By my count, Buena Vista Social Club was Ry Cooder’s third intervention into world music. Before hooking up with the legends of son in Cuba, but after messing around with Vishwa Mohan Bhatt on A Meeting By the River, Cooder undertook a true collaboration (more than just the background strumming that he contributed to Buena Vista), with the monumental genius of Qawwali, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Following up his signing to Peter Gabriel’s Real World label, Nusrat’s work with Cooder brought him much deserved worldwide attention and acclaim. Unfortunately, Nusrat’s relentless touring and recording schedule—he is estimated to have recorded more than 150 albums—exacted their toll: in August, 1997, at the age of 48, Nusrat died in a London hospital poised on the verge of true international fame.
Even though Nusrat sang a traditional form of sacred music in a deeply reverential manner, he was never afraid of musical experimentation of the kind that led, for example, to his duet with Eddie Vedder on the Dead Man Walking soundtrack. Magic Touch is a reissue of Nusrat’s collaboration with the gifted British DJ, Bally Sagoo. To Sagoo’s credit, he isn’t afraid to mix it up, drawing on a truly globalized stew of beats, samples and rhythms. The first track, “Kinna Sohna,” opens with a blare of Stax horns before kicking into drum and bass, over top of which bursts Nusrat’s unmistakable voice. Great stuff. Although everyone’s doing it now—Celtic and Arabic wails grace all too many dance songs—it’s hard to mix traditional voices with electronic sounds and make it all work. And though it’s all kept moving along at an energetic pace, it seems that all too often Sagoo can’t quite match the power of Nusrat’s vocals. On tracks like “Ali Da Malang,” the beat sounds tired, derivative. “Jhoole Jhoole Lal” rambles along nicely, but Sagoo exhausts the beat line too quickly and relies on Nusrat’s range to carry the track.
Still, on the whole, this makes for interesting listening. Even if Bally Sagoo doesn’t quite carry off a perfect marriage of Qawwali and dance music, for fans of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, this disc is worth checkin’ out, if only to get a sense of all the places he was willing to take his music.