A heart-to-heart with the band’s frontman Ali Noor
I love Noori. They’re young, they’re cool, they’re talented, and they didn’t need long curly tresses and red leather pants to win rollicking rockstar fame. No stunts, no scandals, no commercial gimmickry here – just pure, raw, throbbing sound, an incredible voice, and some damn good lyrics. That’s Noori for you – in one word, different.
“I don’t conform to stereotype,” declares the band’s front man Ali Noor. Tousled brown hair, rimless glasses, scruffy blue t-shirt and a day’s stubble, he sits casually on a swivel chair in his cozy living room. “I don’t agree with the system in this country,” he reiterates, “especially as far as the arts are concerned. The industry has stagnated; the people are stuck, stuck in the ruts of tradition and narrow-mindedness. They don’t understand that the very essence of art is versatility and imagination.”
Imagination Noori possesses in abundance. For perhaps the first time in Pakistani music history, there exists a band that is capable of singing about themes other than love, heartbreak, heartache, girlfriend, lover, love…for perhaps the first time in Pakistan, there exists a band that makes videos on camcorders with no supermodel or shampoo advertisement sashaying in the background…for perhaps the first time, since Junoon, we witness the birth of an indigenous rock group, not bhangra or classical or syrupy bubble-gum pop, but authentic rock, of the Def Leppard / Pearl Jam variety. This is not just meaningless digitalized disco fodder – this is music with a message.
“I don’t want to be just a musician or rock star – I want to be a teacher,” Ali Noor’s eyes flicker with passion. “I want to speak to my audience, to the society. All my songs carry a message – I want people to understand it, and act upon it. I don’t believe in art without a purpose.”
For the architect of yet an infant band, Noor sure seems to have some pretty fixed objectives. But Ali Noor is not by any means a novice in the field of music – he’s been in the business for nearly a decade now, his musical career stemming from an underground Lahori band called ‘Coven’, for which he was lead vocalist. Coven was the brainchild of Mohammad Ali Jafri, now bassist for Noori. Mainly producing hard, grungy, Nirvana-flavored rock, Coven released an English album in 1996, titled “Not in Your World”. The band broke up soon after.
Around this time the concept behind Noori began to take shape – it was Ali’s supreme moment of inspiration. Together with his younger brother Ali Hamza, he wrote and composed a prolific number of songs, in Urdu, including the very popular Mujhay Roko and Ooncha. At that time Ali Noor, with his hippie-beard and local Heera Mandi guitar, could never have dreamed that these simple, improvised, home-recorded jingles would just in a few years become anthems for young people all over the country.
“In fact, Mujhay Roko happened literally overnight,” he relates with some amusement. “I got up in the middle of the night with the tune playing in my head. I just grabbed my guitar and tabbed it that very minute. The words came by themselves.”
But for this confident, outspoken 25-year old with a practicing degree in law, the path to fame has indeed been rocky.
“I used to think that my talent alone could get me everywhere – but I know now that my love and my talent are no substitutes for hard work. I still remember a show we performed around four years ago. There were people yelling ‘Somebody please kill the vocalist!’”. He grins ruefully. “I learnt the hard way.”
Noori’s days of tribulation seem to be finally over. With the soulful Manwa Re an instant chart-topper, and the irresistible Tum Hans Diye, Jaana Tha and Gana #1 shooting to top 10 on nationwide countdowns, Ali Noor has corporate sponsors and recording labels groveling at his doorstep. The band flies to Karachi at least once every week for big-budgeted concerts and a multitude of TV appearances. Ironic, you might think, for someone who not long ago asserted, “We’re not into stuff like big gigs and TV shows, we’re not into becoming ‘celebrities’.”
With the skyrocketing success of their debut album and a fan base exploding from the elite mp3 downloading population to thousands all over the country and overseas, what are Noori’s plans for the future?
“More concerts, tours, shows, the second album…” – pretty much the standard rock band-binge – “But,” Noor suddenly adds, “This is not for me a desperation or ambition. I don’t want to be righteous; I just want to be a person who actually gives to life.”
And music is Ali Noor’s way of doing that?
“Music is my way…but there is not just one way,” he says after a philosophical pause. “In life, you can’t be a specialist. Life is neither music nor law nor religion; it encompasses every single thing that exists. And the human mind is capable of comprehending, of assimilating, of actually making use of these things, to give something of value to future generations. This is what we need to feel, this is what we all need to realize.”
The conversation is extremely riveting, but it’s been almost two hours and we’ve sat through two Coke servings. So we quickly wrap up, politely say thank you, and Ali sees us off at the gate. “I had a great time,” he says, “Not like the typical statistical interview!”
“We didn’t want it to be a typical interview,” I reply, “We purposefully didn’t ask you stuff like what’s your star sign, favorite color, favorite brand of toothpaste and so on, because you’re probably sick of getting asked those things.”
He laughs, and says, very pleasantly, but with that characteristic pinch of arrogance, “You’re lucky you didn’t – or else you wouldn’t have been sitting in there so long.”
I think he means to tell us we’ve been honored. That’s so Ali Noor – super-confident, supremely self-opinionated…
“And,” he adds with a meaningful wink, “Send me a copy of this interview when it’s done – just to make sure you were actually a reporter, and not just a resourceful groupie trying to find some way of meeting me.”
Did I mention super-psychic?