The talented Ali Noor and Ali Hamza of the incredible band Noori, take us all the way to Sri Lanka and break down the day they spent shooting their new song ‘Dil Ki Qasam’ with Miss Veet Pakistan

9am: 

We wake up early, before 10am in an Ayurvedic resort — a place where we have to be peaceful and quiet. They are very punctual here; they serve us vegetarian food, sometimes we get chicken, but mostly it’s all detoxifying food. The rice has some kind of purple dots on it.

10am:

For breakfast we are served fresh fruits and eggs of our choice. The tea and coffee here doesn’t taste like actual tea and coffee.

11am:

We go for a stroll on the beach and talk about the video, and then we head to the Veet Academy. They have booked the whole mansion. It is pretty awesome! It has gorgeous views, and wherever we go we see beautiful beaches, and lots of girls. As soon as we enter the mansion, we spot Aamina Sheikh’s daughter playing with a python.

12pm:

As sunlight is the strongest right now, we begin shooting the mansion shots.

3pm:

We hijack all the girls and bring them back to our place!

4pm:

We find ourselves on the beach again — flying kites and playing cricket. We meet an aeronautical engineer, who flew from Sydney to Hong Kong, then Hong Kong to Sri Lanka just because we were coming. This guy is great, so we hang out and party with him. Not that you can do much in an Ayurvedic resort, but we make the most of it.

5pm:

We go for a swim with Fahad Ashraf, director marketing of Reckitt Benckiser. We begin having long, drawn out discussions with him about how the women of this country should evolve and how we want to open schools together. Other than being in Sri Lanka, and shooting a music video, this is the graver reason why Veet and Noori are working together. Fahad explains how for the last three years the competition was becoming meaningless and he wanted to add meaning to the concept. The girls that are being chosen in the competition are regular girls. The idea behind selecting regular people is that you are not choosing them for their appearance, but for completely different reasons. We talk about what else we can do in the future, how to turn this into an institution, and even discuss the future of the girls who don’t win. It’s very important for them to stay connected because it isn’t about winning and losing, it’s all about exploration and transformation — different people, different backgrounds, different stories, and stories cannot just end.

8pm:

We go to Galle. It’s a full moon and there is a large Portuguese party here. Suddenly, Aisha Khan starts feeling sick and we need to take her to the hospital, but we find out that there are no hospitals. No one is sure what is happening to her. We take her home, and she sleeps it off.

12am:

We go back to our room and jam with the guitar. We only have a few night sets. After a while we are hungry but we can’t find junk food. We are seriously craving chips and Pepsi at this point. We decide to make fries ourselves, so we cut the potatoes, only to discover that these weird Ayurvedic potatoes just won’t fry!

1am:

Still awake, waiting for the potatoes to fry…

3am:

Three hours later, finally the fries are ready! After quickly munching down the fries, we finally go to bed, as we have to start the day early tomorrow.

Noori brothers sit down with Instep and talk about the remarkable year they’ve been having, the ongoing Punjab tour and cultivating a serious listener base

The ballad of Noor and Hamza

As I listen to the tape of my conversation with Noori brothers Ali Noor and Ali Hamza, who front and form one of Pakistan’s most cherished and still active music groups, what’s instantly palpable is that they refuse to conform to the norm and remain unpredictable.

While most artists who started out around the same time as Noori have either turned to acting in TV, films or both or have split up or split their focus to other facets of the entertainment business, for one reason or another, Noori remain a loveable anomaly who are still making their brand of music, presenting rock permutations that go beyond riffs and rage and weave a musical narrative that is both personal and national.

We meet on Sunday as Noori carve out precious time from their ongoing Punjab tour to come to Karachi for a whirlwind 24 hours where they not only met with the press but also gave fans in Karachi a chance to see them in action (alongside Sara Haider) at a popular mall.

Meeting at a PR agency’s office on a warm afternoon, I’m greeted by a mostly deserted office barring a few individuals.

The lethargy of Sunday, however, quickly vanishes upon meeting the band.  Inside a room, lit brightly, brothers Noor and Hamza sit, dressed casually in jeans, t-shirts and Noor sporting a hoodie jacket, greets me warmly and with a hint of nostalgia as we reminisce my first interview with them, in Karachi, which happened almost a decade ago on the heels of the release of their second studio album, Peeli Patti Aur Raja Jaani Ki Gol Dunya.

When you meet Noori, you instantly feel invigorated not just by how passionate they are about what they do but also because they have this inherent ability to make people feel involved and connected. Whether it’s the fans or other artists or even a commissioned corporate/brand related project(s) – it is this quality that sets them apart from other entities.

