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Badar Ali Khan: Lost in Qawwali 2

A decade ago, it would have been hard to imagine that the ancient Pakistani tradition of Qawwali, the Sufi devotional music, would have become a prominent musical trend in the world, already with layers of history and controversy. The remarkable vocalist Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who died on August 6, 1997, at the too-tender age of 48, was the catalyst who captivated audiences around the world with his intense yet controlled flights of passion, suggesting a blending of sexual and spiritual energy. Qawwali continues to state its case in the world market, even without its charismatic godhead.

The current cause celebre in the music appears to be Khan’s young 33-year-old cousin Badar Ali Khan, whose new release Lost in Qawwali 2 (Triloka) furthers the process of catching up with a career already in full swing in Pakistan. Like his legendary kin, young Khan is a commanding and gymnastic vocalist fronting a group with harmonium, interactive vocalists, expert clapping rhythms, and improvisational virtuosity to spare. The music, divided up into four flowing pieces of 15-minute length and one brief, irrelevant “Kalander Trance Mix.”

In that same mixed up, synthesized vein comes another new release from Badar Ali Khan, The Mixes (Baba 0786; 33:34). This is not a good place to start for those just getting into Qawwali, but it’s a reasonable example of how the music can be interwoven with contemporary electronic textures and grooves-the remix thing. Khan’s for some; the interface is flimsy and potentially sacrilegious, stemming from the dubious impulse to take venerable non-Western tradition and stuff it into strictly Western filters, digitally and culturally speaking. The results are less inspiring than a trick, like some of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s questionable experiments in East-West crossover. The original music is so powerful, it’s hard to listen to this without thinking of cross-cultural dilution.

Originally Published