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Rocking for a Cause – Concert Review

By Alia Ali and Asad Naqvi
The Friday Times
February 9th, 2007

On 20lh of January, the International Development Relief Foundation (1DRF) managed to bring a spot of warmth to Toronto’s wintry chill with their “Sing for South Asia” concert at the Harbour front centre. This project will help thousands of victims still suffering from the catastrophic earthquake that rocked South Asia in 2005.

The show was co-hosted by Yasir Khan from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and Reena Merchant, who was one of the organisers. “The idea for the event began as a conversation among colleagues,” we were told by Reena Merchant, “There was the earthquake, which hit close to home for many of us and left so many victims.”

Reena Merchant is a Canadian of Indian origin. A full-time software developer, she describes herself as “An artist at heart.” Model, painter, poet, dancer, musician - is there anything she doesn’t do? “I don’t see myself coming out with an album!” She laughs, “I am passionate about the arts.” Reena and Zameer approached IDRF with their brainchild and IDRF decided to support them. “IDRF has been working very closely with local partners in the earthquake area -from the beginning, providing tents, bedding, and food.” said Merchant.

The stars of the show were our very own rock sensation - Noori. A huge South Asian hit, they have performed all across Asia, drawing record crowds. Noori is credited with introducing message-music with a contemporary sound.

Being in Pakistan at the time - Noori were much closer to the earthquake than their Canadian audience. Guitarist Ali Hamza was very upset at the ineffectiveness of relief efforts at the time, “I visited Balakot after the earthquake. It was a very sad situation. Especially the way people were handling it. People were seeking their own photo opportunity. Not just the aid-givers but those receiving it were doing some really messed up stuff like selling aid materials in Mansehra.”

For Ali Hamza, the type of audience determines the band’s interaction with the crowd during live performances. A different rapport exists with educated people, which is different from a typical party crowd. “We try our best to communicate ideas but sometimes we have to take a different route.”

Noori’s second album Peeli patti aur raja jani ki gol dunya is a more serious and message-oriented album. “We are very lucky with our second album. We have developed an audience of a particular mind-set. There is a group of people; Noorifreax ( who are making documentaries, poetry, writing, creating - they have latched on to the Noori philosophy and want to do something.”

When Noori entered the music scene in Pakistan, the band and some of its contemporaries - Mekaal Hassan Band - brought in a new style of music, creating a new market. Many new bands are trying to tap into this market, but there is disinterest in the general market for ideas.

Ali Hamza said he would not mind working with the Indian cinema. “Some of the films are very good, like Dor by Najesh Kukunoor, Mr & Mrs Iyer by Aparna Sen, an apprentice of Satyajit Ray.”

He said that he is more to Indian cinema than Ali Noor. the other member of the band. Noor, he says, is a gora at heart.

The band’s popular song is Peeli Patti.
“I was into the cigarettes and tamhakoo wala paan. We friends used to bunk classes to go to the nearby paan shop. Ali Noor wrote the song when we were around 15 or 16 years old,” said Hamza.

Despite the stardom, they can still go out to eat and shop. “In Karachi people do get hyped up - they are more into appreciating.” Ironically, that is not the case in their home town: “Everybody is a star is Lahore,” Ali Noor laughs.

Noori is very focused on getting the sound and the performance right. In Pakistan, the equipment and sound engineering is below standard, so the band invests most of its earnings in equipment.

As brothers and band members, Ali Hamza and Ali Noor share common ideas, and together they generate a lot of creative energy.

However, they claim to be two ends of a spectrum; “Just like Yin and Yang, Ali Noor is more into western music while I am totally into eastern music,” says Hamza. The two also want to make their own music apart from Noori.

They also are open to the idea of new members. As Ali Hamza said, “Evolution is not always in one direction. Sometimes you have to undo and start again. My friends call Ali Noor a Tariq Bin Ziyad. He burns his boats. After our first album we received criticism that we were too commercial. We went back, as it was not the direction we wanted to take.”

The band have made their North American debut at a comparatively low key affair. The crowd was small, but it made up numbers with its spirit.
The fans needed no encouragement to sing along and desi raula came to Toronto’s staid ambience. To Noori’s trade mark question: Maza aa raha hai? The answer would be a resounding: Maza aa gaya!