Suno Ke Main Hun Jawan - Noori (2003)

Every once in a while or so, a band comes along that blurs the edges between pop, rock, and the other genres of music. The more noticeable examples in our part of the world currently will be that of Fuzon (the name says it all!), Junoon (rocking to Sufism!), Karavan (rock meets Assad Ahmed?). The timing is just about right for another group in this tradition to emerge. And the band that has become one of the most wanted live acts at the moment is no other than Noori. What's even more interesting is that the band had already performed several gigs and concerts even before they released their album (during the second week of February). Whether noori will rack up the hits those other groups have under their belts remains to be seen, but they are aiming for the same target with their debut album "Suno Ke Main Hun Jawan".

The young people making this band the most wanted lately are Ali Noor on vocals and lead guitars, Ali Hamza on rhythm guitars and vocals, M. Ali Jafri on bass and vocals and the "ace-drummer" John Louis 'Gumby' Pinto on drums, percussions and vocals. These guys have been performing together at gigs between Karachi and Lahore, all of which seems to have paid off by bringing them into sync with each other in their harmonies and their playing. But somehow as much after observing their work for over a year, one cannot help pointing out that Ali Noor has to work a little bit harder focusing on his surs! Not that he is unbearable but it has more to do with sounding a teeny bit out of tune while performing live for even a micro-second can result in ruining the feel of the entire song. Since day one, there have been numerous comparisons drawn between Noori and Junoon. Who's better? Who's not? Is Ali Noor more stud-ish or Ali Azmat? So much so that it's not even interesting anymore, but just downright irritating! But it seems that just like when Ali Azmat started out he was called a baisura (out of tune!) the same way Ali Noor is being taken. But as time passes things will hopefully change!

Musically, the album is impressive, with Mekaal Hasan doing an excellent job of bringing out the band's best traits. I wondered if Mekaal found the recording of this record different from the other albums that have been recorded at the Digital Fidelity Studios. "The mixing was different because Ali Noor already had his guitars and vocals tracked up. So I had to essentially adjust all the recordings they had done and make it sit with the drum tracks," says Mekaal.

The record is a compilation of 15 tracks with 12 songs and two bonus acoustic versions. The album also includes three video singles that are "Manwa Re", "Tum Hans Diyay", and "Jana Tha Hum Nay". Almost the entire record runs on pretty much the same lines lyrically. It's all about not giving up hope, listening to your heart, and other such cheer-up stuff. While it may sound a bit surreal in these times, a positive note is always welcome. At a time when Pakistan is experiencing a sudden burst in the music 'industry' it takes real talent to prove yourself. Good looks and DAT (Digital Audio Tape) is surely not helping out most of the people in earning them respect musically. The listeners finally have a choice and know the difference between good and bad. Therefore it seems that Noori is applying an already tried formula (Junoon's!) and targeting the jawaans of our country as their audience and it's surely working out well all over again!

The album kick-starts with the title song "Suno Ke Main Hun Jawan" that provides the contemptuous and cynical Pakistani youth in particular associating with their music as an introspective experience and expression of identity. The next song is "Dil Boley", which has a solid rock 'n' roll sound to it. Think The Wonders' hit song "That Thing You Do" and you'll get the picture because it's similar to it. "Tum Hans Diyay" is that same song with a lot of 'chicks' in it and has received a fair amount of appreciation for the video (amazingly fresh!) and the song too.

Next up is the only Punjabi song on the record. It is not 'Bhangra' or anything even close to what Abrar or Jawad might try their luck upon. "Dobara Phir Say" (acoustic version also available.) that also happens to be Ali Noor's favourite song is amazingly catchy and for those who don't understand Punjabi, it could be totally un-understandable too! But it's funny how one can get interested in other languages like Latin and Spanish and now even Punjabi through music. It was this song that suddenly made me realize that the sound quality of this record could have been a lot more astounding considering the fact that it was recorded at one of the best studios in Pakistan (Digital Fidelity Studio), with one of the finest musicians we've got. As told by Mekaal, "Both Noor and I worked 14 hours a day for two weeks to make the record sound the way it does... and next time we hopefully won't be under such stressful working schedules!"

I somehow feel that it surely would have been better if the band had more time to work on this album. I hope that the band and Mekaal would agree with me. Noor says, "Mekaal was our savior and if it would not have been for him, arranging these songs would have been an impossible task! We are surely indebted to him for having agreed to do this at the eleventh hour because he saved the day." But what one is really left wondering is that shouldn't everything be perfect when you are making your debut? And isn't a whole lot of risk involved in hastily wrapping up things? And isn't sound quality one of the most basic requirements?

However when you move onto songs like "Bol" you forget the few minuses that might be a part of any record because it has to be the best song, melody-wise, on this album. We have had so much of "Manwa Re" but this one certainly qualifies for a classic. Although it doesn't gel well with the rest of the songs it still emerges as one of the best songs ever produced by Noori. It will be added to the same category as "Yeh Shaam" by Vital Signs and even "Neend Ati Nahin" by Junoon.

One of the most eclectic, powerful and catchy songs of the album has to be "Jaa Re". And the credit goes to the energetic drumming by Gumby. In fact Gumby with his skilful drumming has comfortably made himself as an important part of the band, something which drummers are not usually taken as. We questioned Gumby how working with Noori was different from working with the rest of the bands. Gumby feels that, "It's definitely different than the rest of the bands. As it was only with Noori and Junoon that I played 'and' recorded with, while with other bands I was only playing. Noori treats me like a band member and I have a 100% input. Plus I am being projected equally as any of the other three members." He also feels that while he was with Junoon he wasn't recognized as much, "I feel that I spent three years with Junoon but was never treated like a band member, whereas now, my popularity graph has shot up like anything!"

However you dub it, the meticulous creation, selection, and placement of the sounds in this record give their individual qualities a completely different meaning when taken in as one harmonious entity. The few drawbacks are the minority that can easily be ignored. But one thing is for sure that Noori has arrived as is evident with their fan following which was growing even before their album hit the market. If they continue making their kind of music, one can safely predict that the next Junoon is indeed in the making.

Insiya Syed
The News International, Pakistan