Noori has been off the radar for about a year but that didn’t stop them from doing what they do best: making a comeback with a new song. From lyrics to composition, Taaron Say Aagay has Noori stamped all over it, even though Ali Noor, the elder of the two brothers in the band, says that Noori fans should no longer confine them to one genre.
Indeed, Noori has much more to offer than the new single: they have also launched their own record label, BIY records, which is releasing Qayaas’ album soon. But their most exciting venture is a live album, recorded as the band performed at Islamabad’s Rock Musicarium on February 25 this year.
Noori has survived a decade in an industry which is ironically bursting at the seams with talent while simultaneously struggling to sustain itself. Between jam sessions and concerts, the band that won thousands of hearts when they released Suno Key Main Hoon Jawan in 2003, caught up with the Herald to discuss their music.
Q. Until 2006, Noori was all the rage and in 2009 you guys made a ‘comeback’ with Coke Studio. What happened in between?
Ali Noor. Well, at the end of 2008, we released two singles. But for about two years before that we didn’t create much music. In March 2006, Noori parted ways with Gumby and then at the end of 2006, Ali Hamza ran away from home two days before we were supposed to go on tour to Canada. And he ran away in such a way that we thought he was dead … I mean who runs away just before a tour?
Ali Hamza. Everything except for music was happening. It was the ‘dark ages’ for Noori.
Q. Most bands that got together at the same time as Noori have fallen apart. Has Noori survived because you believe in comebacks and new beginnings?
AH. I think that is what will define us when we die. We really like starting afresh. Maybe that’s why we have moved 11 houses in five years and 22 houses in 25 years.
AN. To tell you very frankly, the ‘comeback’ for me is necessary. Let’s put it this way, my favourite activity is reformatting computers. A new beginning is always fresh. Having said that, I feel this time round it will be different as the three of us are developing musical chemistry.
Q. How were you able to achieve this chemistry?
Gumby. Initially, Ali Hamza was writing, composing and singing. Now Ali Noor is writing the songs and we have divided our responsibilities evenly; more importantly, we now have a policy of not fixing something which is not broken. Last time around we would keep trying to fix our music compositions even when all of us didn’t agree that there was a need to change them.
AN. Initially, Gumby would just play the drums and go to sleep; now he acts like part of the band.
AH. Look, when you start doing creative work, there is a journey you take. With time you start realising your responsibilities and whether there is room for improvement. You recognise that it is the music which is important and that is the common aesthetic we share this time. If it’s about music then the band will have chemistry. This time around we are all a lot more devoted. Previously, if we disagreed about something, we would have a cold war. This time, we fight straight out and resolve the issue immediately. Before, we had a value-based chemistry between us but we were not in sync with who was putting in how much effort to help the band grow.
Q. What helped you realise the importance of teamwork?
AH. It was Gumby. We realised it instantly when we saw him put together his production team [Uth records].
G. I saw teamwork at Coke Studio. Rohail [Hyatt] was running the show but he would let everyone do their job. He never imposed any kind of power on anyone except when there was chaos. And that worked so well. Starting from the technical guy and ending at the singer, it was like a smoothly functioning engine.
AN. This time, I’m learning how to be part of a team as opposed to just being a leader. I am now realising that I really enjoy being part of a team. Being the leader was never an ego issue — I just thought it was necessary for someone to lead us at that time. Now I can feel sparks of teamwork developing.
Q. You were all part of Coke Studio at one point or another. How did that help your music?
AN. Personally, Coke Studio helped us gain experience as musicians, as artists and as people.
G. When Rohail first spoke to me about the project, my reaction was very negative. I said, “That’s so clichéd. Fusion has been happening since the 1970s and people have been kicking a** at it. What will make this any different?” But by the time the second season came it was a huge success. I mean, how many people from the younger generation had appreciated Arif Lohar before Coke Studio? He released Jugni a while before Coke Studio and people laughed at him and he knows that. Post-Coke Studio, the same people are offering him thousands of dollars for shows.
AH. Very simply put, it was like the match that lit a huge fire of creativity across the country.
Q. Noori released Peeli Patti aur Raja Jani in 2005. You have made music since then, but you haven’t released an album. Why is that?
AN. For the last year we have been recording lots of songs and we have about 10 to 12 songs, but we are not sure if these can take the shape of an album. The public needs to reconsider the whole concept of an album. There is just so much pressure — putting together an album is like putting together a book about your life.
G. It also has a lot to do with circumstances. Right now inPakistanthere is no distribution network or proper record label that can help us launch an album. All the factories that used to manufacture CDs are either struggling or have shut down completely. The industry is dying. A lot of people who were earlier pursuing distribution have now stopped because people just download songs.
Q. Does this mean that hoping and waiting for Noori’s third album is futile?
G. Well, we have material for the album; it’s just that some detour always prevents us. We don’t get the time to focus on the album.
AH. All these songs are singles in their own right; we didn’t put any fillers in them. Plus they are so disconnected and diverse — to put them together is wrong. I wouldn’t even be able to decide which one of the songs I like the most. They would compete with each other. It’s like giving a child six toys at the same time, he won’t know which one to play with first.
Q. So when do you think you can release it?
AN. Gumby has this amazing date for everything:13th of never. You know what else is also scary? Musicians release albums, and sometimes they just slip through the cracks. If the album is not valid for that time period, it won’t work.
Q. What is the difference between problems that existed when you entered the industry and the issues encountered by musicians today?
G. A decade ago, the government messed it up for everybody. Now, the musicians have messed it up for themselves. The quality of music was much better earlier, which is what encouraged me to be a musician. There were places where musicians could showcase their talent. Everything was not about sponsorship or brand ambassadorship. Artists like Mehdi Hasan and Abida Parveen used to sing whether there was a sponsor or not. Now there is so much pettiness; we don’t realise that it’s a very small industry and we need to help it grow. The problem now for the youth is that they have nowhere to play and there is no one to help them play. They don’t know what to focus on. For example, I recently met a kid who is bursting with talent, but he is obsessed with how he is going to make money. For the first 10 years of my life I didn’t even care how much a gig was paying me. I just wanted to show off my skill.
AN. You can’t run after money in this industry; it’s fundamentally illogical. If you want to pursue money, become a businessman.
An interview with Gumby about the second season of Uth Records: