Khan died, far too early and at a peak of fame in 1997, but qawwali is alive and well in the world ear, thanks in part to the torch-carrying efforts of his nephew and protege, Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Anointed as the heir apparent to the throne of qawwali when he was just a boy, Rahat studied closely with Nusrat and, since his uncle’s death, has made acclaimed tours of the States. With the release of his self-titled debut recording for a U.S. company, Rick Rubin’s American label (68800; 57:43), a potent and uncompromising qawwali experience, Rahat shows greatness in the making, in one of the world’s greatest forms of soul music.
Nusrat’s last years were somewhat marred by experiments with Westernized contexts and musical cavorting with rock stars, but anyone who caught him in the throes of a live qawwali performance with his group Party (also the group behind Rahat), saw the true, pure splendor of what he was about: exerting a vocal style bursting with religious exaltation and a kind of ambiguous sensual heat. Similar qualities are easily detected on Rahat’s new album. The controlled abandon in his vocal nuances and melismatic gymnastics, improvised ecstatically on the CD’s four extended tracks, takes the willing listener to new and ancient places, emotionally. This guy rocks, devotionally.