The late, great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan did more than anyone to make qawwali, the once-obscure Pakistani devotional music, a familiar force in the known music world. He did it in life, and now in death, by inspiration. The torch is carried by other qawwali artists, some of whom are new to the growing global audience, but well-established at home. Enter the Sabri Brothers. To find a new album brandished with that familiar title, Greatest Hits (Shanachie 64090; 72:44) seems a bit strange to westerners, but the fact is that a long and stellar reputation, dating back to the 1950s, precedes the Sabri Brothers-Haji Maqbool Ahmed Sabri and Haji Kamal Sabri, whose brother Haji Ghulam Farid Sabri died in 1994. They sing over ecstatic beds of tablas, harmonium, clapping and call-and-response vocalists, with beguiling intensity.
Comparisons between qawwali and American gospel music are common, and for good reason: both musics entail fervent, melismatic vocals addressing Godly matters in the kind of passionate tones often reserved for expressions tinged with sexual abandon. It's the old Saturday night-cum-Sunday morning duality, from a different religious tradition. The five extended, expansive tracks making up this "hits" package amply showcases the Sabri legacy, and may help propel them into yet greater awareness in the outside world.