Up close and Personal: An Interview of Ali Hamza

By Kainat Kamal and Naima Zahin

Noori – A name we are all familiar with. And for those of you who don’t know (we’re guessing no one!) Noori is a rock band from Pakistan, formed by brothers, Ali Noor and Ali Hamza. One of the pioneer Rock Bands of Pakistan, the band has come a long way.

From “Manwa Re” to ” Paar Channa De”, there isn’t a single song we don’t like! #truenoorifans

Interview of Ali Hamza

We were honoured to speak with Ali Hamza and here’s what he had to tell us:

The Blush Works: Tell us about yourself and about Noori, how did it all start.

Ali Hamza: Oh God! That’s a small question with a very long answer. Ali Noor and myself are brothers, and we were born into a musical family so music was always kind of genetically imbibed In our system. Since I was in my mother’s tummy I’ve been listening to music. My mother plays a musical instrument, which my grandfather actually developed, it’s a classical musical instrument, so the nature of music we were exposed to at a very young age was very serious. Somewhere around the late 80’s this cousin of ours comes from Riyadh and he shares some music with us which is hard core heavy metal rock kind of music and suddenly Ali Noor starts dreaming that he wants to become a rock star because he sees a bunch of videos, at that time there were no dishes or cable TV’s, we had VCRs but getting music videos was like, somebody had to come from abroad record those videos on tape and the bring them so we were able to see them because there was no such thing as Music Channels. There was on PTV, so watching all these rockers at the age of 8 was an inspiration for Ali Noor to become a rock start, the videos he watched were Def Leopard “Pour some Sugar on me” and I think that was the day he decided he wanted to become a rock star.

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I don’t come into the picture until very late, these days my statement is that I’m the father of Noori and Ali Noor is the mother of Noori because Ali Noor wanted to do English Music, he was more of an English guy and he was in a ban called Coven which is still there but in the early 90’s there was a massive rave in Lahore in which this band (Coven) was playing original rock songs, they weren’t playing covers, they were the first Pakistani band to release an English album. So in all of that I was just trying to figure out song by the band on Ali Noor’s guitar because he had the instruments and everything, I didn’t even know If I wanted to be a musician. I was never actively involved in doing music, I was trying to figure out this song by Coven, it was called Samson and Dalilah which was a love song and I ended up making another song just by listening to that, my song was an Urdu song it was called Do Dil, we released it back in 2008. Me making that song, my brother realised that there’s no room for English music in Pakistan, so we might as well pursue making Urdu music. Thus the idea of Noori was born. That was in the mid 90’s, from then onwards Ali Noor was constantly sitting in his studio working on creating new songs. I would come in every now and then but was never serious about it. In my brother’s head I was supposed to be the lead singer of Noori and he was supposed to be the lead guitarist, but I wasn’t sure about it. I didn’t even know if I wanted to do music, not at least until two years ago. So for a good 10 years I didn’t know if I wanted to do this. I was talented, making melodies came naturally to me, but I never went on to explore it as such. I would go in and out of the studio every now and then but Ali Noor was more active, he was even working professionally on a few commercials, scoring for dramas, TV plays. At that time I was studying, in 2002 they released the video of Manwa Re, which was all Ali Noor but the idea was still to launch Noori. We made a good 40 to 50 songs before our album was released, after 7 years of ground work. A lot of hard work! In 2002 Noori was set to release an album and it was almost done, we had Gumby come on board with Ali Noor and Muhammad Ali Jafri and this other guy KV, who was supposed to be one of the guitarist but before Noori was due to perform its first live gig, he called and told Ali Noor that he’s found a job and won’t be able to join the band. That’s when Gumby proposed that Ali Hamza has been a part of this journey why don’t you bring him as part of the band. And I just very casual about it, I said let’s do it! That’s how Noori started for me, it’s been a journey ever since.

TBW: Coke Studio is going places, the world is talking about it, what do you have to say about it and the social media bashing of the fusions, is it justified?

