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25 novembre 2007

Torch in new hands

Successors to the throne: Rizwan (left) and Muazzam have successfully filled the void left by their celebrated uncle.

Rizwan and Muazzam Mujahid Ali Khan have fashioned a place for themselves in the crowded qawwali arena and share more than a lineage with their uncle, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Almost 10 years ago, a great deal of scepticism greeted the news that the heirs to the great, late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, could be found within the family itself – negating the need to squander time looking to anoint one from the existing qawwali performers. The tradition remains that the successor is chosen from the qawwali party and when Nusrat passed away just over a decade ago, the mantle passed to his pupil and nephew Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.

Rahat, the son of Nusrat’s younger brother Farrukh and second-in-command in the party before his demise four years ago, had been groomed to assume Nusrat’s place and is still seen as the legitimate soul-keeper of Nusrat’s legacy.

When Rahat finally presented his international release on Rick Rubin’s American Recordings label in 2001, the question was not only whether he could uphold Nusrat’s name but also if he could hold his own in a domain that was already filled with potential descendants – through blood lines or otherwise.

Nusrat’s fame has expanded beyond the confines of qawwali, the exceptionally compelling devotional music of the Sufis of the Indian subcontinent, and it was not only related to the popularisation of qawwali among Western audiences. Nusrat’s collaborations with the likes of Peter Gabriel, Michael Brook and Eddie Vedder broke new ground for a genre of music whose origins can be traced back to the eighth century.

It is his albums with Gabriel for his Real World imprint – divided into 10 releases of classic numbers and compositions and predominant fusion ventures with Brook – that remain Nusrat’s enduring main body of work outside his native Pakistan. After his passing, Real World released a single commemorative album (Body & Soul) made up of renditions from the vault of his previously unreleased recordings, while the tracks for their tribute release Star Rise, which featured interpretations from the Asian Underground dons, were all completed bar one when the news of his death arrived.

Real World declared that Body & Soul, out in 2001, would be its last album featuring Nusrat and it had no intention of raiding the Lahore recordings of the qawwali master to meet the demand for his music. By that year, his less heralded nephews, Rizwan and Muazzam Mujahid Ali Khan, had already established headway in the tussle to fill the colossal void left by Nusrat.

Rizwan possesses the astounding vocal range and pyrotechnics that Nusrat made his own and receives ample support from brother Muazzam. The accompanying musicians themselves display an amazing sense of timing in their play and tend to place their passion on the edge – the result, one can only surmise, of years of practice.

When the Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali Group was introduced to Gabriel as the possible inheritor of Nusrat’s music in the late 1990s, the Real World proprietor only glimpsed – in consensus with millions of Nusratistas – the futility of striving to replace the irreplaceable.

That was until he was convinced to come down to the recording studio to see the Rizwan and Muazzam brothers performing in the flesh – an experience that moved him to sign them up.

Their debut under Real World in 1999, the four-track Sacrifice to Love, was a resounding success commercially and critically and regular gigs on the Womad circuit offer them the broader platform from which to make their transition from qawwali prospects to global marvel.

A lesser-known Real World release under the label’s limited edition series in 1998, Attish – The Hidden Fire, had actually preceded their first album and provided an enticing sample of their ability.

Delicately paced, packed with vocal intensities that burn with adequate glow and containing enough twists and hypnotics that held its listeners in enthralled attention, Attish – consisting of six numbers of absorbing fervour – was already deserving of its tour de force status before Sacrifice to Love came along to dismiss any vestiges of doubt over the siblings’ potential to hold up the high-flying qawwali banner that loomed large over the stages from Lahore to London under their late uncle.

Though Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali Group’s 2001 follow-up to Sacrifice to Love, A Better Destiny, was less abrasive in its energy and vigour, it cleverly sought to place them in a versatile milieu. A Better Destiny refused to mine qawwali standards – and consciously stayed away from pieces that bore the heavy Nusrat hallmark – to independently forge the group’s character away from the constant comparisons with the qawwali great. The return to the root languages of qawwali was a deliberate step in this direction and endowed two standout entries – Chishti Balam in the Farsi language, and Qalander Shahhen Shah, in olden Hindi – with an iridescent quality.

Their third album, Day of Colours, was a virtual homage to Nusrat – which, unfortunately, had the effect of ruining the diligence and meticulous planning that went into their gradual introduction and vault into prominence. Despite this glitch, the Rizwan-Muazzam siblings are viewed as prescient choices in an attempt to step into Nusrat’s shadow and nothing would come close to appreciating their claims than to observe them perform in the flesh.

The Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali Group will present a tribute to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in two performances at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas tomorrow and Wednesday. Tickets for the shows, which commence at 8.30pm, are priced at RM25, RM55, RM75 and RM95. Call 03-20527007, or browse for details.


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