Live at CKUT: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Elliott Sharp

They had never met each other before and come from opposite musical worlds  – it’s going to be great right?

In November 1989, Pakistani Sufi Musician Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and fellow musicians were in Montreal to perform a concert for Traquen’ Art.  Elliott Sharp a central figure in the New York avant-garde and experimental music scene, was also in Montreal for a separate performance.

CKUT’s Music Coordinator Bryan Zuraw and CKUT Programmer Julia Loktev (host of Curiouser and Curiousear) had the brilliant idea of having them perform live from our CKUT studios. At the time, CKUT studios were located in the basement of the Shatner Building of McGill University.  The two artists had never met each other before and come from opposite musical worlds  – it’s going to be great right?

For those of you who don’t know, the old studios were pretty tiny and the image of the rather large Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and his entourage of tabla players and Elliott Sharp wielding his double necked axe is one to imagine (if anyone has pictures of this event please get in touch!).  Bryan also had to arrange for a translator which he managed thanks to McGill’s Middle Eastern Studies program. Bryan also managed to rope in music host John Braithwaite (Jazz Amuck) to tech the whole thing. John Braithwaite was not an experienced engineer and remembers just winging it.

Here is Julia’s recollection: “I remember calling the promoters, and they were like, “Uhm ok, sure.” I don’t think they had any idea what we were proposing. We thought maybe he would come with just a couple of guys, but they showed up with like 15 people and their instruments. I remember looking at them coming in one-by-one through our narrow record library, and thinking oh my god they are not going to fit in that tiny studio! I’ve never seen the studio so packed. I think Elliott ended up wedged in a corner. But it was amazing! They were all totally so game and lovely. ”

Here is what Elliott Sharp remembers: “It’s an understatement to say that playing with Nusrat was intense! I had followed his work since hearing the double-LP The Paris Concert on Ocora and had been to two incredible concerts. I would have been more than content to just sit and listen but the idea of a sonic meeting is a compelling one. In other collaborations with non-Western musicians, there’s usually some shared esthetic whether from contemporary music, avant-garde, rock, jazz…but Nusrat exclusively played qawaali music. I therefore had to accept the invitation to be a guest in this music rather then to meet halfway. My strategy was to try to reinforce the drones and perhaps add a touch of commentary. Hearing this recording, I wish the engineer had my level lower in the mix. it was all done on the fly though, so it’s fine. I still savour the experience of it!”

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