Welcome to Breakdown, an unofficial resource and discussion list about the innovative guitarist/producer Michael Brook. This site is infrequently updated, but contains a great deal of background info which will remain online. For up-to-date news and information, visit Michael Brook's official site and MySpace page.

Babbling Brook a compendium of articles reviews and interviews

World Leaders: Remembering Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn and Fela Kuti
by Milo Miles, The Village Voice, 26 August 1997
[excerpts archived here without permission]

The deaths of Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, barely more than a week apart, mark the passing of bookends on the first modern phase of popular world music. Kuti of Nigeria, gone at 58, and Khan of Pakistan, a decade younger, stretched, refined, and blended the traditional music they grew up with and the Western pop they never avoided until the essence of the former began to intrigue the audience of the latter. Each prefferred the 20-minute song-as-ceremony over the efficient, three-minute single. Both were relaxed eclectics who avoided foundering in the search for crossover that derailed performers from Ruben Blades to Youssou N'Dour. Fela's moment was the early '70s (with faint reprise in the middle '80s); Khan was still on a steeply rising curve of fame when he expired. Both were showmen of immense power, and in keeping with their periods of acclaim, Fela concerts felt like protest rallies, Khan shows like revival meetings.

[ ... ]

...Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan did not have a whisper of a chance at an outside audience at the fime Fela was capturing international imaginations. Khan had been singing qawwali, the swirling devotional songs embraced by Sufism back in the Middle Ages, since he was 16. He was already a celebrity among initiates in the early 1970s. But without the fluke Monterey Pop showcase that lifted Ravi Shankar to his phantom stardom in the West, qawwali and Khan did not get out much. Devotional, non-English, non-Christian, just tabla drums and hand organs and handclaps with no electric instruments, qawwali tunes were happy hymns without a prayer over here.

That changed a dozen years ago. Peter Gabriel (banking more on Youssou N'Dour at the time, featured Khan at the World of Music, Arts, and Dance festival in England, then used him as a vivid thread running though the soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988. Khan's American concerts became almost frequent in the '90s, wildly physical displays of rapture. The non-stop handclaps and choruses of the half-dozen backup men and the quicksilver vocal exchanges between Khan, his brother the hand-organ master, and his dramatic falsetto cousin (and heir apparent) Rehmat Ali contributed to the shattering effect. But the payoff was Khan's improvisations on brief phrases - repeated, kneaded, elongated out of sense into pure sensation - and his sustained notes that sheared through the walls of the room. Khan appeared possessed by music in a unqulaified way that rock and the steamiest dance clubs had long forgotten.

The drones and open-ended, winding rhythm structures of qawwali had come into vogue on the dance floor. Fela found his own funk, Kahn could go techno or amble into ambient. For years he had enjoyed appearing on the anything goes scores of Indian films. A duet with Eddie Vedder on the soundtrack for Dead Man Walking became Khan's Monterey Pop, and his pacific, rather misleading and facile collaboration with Michael Brooks [sic] became a world-music best seller last year. He was set to release a series of recordings on the American [sic] label, which will remain one of the great unfulfilled pop promises.

Like Big Joe Turner, Khan seemed to need extra room for all that voice. With his long, balding head and immense thighs he sometimes looked like a singing hill of flesh. Diabetes had nearly ruined his kidneys, and after a tummy tuck and liposuction in Los Angeles, doctors there were set to perform a kidney transplant from his younger sister. Late in 1996 he returned to Pakistan for what was to be a brief series of concerts. But Sufi fakirs advised him that to miss important ceremonies this past June would be bad luck. Visiting various clinics for dialysis, Khan contracted the virulent hepatitis that killed him August 16.

Like the best pop surprises, Fela Kuti and Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn came from where nobody was looking. Cross-pollination will continue apace, but the initial introduction is over.