KARACHI: A new album of unheard recordings by the legendary qawwal Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, will be released on Sept 20, more than 27 years after his demise.

The ‘lost’ album — Chain of Light — was discovered in the tape archives of Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records, the label that signed Nusrat in 1989 and released a series of universally acclaimed albums with him throughout the 1990s.

Joined by his eight-strong party of singers and musicians, Chain of Light includes four traditional qawwali tracks — including one which has never been heard before — and captures the maestro at the height of his vocal capabilities in pristine sonic quality.

The recording was made at Real World Studios in April 1990, during the same time he worked on Mustt Mustt, his seminal crossover album with Canadian producer Michael Brook.

Islamabad-based studio set to release biopic Ustad next year

Over the course of his musical career, NFAK became a cultural icon whose list of esteemed fans extended well into the realm of western rock and pop.

The late Jeff Buckley famously said of the singer “He’s my Elvis”.

Nusrat also counted amongst his fans The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder. Having a six-octave vocal range, his voice also appeared on the soundtrack of movies by Hollywood directors Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone and Tim Robbins.

Nusrat’s relationship with Peter Gabriel and Real World Records began after his watershed performance at the 1985 WOMAD festival, which was the first time he performed to a predominantly western audience.

Shortly after that, he was signed to the label and his international profile rose through a collaboration on Gabriel’s 1989 album Passion, music from which featured in the film adaptation of The Last Temptation of Christ.

“I’ve had the privilege to work with a tonne of different musicians from all over the world in my time, but perhaps the greatest singer of them all was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan,” said Gabriel.

“What he could do and make you feel with his voice was quite extraordinary and we were very proud to have played a role in getting him to a much wider global audience. It was a real delight when we found out this tape had been in our library. This album really shows him at his peak. It’s a wonderful record.”

Buried deep in a warehouse storage space at Real World Studios and unearthed whilst the label was relocating its archive in 2021, the April 1990 tape recording that comprises Chain of Light finds Nusrat at a crossroads, on the cusp of global greatness.

Carefully restored from the original analogue tapes, this lost album of traditional qawwali includes a pristine recording of the much-loved classic Ya Allah Ya Rehman, as well the only known performance of Ya Gaus Ya Meeran.

“[The year] 1990 was a key point in Nusrat’s career, it was the beginning of him crossing over into a western audience,” Nusrat’s longtime international manager, Rashid Ahmed-Din, said.

“Everything just clicked. He always wanted to experiment and not be limited to one sound and these tracks express that movement beyond.”

“There is an amazing clarity to these performances,” producer Michael Brook said of the recordings. “They are more harmonically adventurous than the other songs that Nusrat was recording at the time and the whole group is firing on all cylinders.”

Fans of the great maestro will be thrilled to also learn that a definitive documentary film on his life is in the making. Islamabad-based Saiyna Bashir Studios are expected to release their biopic, Ustad, at the end of 2025.

Earlier this year, Saiyna Bashir Studios received a grant from the British Council to support Real World Records to promote the new album.

Chain of Light will be released by Real World Records on Sept 20 and will be available to pre-order on a variety of formats. The launch of the album is being supported in part by the British Council.

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2024

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