Joshua Busman on “Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and the ‘World Beat Dilemma'”

This week, The Avid Listener brings you part 2 of Josh Busman’s exploration of “Religious Listening,” which we introduced last week. In this essay, Josh takes on some of the reception history of qawwali artist Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Qawwali music, as Josh defines it, is “a devotional style of music associated with Sufi Islam.” Khan’s approach to qawwali has been met with both approval and derision, because it lives in between secular and sacred places, between commercial success and devotional intent. What do we do with such in-between music?

Here’s a teaser: “According to [Ron] Givens—and almost every other review of this album I could find— [Khan’s album] Mustt Mustt represents a sonic compromise between East and West. And by this standard, the album was wildly successful. The title track was used as the backdrop to a hugely successful Coca-Cola commercial (featured above) for Indian audiences, and a remix of the track by British trip-hop group Massive Attack was the first song in Urdu to appear on the UK pop charts. But reviewers do not present this meeting of Eastern and Western elements as mutual or value-neutral. By describing Khan’s fusion style as “sweetening” the normally unpalatable sounds of qawwali or as “a good appetizer” for the “meatier entrees” in his catalog, reviewers consistently present Mustt Mustt as a less substantial version of the “real thing.” While Khan still sings with the traditional qawwali fervor, he capitulates to market forces and Western influences by including rock-styled synthesizers, electric guitar, and electric bass in the mix. In short, the reviewer sees the music on Mustt Mustt as qawwali-lite.”

Read the entire essay here, and stay tuned for part 3 of Josh’s series next week!

The Avid Listener: Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.

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