I take out several sheets of paper, inundated with questions and they laugh heartily before quickly agreeing to answering as many question as I want. It’s a far cry from PR-coordinated interviews where ordinarily the questions often don’t veer away from one particular topic or occasions when artists remain reticent and inch away from saying anything about what matters most to them. Part of it is weariness induced by the cycle of persistently talking to the media but Noori thankfully show no signs of jaded cynicism.

Long story short, we want to cultivate a brand new listener base and take out lots of new songs,” says Noor. “When I say cultivate I mean listeners who take out time to listen to a song/record and not while you’re using Facebook and playing it on the side.

As we open our conversation from their most recent effort, a song that serves as the soundtrack to a beauty supermodel contest, Noor and Hamza admit that they agreed to do the project mostly because the idea behind it is to appreciate beauty in the mundane, and inculcate the simple but powerful belief that ordinary people are beautiful; it also speaks of internal transformation. In this day and age of photo-shopped images, Noori’s approach to the project is certainly important.

Having collaborated with Sara Haider on the said song, our conversation invariably moves to women in music and Noori, who have worked with several artists this year including not just Sara Haider but also Momina Mustehsan, Quratulain Balouch and many more, maintain that the current crop of women working in music are exceptionally hardworking.

“Sara Haider is very driven and she wants to learn a lot and she’s very serious-minded. Not just her but Rachel (Viccaji) and Zoe Viccaji,” says Ali Noor, a rock god who can be outrageous one minute, laughing infectiously, and sober the next with ease.

Hamza, the poet and the more restrained of the two echoing Noor sums it up best: “The artists of this generation, the ones coming into the music scene… a) they are very-talented, b) they have a good head on their shoulders, that’s the really good part.”

“None of them are in a hurry and they have a vision,” adds Noor. “The reason why I’m talking about this is because I had a chance to speak to them and work with them during Coke Studio.”

cover_Noori_2

The year 2016 has been a significant one for Noori. Picking up the LSA Best Album trophy for their third studio album, Begum Gul Bakaoli Sarfarosh, which released last year to critical and commercial acclaim after a gap of a decade, they’ve been working with the kind of regularity that is rare for a mainstream name.  A remarkable stint on Coke Studio as music directors, three original songs accompanied with music videos via Cornetto Pop Rock plus a gorgeous Indo-Pak single collaboration and the revival and reinvention of BIY Music, the brothers are in a space where they are not only enjoying creating music and playing it out for fans any and every chance they get but one which allows them to shape a vision and their place in the sometimes fickle world of music. And as always, their loyalty lies with the fans; the ones who stand in line to get a CD signed or like the gaggle of giggling girls who were hoping I’d introduce them to the band as I was walking one step behind Noor and Hamza at a Mall when we met in Karachi last summer to talk about their new record, which the brothers released in a classic DIY effort that they’ve become known for.

Surprisingly enough, despite doing commissioned projects, they are not big fans of it. “The problem with commissioned work is that you are always trying to satisfy the client,” explains Noor. “We’ve managed to find an interesting middle ground where we take all these clients and become very close with them on a creative level. We become good friends because if we don’t get along with the people, it doesn’t work. So the real story here is that we get them involved in the process. There is never a revision in what we do. It becomes actually very memorable as opposed to being a bearable experience.”

I tell them what I’ve said in other Noori stories before: it’s been a monumental year for the band and the amount of original work they’ve done including their smart tackling of Coke Studio as music directors, is worth infinite applause.

“We sat on our ass for ten years,” says Noor as Hamza corrects him, “We were playing live music…”

I press on about the collaboration with Ali Azmat, a song called ‘Dildara’ that is both endearing and iconic.

“Ali Azmat changed Ali Noor,” laughs Hamza.

Noor admits that the process of working with several artists through one project or another has led to a personal, internal transformation. “Not a perfectionist at all but within me, a confused, unsure man has decided to just say f*** it. Jo ayega dekha jaiye ga… After that, my whole funda changed, to be a doer. I think that is what’s happened.”

“I think the real thing that’s happening in all this is the changes that are coming from within us,” confesses Hamza.

“There’s a strange karmic thing going on,” says Noor introspectively on the monumental year they’ve been having.

As the conversation shifts again and I ask the brothers about their ongoing Punjab tour that is organized by Punjab Group of Colleges and is taking them to Okara, Bahawalpur, Multan, Faisalabad, Sargodha, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Sialkot, Islamabad and Lahore, the emotion in the room changes.

“You know how you have tours abroad, it’s like that,” says Noor. “The shows start on time, the audience is in place and the girls make the ultimate audience. The irony is that this audience goes neglected.

