The enlightened Noori?

Courtesy Instep Today, The News published on September 16th, 2009

They struck magic at Coke Studio and now Noori have released a naat. Recited by Ali Hamza, it is a new path for the evolving band. Instep Today takes a look at the new dynamics of Noori…

Abid Hussain

With the month of Ramazan in full swing, most of the media industry usually takes a break while recharging their batteries and preparing for the packed Eid schedule.

However, a surprise was in store for the unsuspecting. With constant tweeting (on Twitter) by brothers Ali Noor and Ali Hamza over the course of last two weeks, the first hint came when Hamza updated his status to “Recorded a naat that Nano taught me. Extremely rusty. Recorded at Raza’s studio. A new learning experience altogether”, back in late August.

Though this update itself did not create the kind of buzz and anticipation one expects with Noori, the band launched the video of a naat ‘Madinay Main’ recited by Ali Hamza, on the Noori website along with host of other social media networks this week, ensuring that even casual fans would sit up and take note.

Boy becomes man

The year 2009 has been nothing but remarkable for Ali Hamza. For too long, he was under the shadow of his more illustrious brother. However, he truly made his mark for the work he did on the Coke Studio earlier this year and his cult like status since LUMS days - for singing some famously catchy yet controversial songs - has blossomed fully to establish himself as a true star in his own right.

For somebody who had begun his musical journey by reciting naat, nauha and marsiya from a young age, this particular performance was a throwback to the bygone era. From a rock star image to the drastic makeover, the video shows Hamza in a completely different light. With the most serene, fascinatingly beautiful verses recited in his trademark baritone, the audience is completely captivated with the power of a hymn delivered with passion. From walking through the streets of old Lahore to praying at the Badshahi Mosque, the video only helps in accentuating the spiritual experience.

Western influence?

For mainstream musical acts to dabble in the spiritual, faith based performance there has been a precedent in the western contemporary music. Johnny Cash was the biggest name who sang some of the most memorable gospels in his glitteringly long career, ‘The Wanderer’ being one. U2, arguably world’s most popular rock act, has often written songs questioning faith such as ‘40’ and ‘Tomorrow’ among others. In recent years, ‘Hallelujah’ by the incomparable, late Jeff Buckley remains one of the most popular hymns of all time.

However, what must also be noted here is that many of these faith based songs weren’t overly sentimental, but they often posed questions and narrated symbolic, spiritual allegories which bordered on controversy, such as Elvis Presley’s ‘He Touched Me’.

The advent of Sufi rock and Islamisation

Keeping in mind the recent history of Pakistani music when there has been a clear influence of Islamisation among artists, particularly Junaid Jamshed and Najam Sheraz, the question arises what was the idea behind this particular performance?

The band itself gives no answer. The announcement on Noori website focuses more on the technology used to record the video, claiming this to be part of a series of experimentation with latest DSLR and handheld cameras, without elaborating much about the naat itself except saying ‘This is our Ramazan gift for you’.

In Pakistan, mainstream musicians have primarily stayed away from performing any overtly religious numbers like their western counterparts. Junoon broke out with their brand of Sufi Rock which catapulted them to unprecedented success, the closest any Pakistani mainstream band went to spiritual side.

However, performing such a recitation can come with a lot of stereotyping. One may expect critics terming this video as a ploy to exploit religious sentiments by releasing it in the month of Ramazan. Because religion is such a divisive topic, collaboration of mainstream musicians is bound to have its fair share of criticism, accusation of hypocrisy or questions whether the band is taking the JJ/Najam route.

Where does Noori go from here?

All of these doubts and accusations can only be dispelled by the band itself. Although it must be emphasised that this was only a solo performance by Ali Hamza in collaboration with Sanjan Nagar Institute of Philosophy and Arts, the association with Noori will automatically lead to queries if this is a path the band wants to traverse?

Ali Noor was quoted as saying that performing with Saeein Zahoor on ‘Aik Alif’ “opened a new world of spiritual, mystic music” to him which he certainly wanted to explore.

For Noori to get involved in something as drastic can only be a good thing. Instead of confining themselves to a core genre of music they enjoy, branching out into an alternative path as this shows their adventurous side. If they dare take the risk without actually falling prey to the stereotyping, which happens when music and religion is combined, it can definitely raise their profile in a largely religious nation.

The fact that both brothers are prolific song writers and phenomenal composers, one can also hope that they will bring a fresh approach to song writing in this genre. Instead of penning the usual dose of flowery verses and cliché infused religious imagery, the band can come up with profound, probing, soulful lyrics.

Noori has the opportunity, and the quality, to dare venture into unchartered territory. Their efforts can be quite pertinent for the youth of this country who remain confused about religion. Who says music and religion are mutually exclusive?

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