The Pakistani-born Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is regarded as the greatest living exponent of qawwali, the devotional music of the mystical Sufi strain of Islam in southern Asia. Working with an ensemble of tabla drums, reed organ, and handclapping chorus, Nusrat sings the various lyrics of the Sufi devotional repertoire, which uses the images and ideas of romantic love as an analogy for religious experience. As the rhythm builds, the emotional pitch of the performance grows more intense, encouraging the faithful to lose themselves in the oceanic immensity of God’s will. Certainly the rocking, swaying beat and Nusrat’s clear melodic sense make his music more accessible to a Western audience than its esoteric origins might suggest. His recordings–particulary those released on Peter Gabriel’s Real World label since 1989–have helped Nusrat bring qawwali out of the Muslim shrines of Pakistan and into the concert halls of the West. In Europe he’s become a pop star of sorts, but he has managed this without compromising the traditional aesthetic values of his art, which emphasize the transcendent spiritual experience at the core not only of Islam but of all the great religions of the world. Friday, 8:30 PM, Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence; 939-9689, 472-4471, or 777-8898.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dave Peabody.