In the 90's, Qawwal Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan threatened to become a household name with records of his intense, irresistible, and innovative Qawwali. The late master musician used his influence to promote the addition of modern sounds in the party, including electric bass and certain elements of Techno. His fan base included the Red Hot Chile Peppers, Jeff Buckley, and Eddie Vedder.

All of which brings us to Shukriya by Sukawat Ali Khan. Khan has the pedigree: his family's 600 year involvement in this music, his father the late master Ustad Salamat Ali Khan. His background includes classical raga, and given he resides in the SF Bay Area, Khan creates sacred music deeply traditional, with the informed use of nontraditional elements.

Mustafa opens the collection praising the Prophet, Khan's aching smokey vocal imploring in Urdu. Electric bass punctuates the beat between harmonium and drum. The lighthearted Barapar includes a lyrical break in English, and multi-tracked harmony vocals. Baba Ken Okulolo's subtly mixed bass joins the percussion creating the infectious momentum. Khan performs a soaring double track duet with himself, ending abruptly. Sachico Kanenobu's light soprano joins Khan on the choruses of the playful Chori Chori.

The pace slows for Tarana, a languid vocal improvisation with lightly phase shifted drum and a hesitant bassline that pulls the tempo back. The two part Natnarayani derives from a raga written by the senior Khan. Sung in Hindi, the song implores divine attention. Okulolo's bass joins in on pt 2, along with an occasional unison chorus. Khan's rich voice circles and curls like incense through the improvisations.

From the Punjabi area comes Bhangra Piyar, celebrating abundance and good times. Through multi-tracked vocals and his small ensemble he evokes a hard dancing party. Co-producer Robert Halim Friedman's light guitar and organ work give Ajameri an unexpected reggae feel, although sung in Urdu. Khan sings the piece as if smiling, the lyrics devotional with the lover a metaphor for the divine. The set ends with Fasana, a ghazal, a poetic form consisting of couplets which share a rhyme and a refrain, with each line sharing the same meter, used by everyone from Rumi to Goethe. With just harmonium and drum, Khan displays the goods, employing a wide range of dynamics to convey the burning of longing.

Sukhawat Ali Khan draws on a diverse background to produce diverse music with his rich voice and ability to project a Sufic passion the common threads. With most tracks around five minutes, Shukriya provides an easy introduction to these art forms, as well as happy surprises for veteran listeners.


Poet and Journalist Rex Butters has been published for over thirty years in magazines as diverse as BAM, Rapport, LA Free Press, All About Jazz, Free Venice Beachhead, Caffeine, and Brain Vomit