, what he delivered, it was something that completely changed my life, incredible, because sometimes you don't necessarily need to understand the words. The global message came across so purely. I decided to study and get deeper and deeper and understand the meaning of Qawwali music and this is it. And now it's 2007 and I did what I did.

Yeah. Now, it sounds like when you first heard him sing, what struck you most was that kind of underlying or overt theme of peace, love, and spirituality. It came across regardless of the language barrier and that kind of thing.

Precisely. Yeah.


For me that was, I don't know, it was pure love in the form of music.

Right. So how long has this concept been in your head that you wanted to bring this forward?

Well the concept of crossing musical boundaries has always been my direction. The first experiment that I did in crossing boundaries and using world music with dub and reggae was back in 1987 with a release called Ethnotechno. I've done 11 albums so far, all world music crossing with reggae music.

Two years ago, the Pakistani label Rehmat Gramophone, which was Nusrat's label, asked me to write new music around Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan vocals, and I was honored obviously.


I accepted it and Dub Qawwali is the result.

Absolutely. Now that was about two years ago. Have you been working on the project pretty intensely for that whole time? I can imagine, given the content of what he sings about and your love for it, that it could be a pretty emotional, heavy experience.

It was really, really difficult and very emotional for me because it wasn't an artist, it wasn't a singer, it was something different. It was a messenger, it was someone who had managed to expand Asian music all over the world. He managed to bring his culture of Sufism and Qawwali music to the world thanks to Peter Gabriel and some others, and that is an incredible success along the lines of Robert Nesta Marley did. Marley is another icon that was a spiritual being in that he was gifted like Nusrat in delivering extremely simple messages but so deep and in a way that was accessible for everybody, my mom, my grandma, my son, everybody in the world, Chinese, Africans, everything.

Accessible without losing that deep meaning where you kind of get everything at the same time. You get the deep meaning and the spirituality but you also get music that's easy to sink your teeth into and that kind of thing.

Exactly. And for me that's the biggest result that you can achieve with music, when it's not simply a pleasant tool, it becomes a serious delivering tool, with a message and content. That's, for me, the power of music. And that's what, in my little vision, I try to do. Fusing genres and crossing boundaries for me is not just experimenting and see what's going on.

Now part of that process was you taking some songs that were upwards of 20 to 30 minutes long and tweaking them, cutting them down to four- to seven-minute songs. What was the process like of which sections of his songs to focus on? Obviously you wanted to focus most heavily on the vocal sections.


But even still you had so much to choose from. How did you go through that process?

Well, it was a really difficult process, technically speaking. When I received the original studio reels from 1968 from Pakistan, it was a very unusual format, very, very old and there's not any studio around that kept that recording machine system. So I had to find a studio to transpose it in a digital format for me to visualize the .wav form. Nothing was written on paper, no music was at all. So we found a little microscopic studio in Scotland and we sent the reel and they sent it back to us.

Yeah, it's very bizarre. And then when I opened it, we had 24 songs all split in separate parts, vocals, a cappella, plus the sitar, the sarangi, the tabla. And I had goose bumps for two years, for the duration of my work. And when you hear these beautiful raggas, like, 25 minutes long or 35 minutes long, so beautifully crafted and uplifting, full of love and energy, I felt like something like, "I don't want to shorten it. I can't." It's like taking a painting and--

Cutting it in half.

Exactly. So I decided just to take a different approach, like, reinterpreting, in 2007, with my modern technology and my vision, keeping the full respect and integrity of the source for the original Nusrat songs. I started putting together what phonetically was right for me, with the help of a Pakistani translator, helping me with syllables and syntax and keeping the same flow and the same meaning.

Right, to make sure that your manipulations of the lyrics and the vocals didn't somehow change the meaning or the interpretation of the meaning and that kind of thing.

Yes, spot on. Precisely.


Also I didn't want to touch Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's vocals by stretching them out or cutting them, I just wanted to keep the full vocals without any modification or digital transformation.

Interesting. Well you should be pretty proud of the result.

Thank you.

So I know you often tour as a DJ, but will you be taking this record on the road in more of a live setting?

I'm preparing the Dub Qawwali Live for 2008. And I want to do it with real musicians using my dub equipment on stage so I can do my live dub and obviously Nusrat can't be with us and I'm not going to replace him with a singer. I think I'm going to have all the full musicians with me and the only recording is Nusrat, which I will dub it live, with visuals, obviously, of him when he was alive.


By Jim Welte Conducted August 23, 2007, 02:13 PM

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