This audience is so responsive. We realized that the theme of Noori is so applicable to them. I kind of wish that we had planned some workshops; we can’t mess with the schedule but as we were singing ‘Suno Ke Main Hoon Jawan’, we realized that we may have gone ahead but this audience never got a chance to hear these songs.”

The shows that we as an urban audience can take for granted in bigger cities like Karachi and Lahore are a revelation to people in other cities. And Noori know it too. To them, the tour has led to the opening up of another world, a whole new horizon full of dedicated fans and this audience will, in all probability, earn more chances to see the band in the future.

I ask them if working on Coke Studio with so many artists from the music scene has changed their perception of the industry. What’s disarmingly charming is how quickly Noor makes it a point to say that as far as Noori were concerned, Bilal Maqsood was the third music director. “He was really involved in the process with us. And he was like the third director. Other people maybe opted for autonomy but for us without Bilal, we simply wouldn’t start. He would sit with us.”

Noori_4Answering the questions with his usual honesty, Noor says, “Working with other people gave us a chance to learn about their different aspirations.  It was also a reality-check that this is what it is.”

Moving towards the indie music scene, which unlike the mainstream side of music, is filled with artists who insist on doing quality original work and sadly go uncounted when one speaks of the music scene, Noori admit that they must be counted. “For that to happen, they have to cross the threshold.  Everyone has a starting point but they’re unable to find it. I really want to do indie, and I will do it. Indie artists are very talented.”

“No matter whom I listen to, they have something,” says Hamza.

“We did what we did because I thought every other band was shit,” says Noor. “I was uninspired by everybody and I’m sure they feel the same way. I don’t think Noori inspire them that way. They want to do their own thing, sing in English, do electronica but I guess the only thing I was able to figure out and what they need to figure out is how to cross that threshold.”

Aside from doing their own music, Noori have also revived BIY Records, now known as BIY Music, through which they released their own album BGBS last year and through which others hope to follow suit such as one Haroon Shahid of SYMT-fame.

“We’re figuring it out,” says Noor. “The only thing we’ve realized now is that we need content creation mechanism,” says Noor. “The amount of time in which we actually get things done. But most of all, our interest is, to be honest, not to pander to people’s existing sensibilities. It goes against the grain of what we want to do.  But we were doing it. We want to cultivate a serious listener. For example, you are a keen, serious listener. That number has dwindled to such an extent that it’s stupid. You’re doing covers because they are familiar, you are re-working old songs and they’re familiar too. What does that signify? That people are becoming dumb.”

“Everything is being dumbed down,” says Hamza.

“Long story short, we want to cultivate a brand new listener base and take out lots of new songs,” says Noor. “When I say cultivate I mean listeners who take out time to listen to a song/record and not while you’re using Facebook and playing it on the side. That’s f***ed up, yaar.”

To Noori, numbers don’t mean too much. They neither have millions of fans on Facebook nor do they care too much about digital statistics.

“You’ll die as an artist if you look at numbers, trust me,” says Hamza.

And unlike a lot of other artists in the spotlight, Noori are not trolled online or receive abusive messages.

“Once in a blue moon,” admits Hamza.

Noori fans are only angered when they think the band is doing commercial things. “We get hate-mail on doing commercial stuff but I think that number is small.” Noor says.

As we come to the end of the interview and only because of my realization that others are waiting in line to interview the band, Noori brothers confess that aside from the band’s revitalized return, they aim to diversify, create different spaces filled with different styles of expressions, pursue solo projects while keeping the promise of Noori alive.

“Noori is now going to fly in terms of creative ideas,” says Noor on a parting note. And given their recent track record, we, as longtime fans, can only say encore.

Published in The News, November 20th, 2016.

Noori Rock On

By Maheen Sabeeh

Revered music group discuss latest release ‘Dil Ki Qasam’ with Sara Haider.

2016 has been an extraordinary year for Noori and it’s not over just yet. As this story is being written, the much-revered music group is gearing up to headline a gig at Kinnaird College in Lahore, which will also feature other acts like Abdullah Qureshi, Hamza Malik, and SomeWhatSuper.

Their most recent release, a collaborative number with Sara Haider, ‘Dil Ki Qasam,’ which serves as the soundtrack to a beauty brand reality show, is certainly endearing them to fans. Shot in Sri Lanka, the song talks of transformation and has led Noori into unchartered waters and they’ve managed to navigate their way without losing their edge.

Talking to Instep about the song, Ali Noor revealed, “Basically, the idea was to take regular girls and not ‘supermodels’. So that was the context of the song and they wanted ‘Dil Ki Qasam’ because it talks about transformation. To me re-working the song didn’t make sense because the original song is very loud and aggressive so they wanted to bring a girl in (on vocals) and basically re-write the lyrics. So we got Shuja Haider and he wrote all the lyrics and that was very cool because usually it’s Hamza who writes.”

