Ali Hamza - The 'Desi' Rockstar
What is your earliest memory of creating music, way back to childhood, or teens? Looking back at pre- Noori days, what made you realise that you want to do this for a living, for the rest of your life?
My earliest memory goes back to when my brother Ali Noor and I sat down to make a bunch of songs – I must have been 13, Ali was 15-years old. He had his O-levels exam coming up soon and our father had instructed strictly to not use the computer and focus on his exams. That’s when Ali Noor and I found time, pulled out a dictionary, and made melodies, wrote lyrics while going through it. What made me realise I want to do this for all my life? Well, I had not come to that realisation until I actually started doing this professionally. I wanted to be a mathematician actually. So this realisation to pursue it professionally is still a little recent, as before that I was still struggling with the idea.
Noori is one of the oldest bands of its time, which taps into the nostalgia for many 90’s kids. According to you, what sets it apart from other bands of its time and now?
Noori came at a time when a certain kind of music was picking up. The band culture was still there but it brought out a distinctive band sound which was a very rock-oriented, very western influenced rock. In the 2000s Noori was definitely on the forefront of that. Then there were also bands like Call, EP, which again made for the big band
culture. What set Noori apart from everyone else was, a) the musicality and b) the lyrics which resounded like a musical rebellion. Our first song as a band was kind of a pop-rock album and it catered to the young listeners with a positive message, which really set Noori apart from the rest.
I like to say that I am the father of Noori while Ali Noor is the mother of the band. Ali Noor was constantly working on improving the band’s music. He was the guy who wanted to be a rockstar but wished to perform more of English songs since that was his main influence. But I was always a desi person. Ali Noor was in this band called co-Ven and I clearly remember helping in figuring out the musical cords of a song. In doing so we created Do Dil which actually triggered Ali Noor and made him realise that in a country like Pakistan, creating Urdu songs has more potential and fanbase. I would say Ali Noor really made the band into what it is today, while I kept swaying seats every now and then. I was there to conceptualize, pool ideas, create lyrics, and to trigger Ali Noor’s processes for making music.
From the classic-hit album ‘Suno Ke Main Hun Jawan, Manwa Re, to ‘Peeli Patti Aur Raja Jani Ki Gol Dunya’ and the Coke Studio, how have you transformed or seasoned as a musician of your league?
Yes, come to think of it, it has been a long journey. I confess to have learned how to do music on the job. But Ali Noor, Muhammad Ali and Gumby were seasoned musicians who had been working on their musical skills for 10 years. I did have the second-hand experience, to play instruments but performing live. I learned it all while I was on stage. I was not a very good guitarist and the whole band used to struggle with me playing (laughs). But then slowly I did get better at it by the time we released Peeli Patti and beyond. But the bigger breakthrough as far as my journey is concerned came with Coke Studio and with bringing songs like Aik Alif into the mix with folk-oriented music, very desi style of music which was really up my core. It has been a long journey! From being a musician to a producer, it was a very intense phase of my life. But I continue to evolve or try to at least. True fulfillment for me lies in putting out a good song.
A song, performance or album which you will call your ‘claim to fame’?
I think there are songs, not just one song in this regard. I am essentially a song-writer and a performer, the real fulfilment for me happens when I perform and write songs. And it’s the song writing that people recognize me for.
You and Zohaib Kazi were roped in as producers for Coke Studio season 11. Looking back, what were some obstacles, backlashes faced, and glorifying moments of the role?
Coke Studio Season 11 was a rollercoaster ride! Sometimes it really haunts me still [laughs]. There were a lot of obstacles. But at the end of the day, we try to bring out the best creativity but there are a lot of elements that come into play, for example, the client, the artists, and their likes and dislikes. It was an amazing learning experience. I am really proud of this season to start with. It was an experimental, very diverse, and contemporary season. Hats off to Zohaib Kazi who helped make it happen.
Looking back at some of Coke Studio fusions, performances and artist-line-ups in particular, is there anything that you would do differently?
Well no. I would not like to do anything differently simply because jo hogaya, so hogaya. Coke Studio is a platform, whereas far as Ali Noor and I are concerned, we have mostly put out our original songs for it. Essentially it was a song-making process for us. It also came down to how we performed those songs because each time we turned them around with experimentation and exploration. Because, a) we get bored as musicians performing the same song, and b) once we get really comfortable with the song it naturally happens to do something different with it.
You are also onboard for a play with Mehreen Jabbar’s project. That sounds exciting, please do share details.
Yes, it is a project called Merey Dost Merey Yaar with its second season. It has got an amazing young cast of Asim Azhar, Hania, Asad Siddique, Hamza Tariq and Osama, and so on. I used to act back at college, did quite a bit of it and was actually very serious about it. But I hadn’t acted in 20 years! But this project was something new to explore which I had not explored in a very long time. It is a limited role but an important one where I am a professor in a college and these students are exploring music, struggling with their lives. I come into processes and enable them to do better.
What are your favourite Pakistani bands and musicians?
There are a few and I’d move between generations. One musician that I am really impressed with is Sohail Rana Sahab. He is living in Canada now but thanks to Coke Studio I got to connect with him for Ko Ko Korina to get the song’s right. He is a brilliant musician who has done such a diverse library of music. He was an experimenter, an explorer, and a man of great ideas still is. On the folk side, I admire Hamid Ali Bela who had a huge influence on my own musicality. From the younger generation, Abdullah Siddique’s talent really moved me, he truly is so amazing. But more than anyone else, my biggest musical influence has been my own mother who plays classical instruments her father created.
Any young musician/band you see great potential in?
There is not just one musician, there is potential everywhere these days. And the sort of tools these young guys had, we didn’t have access to and they are using it better than we ever will. I am really looking forward to this new generation to just phatofy [explode]. I just hope that there aren’t any more disturbances in Pakistan which may hinder their journeys ahead since this has happened before.
What is THE DREAM, Hamza?
I don’t know. There was a time when I was a big dreamer and had lots and lots of dreams, I still do have them. Life has taught me or continues to teach me to dream those dreams which can be turned into reality. These days it is not just about dreaming but dreaming realistically. Yes, I had dreams which I was fortunate to see reach fulfilment, and every day I am overwhelmed by the love of fans that surround me, which is itself a dream.
Photography : Yasser Sadiq
Wardrobe : Humayun Alamgir
Hair and Make Up : Sajid's Salon