noori just wants to rock. That’s all.
But they do it in Lahore, Pakistan. They hail from diverse backgrounds, but all feel how music can transform society faster than any political movement. And they sing the intensity of the individual’s inner world to young people caught in the cultural crossfire, a message aimed to get people thinking regardless of their language, culture, country of origin.
“For me to say I’m Pakistani is irrelevant when it comes to our music. I play rock,” guitarist, singer, and Ali Noor says. “We keep screaming that it’s a universal language, and we keep pushing hard to connect with people.” “We’re entering an era when those barriers are being broken naturally,” adds Ali Hamza. “We can’t wait to break down some barriers in the States and connect more with Americans.”
Two incandescent, guitar-wielding brothers, Ali Hamza and songwriter Ali Noor, found kindred spirits in longtime collaborator and highly sought-after figure on the Pakistani music scene, the powerhouse drummer and producer Louis “Gumby” Pinto. They cut the first wildly popular Urdu-language rock album in Pakistan, sparking a revolution in mainstream Pakistani music and raising the intellectual bar on the pop scene.
noori became pop darlings in Pakistan, touring relentlessly (though never in the U.S.), grappling with celebrity, writing avidly. The dynamic band is poised to make an impact, even on rock-hardened American audiences and foster powerful person-to-person diplomacy. And they’ve come full circle, back from groundbreaking Urdu songs to the linguistic freedom and play of English lyrics. America will prove the testing ground for noori’s new material, a place to discover how universal their version of rock and roll can be.
The close-knit power quartet will rock the States for the first time in June and July 2012 as part of Center StageSM (www.centerstageUS.org).
An initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Center Stage brings compelling contemporary artists from Haiti, Indonesia, and Pakistan to the United States to engage the American people in cultural diplomacy as a way to create opportunities for greater understanding. Administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts, with funding from the Asian Cultural Council, the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, and the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, this public-private partnership is the largest public diplomacy effort to bring foreign artists to American stages in recent history.
noori come by their rebellious, pioneering vibe and their musical devotion honestly.
The Alis’ maternal grandfather, a well-respected lawyer, went to jail for his work with progressive social movements and invented a new instrument for the North Indian classical repertoire for their mother to play. Ali Noor and Ali Hamza grew up knowing music was serious business, even as they jammed to prog metal.
Pinto’s Christian roots meant that the gifted young man was encouraged in his musical pursuits from a very early age and quickly rocked his way up to professional respect as hard-hitting drummer and producer—while fighting the prejudices that confront minorities.
Ali Noor was part of Pakistan’s rebellious music underground and sang with cult English-language rock group Coven., Eventually, Noor and close friend and Coven bandmate Muhammad Jafri wanted to move their music out of the margins and find ways to appeal to the mainstream. They decided to open Pakistan’s first digital studio. “We realized as producers, we needed to listen to all sorts of music. But rock music,” says Jafri, “helped us find the space to experiment with as many genres as we could, even while we remained focused on a certain sound—something we could pull off live.”
The group, which soon included Pinto and Hamza, practiced relentlessly, spending 15 hours a day for months playing their songs until they got that sound. And until they honed their lyrical ideas in songs that reflected the state of mind of their generation. “I realized that, in terms of the impact of the message on my peers, I could be more effective through music than any other way. I could join politics, but that didn’t seem fruitful,” muses Ali Noor.
They avoided cheesy love songs and formulaic ditties, unleashing straight-up, high-intensity rock peppered with social messages and thoughtful Sub continental elements (like the percussion on their big hit, “Manwa Re”). “We started out writing in Urdu, writing about society and the problems we saw around us. The challenges for young people in particular,” relates Ali Hamza. “But on our journey, as we matured, we realized that you can express the same idea in 10 different ways. You don’t have to be direct. It’s more meaningful and often a lot more fun when it’s abstract.”
The band evolved from pushing the envelope of Urdu lyrics with grungy grit, to more reflective snapshots of people’s inner worlds, a move with its own radical implications. They encouraged individual understanding, and greater sensitivity to people’s social environment and relationships, without chanting slogans or policy statements. “We don’t go about it directly, but a lot of our lyrical content is about how something got distorted for us,” Pinto reflects. “There was a turning point when people began to get very rigid in their views. All of us felt it growing up. But we don’t want the easy way out; we want people to think.”
“Whether we have an audience of a hundred or of thousands, for that hour, I just want them to be into what we’re doing,” Ali Noor exclaims. “When I’m on stage, I’m looking at everyone’s face, making sure we’re connecting. It doesn’t have to have a certain sound, it just has to be strong enough to grab and hold people’s attention. That’s when you know it works.”
Center StageSM will bring 10 ensembles from Haiti, Indonesia and Pakistan to the U.S. for month-long tours from June-December 2012, connecting artists with diverse communities across the country. Residencies will include performances, workshops, discussions, people-to-people exchanges, and community gatherings. Keep up with Center Stage by liking the program on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/CenterStagePage) and following us on Twitter (@centerstageus).
Center StageSM is a public diplomacy initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It is administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations, and with additional support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the Asian Cultural Council, and the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. General management for Center StageSM is provided by Lisa Booth Management.