Nusrat, the late Pakistani Qawwalis singer, is my first entry of 'devotional' music. I must admit, ashamedly, that I'd never heard of him until earlier this year. How I wish I could turn back time - to have discovered his music earlier, to have perhaps had a chance to see him perform at one of his legendary London concerts. See what I missed in the video below.
Nusrat is a singer in the Islamic Sufi tradition. Millions of South Asian Muslims see him as the greatest singer ever. He walks firmly in the traditions of the great thirteenth century Persian poet, Rumi, whose verse speaks of love and God and demonstrates a side of Islam that few non-Muslims are even aware exists and many hard-line Islamic traditionalists believe is not Islam at all. Listening to Nusrat, I find myself exposed to the same God I read about in the Jewish and Christian scriptures. His voice and passion transcends what I actually hear.
Nusrat doing 'neat' Qawwalis live is amazing but some of his recordings for a western audience are also stunning. And so the song I have chosen is 'Nothing Without You', a song about the love between a man and a woman from his album Mustt Mustt (1990). It's almost as if it's been lifted straight out of Songs of Songs - both a celebration of sacramental love between human beings and an allegorical representation of the love between God and humankind. If and when I enter heaven I expect to hear a sound like that of Nusrat's improvised section in the middle of this song. Hear the live version here.