The process gave them a chance to work with Sara Haider and they had nothing but appreciation for her. “She’s serious-minded and wants to learn a lot,” said Noor. “Working with her was very interesting; she’s very genuine.”

Aside from playing shows across Punjab – where the turnout has been huge and a testament to Noori’s popularity – as part of a tour organized by the Punjab Group of Colleges, the brothers also have other ideas about what they will do next. One of those things is a solo project of Ali Hamza. Having sat down with Instep for an extensive interview, Hamza cheekily mentioned his project, “It’s called Sanwal, watch out!”

What they won’t be doing is film music. Having worked on the soundtrack of Wajahat Rauf’s Karachi Se Lahore with Shiraz Uppal in 2015, they are not treading that path again unless something extraordinary comes their way.

“For me, I will only do it if a brilliant project comes along,” explained Hamza. Reiterating Hamza’s point, Noor further explained, “Ideally if you make a film, making music for it would be fun. Or if it means working closely with someone and to be involved in the process. In India and even here, the driving forces are not what they used to be.”

“People who do it, great but not our thing,” explained Hamza.

Happily settled in their lives, having embraced a familial life and fatherhood, the brothers will, in the coming days, months and years ahead, use their perspectives to pen new songs. “In the next album, preferably I should write five songs and he (Hamza) writes five, and we come together and then finish the record.”

Published in The News, November 18th, 2016.

Noori will next be playing in Gujranwala. PHOTO: FILE

LAHORE: As one of Pakistan’s most popular music acts, it comes as no surprise that whatever Noori does attracts plenty of attention, especially when they set out on tour. The dynamic duo – along with other musicians such as Annie, Falak Shabbir, Arif Lohar and Kami Paul – is currently on a tour of Punjab. In fact, brothers Ali Noor and Ali Hamza have just returned from Sargodha to make a quick pit stop in Lahore before they head out to Gujranwala again.

According to Ali Noor, the Punjab Group of Colleges organises such a tour every year and get different artists on board. “It’s been a real eye-opener, this entire experience,” the singer told The Express Tribune. “We have been meeting a whole lot of people and mingling with the different subcultures of Pakistan. We already know a lot about Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad but this is different because we’ve realised that people in big cities don’t have time for smaller things. Life is slower in smaller towns; the people are more enthusiastic.”

To lend credence to this viewpoint, Ali Noor added that the vibe he receives from the crowd whilst performing is similar to the one he felt back when Noori first started out. For him, this is an opportunity to gel with the crowd more. “A lot of the people who attend the concerts have never heard of Noori, except for one or two songs, so we have to explain it to them,” he said. “We just take it for granted that everyone will know our songs but it’s a unique experience there.”

Work really seems to be taking Noori around the globe as the band was recently in Sri Lanka to record a song for Miss Veet Pakistan 2016, along with singer Sara Haider. “The brand got in touch with us about making a song that spoke of transformation and we felt that Dil Ki Kasm reflected the idea,” Ali Noor revealed.

So they had to rework the lyrics for 2004 hit, as most of Noori’s older songs are about social concepts wherein women are encouraged to come forth with their talent and try to be equal members of society. Ali Noor also shared that Ali Hamza will soon be launching a new project called Sanwal that incorporates a very different style of music.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 17th, 2016.

What can we say about Noori that hasn’t been said before? A big victory at the Lux Style Awards for their third studio album, Begum Gul Bakaoli Sarfarosh, a thrilling stint on Coke Studio as music directors, a bunch of captivating music videos and several singles later, music group Noori is going strong as ever as the year winds down.

In fact, as this story is being written, Noori, one of music’s most cherished names, have embarked on an extensive more-than-a-month-long Punjab tour. Starting on November 3 in Okara, it will go on till December 12.

After memorable shows in Okara and Bahawalpur, the band is currently in Multan. In the coming days ahead, they will also play shows in other cities like Faisalabad, Sargodha, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Sialkot, Islamabad and Lahore as part of the tour.

And if there was any doubt about Noori’s popularity, their Instagram and Facebook accounts, updated with pictures from this tour, will crush that myth aside. Scores of fans have been coming out to see the band across cities. Not surprisingly, Noori seem to be in jovial spirits, a sign of which can be seen in how the band has been indulging their many fans with photo ops.

Joined by Annie, Falak Shabbir and Arif Lohar, Ali Noor, Ali Hamza and Kami Paul look like they’re having the time of their lives and giving music listeners across the province of Punjab a chance to experience the band’s colorful shows. If you are in the area and close to any of these cities, look out for their shows.