Ali Hamza: Coke Studio is in its tenth year now, and it has gone through a whole journey. It definitely brought Pakistani music to the global front, before that there wasn’t anything consistent coming out of our industry. Coke studio has changed that. Everybody is loving it. Kudos to Rohail Hayat for making it such a successful show. It’s a great platform in the sense that it gives opportunities for musicians who are doing their own thing to come together with other people and collaborate and make music also get to explore your own music and culture. The requirement of Coke Studio is that you have to represent some kind of a Pakistani sound, and Pakistani sound is really incomplete if we don’t look into the ethnic folk music of Pakistan. People call it Sufi music but it is essentially folk tradition which has Sufi elements in it for sure. The treasures that Pakistan had in terms of talent and the rich musical tradition and melodies, tunes and lyrical content that reached out to the whole world. And it’s a modern sound also because of the fusions, guitars, drums, bass and all that. It was a sound that was more palatable to the whole world, and the world sort of recognised Pakistan as a place of rich musical tradition. On that not Coke studio has been great!

The sad part is that today Coke Studio stands as the only platform which is working for Pakistani music. I don’t blame Coke Studio for it, I blame the musicians for not being able to put out new content and basically wait the whole year for Coke Studio to approach them for another season. The so called music industry of Pakistan is kind of a limbo, we don’t know whether it’s an industry or not. There was a time when a lot of music albums would come out, new content used to come out, there’s been a lot of lethargy from the artists to put out new material out there. I guess we just wait for someone to give us something to work on that’s when we start working on something new. Music is all about expressing yourself, sharing your feelings and ideas. We hope that more opportunities come up for the musicians to explore and the musicians bring about a change within themselves and push themselves to consistently pursue music.

As far as the fusion part is concerned, I think yes it has been 10 years and Coke Studio is reaching its peek with the kind of sound it offers, so definitely I think they also need to improvise and create new sounds. Obviously when something has been happening for this long, like when a creative project starts, in the early phases of it, there’s more creativity in it because you’re still trying to figure it out and experimenting. After 9 years it has become more streamlined, the diversity of the music that used to come within Coke Studio, it has kind of gone down. This year has been better as they have brought in a variety of directors. It’s much less about the notes and frequencies and much more about the person who is expressing the music and the people who come together for the music. The human element really adds magic into the music, melodies, sound, rhythms they’re all tools for creating the expression. I think that way adding more directors into the whole thing, we’re seeing an upgraded version of Coke Studio. We were the last people to record the Coke Studio sessions, so I remember getting a sneak preview of all the songs that we listened to this season. The moment I started listening to these 18 or 19 songs, I knew it was going to be a season that will stand out, and so far, it has. I respect people’s opinions on social media but at the same time people like blowing things out of proportion. I don’t think people should be that critical of it, I can’t tell people to think or feel a certain way, I do agree that filling up the song with lots of instruments doesn’t work for everyone. That should change and there must be a variety of instruments in all songs. You can be minimalistic and create a good sound as well.

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TBW: Tell us about your projects across the border, in India.

Ali Hamza: We have already worked with a lot of artists from India. We have made a couple of songs with artists there. We made a song with Anaida which was called Naya Jahan. The latest collaboration with Hari and Sukhmani, it’s called Yaarian, we did it last year and in Coke Studio we collaborated with Shilpa. So we’ve been working on bringing both countries together through music for a while. Our manager is also from India. Music has no borders or boundaries.

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TBW: What’s been your favourite project?

Ali Hamza: I would say this year’s coke studio. We had an amazing time. The friendships we have made along the way, I absolutely cherish them. Bilal and Faisal have been great, the band, basically everyone.

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TBW: Who or What inspires you?

Ali Hamza: I don’t know honestly! (laughs) I really don’t know! All this time I have been giving stupid answers, but I really don’t know.

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TBW:Your favourite musician growing up?

Ali Hamza: Pathan-e-Khan.

TBW: Advice for young musicians who are just starting out.

Ali Hamza: For people who want to be part of this industry my only advice would be to be consistent and hardworking and also explore different dimensions of yourself as a musician. If you’re passionate about it, don’t be afraid to experiment. If things are not working out the way you want them to, don’t lose hope. We’re living in a very different time now, the way people got their breaks back in the day, those models are not working anymore. At the same time, it’s a much bigger audience you can share your art with, social media has been a blessing in disguise and it has made it much more easier for musicians to reach out to people. Use these tools to express yourselves.

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