Instep talks to Noori brothers Ali Noor, Ali Hamza and their parents Ali Kazim and Noor Zehra about working together, Coke Studio, folk music and more…
By Amar Ayaz
Instep: What was it like working with Rohail Hyatt and the House Band again this Season? Do you plan on staying on beyond this season? Why?
Ali Kazim: Since I have never performed in any such event earlier, it is difficult to make any comparisons. However, I may say that despite my being uneasy about my first performance, I felt that there was an air of ease and comfort generated by Mr Rohail Hyatt and his team. Which made my experience at Coke Studio pleasant and enjoyable. The remarkable thing about Mr Hyatt is the freedom which is allowed to the performers to express themselves as they wish.
Noor Zehra: Completely new experiencedoing the music that I do. I would say that doing Classical Music has been like studying in a university and doing Coke Studio is like practically applying that training in a totally different environment with a very different genre of music. I have had to tailor my performance a lot in order to fit it into a more structured and variously instrumented environment.
Rohail is an easy person to get on with and he gave a lot of freedom to musicians. There was no constraint whatsoever on the way you want to participate.
Noori: Working with Rohail Hyatt is not just working with one man. There’s a full fledged production house running there.
And there is no doubt that Frequency Media has one of the best hosting services in this business! Jokes apart, these guys are one of the most well organized and graceful people in the music industry. It is always an enjoyable experience working with them.
Being able to be part of consecutive seasons, we have witnessed the evolution of Coke Studio as a production. Even more so, we ourselves have been going through a similar journey in our own work, and hence working with Rohail and his team becomes a wholesome experience; we get to observe, share and experiment together – something, which in itself is a common passion.
This year, unlike last year, Noori let themselves free and totally jumped on Rohail’s bandwagon. The two experiences have been totally different.
This year, Noori also took a very different, experimental route in terms of the music they performed at CS2010. The band had already intended, from beforehand, that if they got a second chance at Coke Studio, they will perform with their parents. Luckily, the theme for CS2010 was very congenial to creating such performances.
The passions which drive Noori and Coke Studio are similar. We would more than welcome a continued relationship and involvement with this project.
Instep: Anyone in particular you enjoyed working with?
Noor Zehra: I enjoyed working with Ali Noor and Ali Hamza
Ali Kazim: It is Mr Rohail Hyatt. He was the master of ceremony during the rehearsal and final recording. And the manner in which he conducts the act of a performer makes it a rich experience.
Noori: We loved working with our parents, it was a dream come true.
Instep: Have you ever worked on anything similar to this before?
Noor Zehra: The music I do is different in the sense that one, it’s a lyricless music based on abstract ideas, two, every piece is composed in real time and the considerations and direction of attention are geared towards the resonance being generated from within the instrument (the Saagar Veena) and three the focus is on nuances and the mood of the raag. In case of the Coke Studio experience, and because there was a lot of instrumentation, I had to focus more on the pitch, time and arrangement of the music.
Noori: In its entirety, no, but there are many parts of the Coke Studio production process that we utilise separately in our own work. Recording live performances for example, videographing the production, shooting performances, web development and so on and so forth.
That is the main reason why there is a wholesome connection between our work and Rohail’s.
Instep: What are your views on Coke Studio so far?
Noor Zehra: I feel that with the third season inertia has set in. The second was a season remembered throughout the year and the expectations with the third were much more because of that. Inertia means that there was a gap between the way it was conceived and the way it was executed. Attention was paid more on form and execution.
Ali Kazim: It is an experiment which has grown into an institution. It has presented some of the most brilliant performances. It has not remained static and Mr. Rohail Hyatt is not afraid to experiment with new and innovative ideas.
Noori: Coke Studio is not a one timer. Over three seasons we have seen a great variety of music coming out under this name. If one looks at all three as one, then one can see the bigger picture of this project.
Coke Studio is a platform where a Pakistani artist gets the opportunity to showcase the best that one can show. Hats off to Rohail and Umber Hyatt who have the skill of bringing out the best in every member of their team. They create an environment for the artist to perform at ease and with maximum involvement possible.
Instep: Out of all the seasons (1,2 and 3), who do you think has had the biggest impact thus far?
Noor Zehra: I think the second season, and people know the highlights of the second season.
Noori: This question does not have a clear-cut answer. The variety of music is such that each performance has had a qualitatively different impact from the other. In terms of public opinion, each artist has been able to create a position of their own. Much important is the recognition received by members of the House Band. They are consistently standing out as the true shining stars of Coke Studio.
Ali Kazim: Each of the three seasons contained some outstanding performances and therefore one cannot single out one particular episode.
Instep: In Season 3 what has been your favorite moment?