Published in The News, November 7th, 2016.

Both Ali Noor and Ali Hamza are Coke Studio veterans and most of their performances on the show have been extremely well received. PHOTOS: FILE

Both Ali Noor and Ali Hamza are Coke Studio veterans and most of their performances on the show have been extremely well received. PHOTOS: FILE

LAHORE: Ali Noor and Ali Hamza are undoubtedly, the most celebrated musicians on this year’s Coke Studio. After appearing on season two and three of the show as featured artists previously, the brothers – who together form rock band Noori – have made a fantastic return, this time as music directors. And while their latest offerings from the platform, Baliye and Aaja Re Moray Saiyaan, rule the airwaves, the dynamic duo has been making greater plans. In fact, in Ali Noor’s own words, they are looking to “change the future of music in Pakistan”.

With that statement, Noor refers to Noori’s brainchild BIY Music – an initiative to promote original music across the country. “You have to BIY (Believe in yourself) to DIY (Do it yourself),” says the singer, explaining the name of his record label.

“Initiatives like Coke Studio and Nescafe Basement are commissioned projects so we needed to have a place we could use as our own platform and are working hard to develop that.”

Beginning as a record label, BIY Music metamorphosed into a space where artists can brainstorm and generate originals. The premise is simple; “The output shouldn’t be cover songs. We want people to bring something new to the table,” says Noor. According to him, current Coke Studio members such as Junaid Khan, Ali Azmat and Momina Mustehsan are already on board.

But this is hardly all that Noori has been up to recently, seeing as how the band seems to be on a roll since the release of Begum Gul Bakaoli Sarafarosh (BGBS) last year. With the album, Noori made a solid comeback after a 10 year hiatus and even brought along a collaboration with Indian folktronica duo Hari and Sukhmani. And now, with a Lux Style Award for Best Music Album under their belt, the Lahore-based band is clearly just warming up.

Apart from Coke Studio, Noori’s latest work also come from relatively new music show Cornetto Pop Rock, wherein the band has collaborated with singer Qurutulain Balouch (QB) on a song called Pyar Wyar.

“This was QB’s first project; the first song she wrote herself. Now, we will develop it further, along with her,” shares Noor. A behind-the-scenes video on Noori’s BIY Music page shows Noor and Hamza’s encouragement and direction for QB, the result of which is a noteworthy, original melody. The coming days will also see the band work with Azmat.

With so much on their plate, Noori wishes to create a crescendo effect and encourage other Pakistani artists to create original content. In fact, it was with this aim that the band came up with Aja Re Moray Saiyaan, a song written by Zehra Nigah that features Zeb Bangash.

“The melody had been with us for 20 odd years but we kept going back and forth with it. The real credit goes to Bilal Maqsood, who really helped us put it together,” says Hamza, who also lent vocals to the song.

His son has also sung the number in a home video that recently went viral. “I think my son feels he’s a star in his own right. Ever since that video went up, he acts like a rock star and even has the attitude! He’s got a good mind for music and makes his own lyrics and melodies too.”

Baliye, on the other hand, is the fusion of an original track written and composed by vocalist Haroon Shahid with a Musarrat Nazir classic, Laung Gawacha.

“All our other songs from Coke Studio are originals, although the show’s format is to work with existing classics,” reveals Hamza. The duo shares that they became very friendly with Strings and forced them to get involved. “We were working more as composers and they were doing the producing. We made songs from scratch on Coke Studio, along with Strings and the house band. If there was one thing I could take away from the experience, it would definitely be production,” he adds.

If all of this isn’t enough, there is another Noori original coming up on Coke Studio, with Indian singer Shilpa Rao and Noor and his mother who plays the sagar veena on it.

“She’s the only one in the world who plays that instrument and her father Raza Kazim made it for her,” says Noor, adding that while there is ample material ready to put out in an album, he is focusing on releasing other peoples’ work through BIY Music.

“When you’re a producer, the entire responsibility falls on you,” he claims. “Now as musicians, we want to experiment with new material. No one is pursuing music, which makes it perfect that we keep on exploring sounds and that’s what Coke Studio has helped us do.”

Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2016.

With season 9 around the corner, we look back at the biggest hits the show has belted out so far.

With season 9 around the corner, we look back at the biggest hits the show has belted out so far.

KARACHI: With the ninth edition of Coke Studio around the corner, The Express Tribune looks back at the biggest hits the show has belted out, over the years.

