Legendary Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was immensely popular all over the world, as his prodigal talent and smoky tenor captivated the hearts of millions of people. But not many people know that American singer Jeff Buckley was perhaps his most unlikely devotee.
Of Buckley’s own admission, Nusrat’s music ‘saved his life’. In fact, his infatuation with the Qawwali genre led to him learning proper Urdu pronunciation so he could better imitate the phonetic approximates of the music, in order to sound more faithful to the original.
Recently, a Twitter user shared a thread on how much Jeff Buckley revered and admired Nusrat, mentioning that Buckley even wrote the liner notes for Nusrat’s album ‘The Supreme Collection’.
Hallelujah singer Jeff Buckley has spoken at length about his admiration for what Nusrat does, referred to him as his own version of Elvis (“He’s my Elvis, that’s my guy” –Live at Sin-é, 1993) and he even wrote the liner notes for the NFAK’s ‘The Supreme Collection’. pic.twitter.com/oNRyEHPe9l
Buckley, who owned over 400 cassettes of Qawwali recordings, has also covered Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan during his own live shows, introducing the Qawwal to the crowd as his ‘Elvis’.
He famously performed a cover of Halka Halka Saroor when he was live at Sin-é in 1993, and the cover, though containing occasional lyrical and pronunciation errors, clearly embodies deep respect and admiration.
In 1996, he got the chance to meet with and speak to his idol, when Interview Magazine asked if Buckley would conduct an interview of the legendary Pakistani qawaal, a request which Buckley immediately accepted.
“Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and the ten other men in his ensemble do not play music, they are music itself. The audiences are sleepwalking schools of souls hooked from the mouth and pulled gloriously down into wells of exaltation as a few music critics sit and scribble away, head down to the notepad. By the end of the night, no one is immune to the spirit that clouds the auditorium,” reads the original introduction of Buckley’s interview.
During the interview, Buckley told Nusrat that the first ever Qawwali he heard was Halka Halka Saroor, and that it saved his life because he had been very depressed at the time of hearing it.
The two talked about Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s infamous dream in the ten days following his father’s death, whereby he dreamt that his deceased father came to him and asked him to sing. “I said I could not, but he told me to try. He touched my throat, I started to sing, and then I woke up singing,” said Khan.
During the interview, Nusrat revealed that he liked listening to Indian and Western Classical music, as well as jazz.
“That guttural silver flame of melody and ecstasy is shooting from the throat of a man who is so deep inside the music that he does not exist any longer. That man is Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan,” wrote Buckley, who passed away the same year as his idol, in 1997.