Noor Zehra: The first time I went for the practice session, a month before the final recording. The first time we met with Rohail and his team. Being in a stimulating environment, where one at once felt the freedom to feel and express. By the end of the session the feeling was shared by many of us.
Ali Kazim: My favourite moment was the happiness of my sons that I was performing with them.
Noori: The pleasure of working with our parents and having them present and involved with us for the first time ever was an experience in itself. And then, seeing the entire Hyatt family coming together for CS 2010 further established the feeling that its a full-scale family affair!
Instep: As compared to previous seasons, Coke Studio has gone more in the direction of folk music this season. Do you feel that might limit the publicity?
Noor Zehra: No not at all. I think the publicity has been set and established with season 2. It is not about folk music, but it’s about the expectations of the viewers.
Ali Kazim: Coke Studio has attracted a huge audience in the country. Its now being watched by those who like modern pop as also by that secion of general public which is nearer to folk music and therefore Coke Studio has added a new dimension in its repertoire to reach the public at large.
Noori: Not at all. In fact it has only broadened the listenership/viewership of the program. Coke Studio is the highlight of the yearly happenings in the Pakistani music scene and has a huge following both within and outside of Pakistan. The theme of this season can help Coke Studio to reach out to the real masses of this country – the majority of our population whose tastes revolve more around the folk and ethnic side of music.
Instep: Did you come about with your song yourself? What about the composition?
Noor Zehra: I was guided by Ali Noor and Ali Hamza because it was the first time I was putting the Saagar Veea into an already formatted song.
Noori: For CS3, we focused on two things: Vocals and the Saagar Veena, which too is a voice driven instrument of sorts. We worked out their melodic structures and Rohail and the Houseband then experimented with different kinds of instrumentation around each melody. We ended up with three very different kinds of sound-scapes.
As far as composition and originality is concerned, one song is 50 percent original, one is 35% and one maybe around 76%. The Veena parts are all original in the sense that they are improvised.
Ali Kazim (on ‘Dil Hi To Hai’): It’s an old composition, however the format was designed by Ali Noor and Ali Hamza. Because of our pre-occupation with Ali Hamza’s marriage during the relevant period, we had little time to make critical assessments of what we were going to do. Noor Zehra was always reminding me of my lack of formal training in singing and stressing the fact that before I give any public performance of this nature, I should subject myself to the discipline of classical music. Ali Noor insisted that you have to make a beginning now and the training will come later. I succumbed to his pressure.
Instep: Were there any challenges or problems faced? If so, what were they and how were they resolved?
Ali Kazim: The foremost challenge was to appear on a public stage and to give a performace which will be watched by persons who form part of my reference group and who after my performance will critically evaluate me, forgetting that I am a novice in this field.
Noori: The biggest challenge was to make our parents comfortable with the performances. For both of them this experience was a first of its kind.
Abba’s voice is probably the finest we have heard, but he has absolutely no sense of timing or scale. He sings very spontaneously. And at the same time, he is a perfectionist and venturing into the unknown can get very frustrating for him, especially if he feels that he has limited control over a situation. Having him work in a controlled environment was a feat in itself. Hats off to Rohail for making him comfortable during his performance.
For Amma, who is a much more experienced musician than any of us, although in a very different kind of music, the challenge was to work under an entirely different framework. She had to undo a bit of her own learning and ascribe to a different discipline and approach.
The Saagar Veena was also not a simple instrument to record. Even for Rohail, the instrument challenged his skills as a producer. It took quite a bit of experimentation and ingenuity on his part to fit the unique and delicate instrument (which is usually played solo, by itself) in standard, pop orchestration.
Instep: What was it like performing with Zeb & Haniya?
Noori: It was great! We go back a long way and there was always a keenness on both sides to do something together. Coke Studio gave us that opportunity. In fact the Coke Studio recording was the beginning of a collaboration which continued even after the recording. The studio version of ‘Tann Dolay’ is complete now and we hope the audiences appreciate it as much as the CS version.
Instep: What was it like performing with your sons?
Noor Zehra: I loved performing with them. I didn’t perform as well as them but I was very happy performing along with them, especially in ÔHor Vi NeewanÕ.
Ali Kazim: I was nervous before, during and after the performance and my sons were assuring me that I didn’t do a bad job, and that I’ll do much better next time.
Instep: Would you do something like this again? Is there possibly a Noori family album in the works?
Noor Zehra: I will definitely do it again, for learning, for diversifying. And yes!
Ali Kazim: In this regard I have no personal agenda. I sang in Coke Studio for my sons and I’ll sing for them again if they wish so. However, I have to satisfy myself that what I produce has to be worthwhile.