PRINT May 1996


Nusrat Ali Khan

Why is Pakistan’s premiere Sufi singer presiding over Hollywood executions? NUSRAT FATEH ALI KHAN moans over Jesus as the Nazarene bears his cross through Jerusalem in The Last Temptation of Christ. The same smoky voice soars in Dead Man Walking while six syringes are pumping the state’s revenge into a man spread-eagled on a black prison table. The murderer stares through glass at the nun who promised the truth would set him free, and that she’d be “the face of love” for him in his final moment. Scenes of the murder flash. Nusrat, the voice of mystic Islam, howls. If Pakistan is less of a human-rights haven than even Louisiana, Nusrat’s ability to thrill Sufi audiences back home shows his voice needs no gut-wrenching film accompaniment to work its spell. Wherever the 300-pound singer performs, hordes of Pakistanis shower his band with bills and whirl ecstatically on stage. The font of their fervor dries up somewhat in translation. Night Song, Nusrat’s latest work of digital trance inducement, with “infinite guitarist” Michael Brook, hit the stands in February on Peter Gabriel’s world-chic Realworld label; the album is sophisticated but empty.

Forget studio savvy. Forget politics. Forget religion. The Sufi sings to God as a lover, in an agony of separation that knows only one cure. You want to touch the face of love, God, death? You’ve got the right guy for the job.

Joel Segel