15. Zeb & Haniya – Laili Jaan

Laili Jaan, Zeb & Haniya
There’s hardly a Coke Studio song from this duo that did not click with the audiences. Season 6’s Laili Jaan is a Darri hit, originally done by Ahmed Zahir, that blurs boundaries with incredible ease.

14. Symt & Sanam Marvi – Koi Labda

Koi Labda HD, Symt feat. Sanam Marvi
Koi Labda from Season 5 is warm and extremely fulfilling. This is one collaboration from the show wherein everything fell perfectly in place.

13. Mai Dhai & Atif Aslam – Kadi Aao Ni

Mai Dhai & Atif Aslam, Kadi Aao Ni, Coke Studio, Season 8,…

While there aren’t many songs from the Strings era that make it to our list; Kadi Aao Ni from Season 8 is one that does deserve a spot. Mai Dhai shines in all her glory as we see glimpses of the Atif Aslam of Jalpari.

12. Rostam Mirlashari – Laila O Laila

Laila O Laila. Rostam Mirlashari
Laila O Laila was part of Season 6 that saw Rohail Hyatt bring in foreign musicians and eventually step down as the show’s producer. Not that we saw too many on the show, Laila O Laila was perhaps Coke Studio’s best rendition of a Balochi tune.

11. Ali Zafar – Yar Daddi

Yar Daddi, Ali Zafar
With this tribute to Ustad Muhammad Juman from Season 2, Ali Zafar completed a successful experiment with a very different singing style. The Flamenco chord progression is an absolute treat.

10. Sajjad Ali – Kirkir Kirkir

Kirkir Kirkir HD, Sajjad Ali, Coke Studio Pakistan, Season 4

Pop icon Sajjad Ali made his Coke Studio debut in Season 4 and gave us his signature product – an all-out entertainer; the show had not exactly had an upbeat number to offer before this.

9. Mizraab – Kuch Hai

Kuch Hai HD, Mizraab, Coke Studio Pakistan, Season 4
Kuch Hai is powerful, haunting and captivating. Season 4 showed the world why Faraz Anwar fans call him a guitar maestro.

8. Strings – Sar Kiyae

Sar Kiyae, Strings, Coke Studio Pakistan, Season 1

This Strings original is one of the best pop compositions to come out from Pakistan and is still as popular as it was in 1992. This Season 1 song is an early example of what Rohail Hyatt had set about to master.

7. Asif Hussain Samraat & Zoe Viccaji – Senraan Ra Baairya

Senraan Ra Baairya HD, Asif Hussain Samraat & Zoe Viccaji
He came. He mesmerised. He vanished. Asif Hussain Samraat’s Rajasthani thumri from Season 4 is like medication for anxiety. Coke Studio never saw better voice quality.

6. Atif Aslam and Qayaas – Charkha Nolakha

Charkha Nolakha, Atif Aslam and Qayaas
Qayaas were one of Pakistan’s most promising acts and Charkha Nolakha only reminds us what we have lost with their breakup. This ode to Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Led Zeppelin from Season 5 is one of the show’s best-arranged songs.

5. Attaullah Khan Esakhelvi – Pyaar Naal

Pyaar Naal HD, Attaullah Khan Esakhelvi, Coke Studio…

Attaullah Khan Esakhelvi graced Coke Studio in Season 4 and gave us a love song to remember. Jaffer Zaidi’s piano and accordion; Amir Azhar’s mandolin and Essakhelvi’s supplementary recital of a nazm stand out in this heartwarming number.

4. Noori & Saieen Zahoor – Aik Alif

Aik Alif, Noori & Saieen Zahoor
This Season 2 song saw Noori delve into devotional music for the first time ever and come up with one of the most memorable songs from the show. Saieen Zahoor’s distinct tone, Ali Hamza’s banjo and Ali Noor’s impressive vocal range make this a sure-shot winner.

3. Fareed Ayaz & Abu Muhammad – Kangna

Kangna. Fareed Ayaz & Abu Muhammad
Kangna, in Season 4, saw Coke Studio engage with authentic qawwals and qawwali for the first time. A composition in Raag Malkauns, Kangna is yet another achievement of the Rohail Hyatt era.

2. Javed Bashir – Aj Latha Naeeo

Aj Latha Naeeo, Javed Bashir, Coke Studio Pakistan, Season 2
While Javed Bashir’s unmatched vocal prowess had already begun to gain attention long before this song came out, Season 2’s Aj Latha Naeeo announced his arrival and upped the ante of a show that was still establishing itself.

1. Noori – Saari Raat

Saari Raat, Noori
LAHORE: Rock band Noori may have declared Begum Gul Bakaoli Sarfarosh as their final release but it seems the duo of Ali Hamza and Ali Noor believes in the notion that promises really are meant to be broken. Their fans would certainly not complain hearing that the band is set to release a single that will see them collaborate with Indian folktronica duo, Hari and Sukhmani.

