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Star Rise review
by Natasha Stovall
from Salon
23 February 1998
[reprinted here without permission]

Star RiseEver since the Prophet Muhammad received the divine word in the late seventh century, Islamic mystics known as Sufis have explored the powers of dance and song to transport devotees toward ecstatic release, anticipating the rave by about 13th centuries.

Whirling dervishes spin their way toward divine communion that overwhelms consciousness and floods the heart with love. "Let's dance in the open to the tunes played by the clouds," goes one Sufi, or Qawwali, song. "The whole universe is in a state of drunkenness: the day, the night, the dawn. Everything."

The South Asian and British DJs on "Star Rise: Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn and Michael Brook Remixed," implicitly understand the connection between Qawwali worship music and the modern dance floor. They lift the music from "Night Song" -- a 1995 collaboration between Qawwali master Nusrat and British [sic] musician Brook -- and loop it into techno beats and turntable kinetics, transporting Nusrat from a traditional sacred space to a contemporary one, the underground dance club.

The "Star Rise" DJs claim Nusrat as part of their tradition, one that they carry on in their own image. Upon his death last year, Nusrat was the world's premier Qawwali singer; for years his music followed the emigration of Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis to the West. It was from those immigrants -- their parents -- that the "Star Rise" DJ's first heard of Nusrat.

On "Longing Remix," Aki Nawaz of Fun^Da^Mental mixes Nusrat's harmonium and tabla with trebly breakbeats and sci-fi synthesizer hum, cutting and pasting chunky dance floor beats with "Longing's" delicate woodwinds. Like many of the DJs on "Star Rise," he manipulates Nusrat's sublime vocals for his own purposes, fitting Nusrat into a beat rather than letting the singer's rhythms guide the song. The effect is compelling, even block-rocking, but it doesn't go far enough to preserve the sacred emotion that Nusrat unceasingly conveyed.

Asian Dub Foundation's "Taa Deem Remix" leaves more of Nusrat's spiritual orations intact, building a frenetic drum 'n' bass and dub cadence around his hectic rhythm. State of Bengal, in its "Shadow Remix," also lets Nusrat dominate, giving him two minutes of bare bones techno beats to hold one note over, then cutting in with a sweet guitar melody.

"Star Rise" is often beautiful and consistently surprising, an unusual but completely logical pairing of modern and classical. One can hear the DJs striving to balance the booming that issues forth from their turntables with the quieter tones of "Night Song." When the mix is right, Nusrat's spiritual essence blazes, bathing the entire track in his celestial light. As it turns out, he makes an excellent diva.