The two bands have interestingly been at the project for two good years. The track, Yaarian, is an ode to friendship, celebrating the cultural bond shared by the two countries. March 11 has been earmarked as its release date. The brothers are known for making music that is very personal and of their own element and have seldom teamed up with other acts to produce music. “There are quite a few people whose music I listen to but their [Hari and Sukhmani’s] music really appealed to me … there was a spark,” Noor told The Express Tribune. He said the Indian band has a very different approach to music but they somehow managed to form a working relationship. “They’re different from us but it all worked out because we made the song on drums and bass and they put the finishing touches. I think we managed to retain the essence of both the collaborators.”

Noor’s wife and veritable right hand, Mandana Zaidi, concurred. “Sukhmani’s voice added a great flavour because I’ve never heard a woman’s voice in a Noori song before,” she said. Zaidi said the entire process was carried out without the support of anyone. “It was just an effort from the artists involved,” she said. Noori is a group that itself believes in the DIY philosophy; they released an album at a time when the music industry is probably at its weakest. When they first met vocalist Sukhmani Malik and producer-vocalist Hari Singh in Dallas, US, they immediately struck a chord. “We heard their music and decided to fly to India. Once we were there, we agreed to work on a song. The song was sent back and forth and eventually they came to Pakistan for five days to shoot the video,” Zaidi added.

Separately, Noori will be flying to India for the Nations for Peace concert that will also be held on March 11. Nations for Peace will feature musicians from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan come together. Yaarian will be officially released during the show. After this, a tour of different cities in Pakistan is also on the cards for the Lahore-based band.

Interestingly, this is not the first time Noori is working with an international act. In 2004, they collaborated with Indian musician, Anaida, for a single but the song never saw the light of the day. The band that has joined hands with various artists on Coke Studio in the past, feels as long as original music is being made, all is well. “People should explore their creativity and make songs about issues that something to them,” mentioned Noor.

Drawing a distinction between music shows and independent releases, he said, “Coke Studio and Nescafé Basement produce commissioned songs that have to be done for the project. We should make songs to further the art form because that is how it has always been done … that is how it should be done.” Noor said the band will also be working with Haroon from SYMT, Ali Azmat and other artists over the course of the year. “Right now I am learning how to collaborate and put out songs that aren’t just Noori-esque. The idea is to learn as well as integrate other artist’s sensibilities into our music but it’s a learning process primarly.”

Malik and Singh have been globetrotting since 2009 and collaborating with artists all over the world. Known for fusing Punjabi folk music with electronica, they a very contemporary take on traditional music. “The band’s motto is to leave behind cultural, religious, and racial divides to transform the community and the individual through happy soulful music,” reads their website.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2016.

KARACHI: Nearly a decade and three breakups later, Noori has made a comeback to Pakistan’s music scene and fans are in love!

The band are currently touring Pakistan’s major cities. Their second stop — in the City of Lights — saw Karachiites running in droves to Ocean Mall to welcome the band’s new album Begum Gul Bakaoli Sarfarosh (BGBS) on Saturday.

When asked about his expectations from the latest album, Ali Noor told The Express Tribune, “Noori just wants to share happiness and we hope when BGBS makes people happy, they pray for us and we go places.”

PHOTO: Alveena Abid

Ali Hamza too was overwhelmed by the response.

“We want people to listen to this album, so that the message resonates with them and they give us some feedback,” he said.

The huge attendance was undoubtedly a sign that Noori still remains relevant to the country’s music scene — hundreds of people queued up just to get a signed autograph from the two singers.

If you still haven’t had a chance to grab yourself a CD of their latest album, here are eight reasons why you should definitely go and buy a copy now:

1) It’s their comeback

For us Noori was never absent from the music front as there timeless hits kept us mesmerised during their hiatus. Their much-awaited career resurgence with BGBS cements their legacy as one of the all-time greats.

SCREENGRAB

2) It wraps up their trilogy

According to Ali Hamza, “Noori announced a trilogy of albums when they first released Suno Ke Main Hun Jawan in 2003″. After making waves with the second album Peeli Patti Aur Raja Jani Ki Gol Dunya in 2005, BGBS is set to give you some serious flashbacks of their signature sound.

3) It’s an investment

For all of those who missed the chance to grab their BGBS copy in a three-day whirlwind tour, not only did you miss another worthy edition to your collection, but also an opportunity to invest in yourself. Bonus: An interesting booklet (part of the album) which is an eye-opener as it takes you back to 1947 and makes you realise that it’s time to bring about a positive change in Pakistan.

4) Gaana No. 1

No it’s not a remixed version of their 2003 hit Gaana No. 1, but the first track of the new album which is titled 1947. Unees So Santaless Jab Aarzoo Jaagi Meray Man Mein — it will definitely tingle your patriotic nerve.

P.S. Ali Noor’s narrative will make you work on your diction, especially the word ‘sahar’.

5) It is bound to make you nostalgic

For us millennials, Noori’s hits were an essential part of our formative years. We played them during college gigs, listened to them during long drives and danced to them in our bedrooms. Well, BGBS takes us back to those times!

6) It will awaken the rebel in you

If Dil Ki Qasam, Ooncha, Merey Log, Nishaan and all their previous tracks left some traces of a rebel in you then Hoshiyar, Pinjra, Keedar, Sarfarosh and Mujhay Roko will definitely awaken that lost spirit.

7) It gives you a soulful rendition of the national anthem

Tears, goose-bumps and patriotic sentiments define Noori’s Saya-e-Khuda-e-Zuljalal. BGBS covers all patriotic essentials; from 1947 to our national anthem. If this powerful music can’t unite us as a nation, nothing can.

8) It’s Noori!

Do you really need any other reason other than the fact that it’s NOORI!

You can show your love and support by streaming their latest album’s songs online on Patari.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2015.

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Ali Hamza, Ali Noor and Shiraz Uppal having fun at the album launch. PHOTOS: PUBLICITY
LAHORE: After a 10-year hiatus, Noori released the first single of their third album, Begum Gul Bakaoli Sarfarosh (BGBS), in June, making a commitment to revive the dormant music industry. They then moved between Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad to host exclusive album previews for fans, who invested into their music by getting Noori merchandise on the band’s website. The much-awaited BGBS was finally released at Fortress Square on Friday night amid live singing, excited fans and distribution of signed CDs.

Interestingly, there were even numbered ‘selfie tickets’ for each person who bought a CD. “You’re choosing to be a part of the music industry when you invest in a CD. The onus of breathing new life into the industry lies as much on the listener as it does on the artist,” said Ali Noor.

The intent behind the physical release of BGBS is to create a reference point for other musicians to continue creating music. “We don’t want to be affected by the fact that a corporate sponsor isn’t backing our content. We’re motivated to find ways of achieving results without sponsors,” said Ali Hamza.

Ali Ashraf, an Islamabad-based musician, who was present at the event, agreed. “Noori’s album launch has given the rest of us hope at a slow time for the music industry,” he said. “Another famous artist should release an album soon after this to keep the ball rolling.”

Ashraf himself has the content for his album ready but continues to seek sponsors as he feels the ground reality is slightly different. “It was relatively easier for Noori to release an album because they produced it in-house, which kept their costs low. Besides, had they approached sponsors, they would’ve been ready to hop on board because ‘Noori’ has a brand value. It’s not as easy for the rest of us.”

Khalid Bajwa, co-founder of Patari, who also graced the occasion, shared how the promotion of BGBS is part of a larger initiative that gives artists a chance to solely focus on the creative process. “We’ve planned out Noori’s entire marketing strategy and are developing a blueprint, where we can use this model for other artists. We want artists to only create music and we’ll take care of the rest.”

Friends and family got together to help the band burn their CDs

As for the album itself, Noori wanted it to be an aural experience, so other than amalgamating fan chants, they’ve included sound bites from radio and television archives to their record. The nine songs on the album comprise unreleased and leaked classics of the band, such as Mujhay Roko and 1947.

Kami Paul, who has tracked the drums on BGBS, has been playing with the band for two years and played a key part in evolving the band’s sound. “Kami’s groovy style of playing has allowed us to explore a new style of music and this album is more bouncy and danceable,” noted Hamza. Hassan Omer has co-produced the album and Shiraz Uppal, a close friend of the band, has mixed and mastered it. The album comes with a unique cover and 46-page booklet, depicting artwork and different themes of the content.

Designed by Hashim Ali, it also featured a page with pictures of some of the fans, who have sung on the album. It also comes with a letter, an excerpt of which reads, “It’s the age of digital downloads. We’re sure that CDs will soon become like cassettes: obsolete and archaic. However, for us, this booklet and CD are the only way you can hold our hearts physically in your hands.”

The album, copies of which the band painstakingly burned themselves, is worth Rs500 and will not be available in stores. Fans will only be able to purchase the CDs during the band’s three-day tour, starting from Lahore and ending in Islamabad, or stream it on Patari in Pakistan and on iTunes outside Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 11th, 2015.