Every once in a while, there comes a song that takes your breath away. There have been numerous examples where one single that came out and shook the world and created an image which is bound to last forever. Thriller in `82 , With or without you in `87, Smells Like Teen Spirit in `91 , Wonderwall in `95 are some examples.
Having said that, our Pakistani pop music too have had its share of instant classics which are never to be forgotten and certain to last generations. Dil Dil Pakistan was the original biggie, followed by Aietbaar, Neend Ati Nahin, Purani Jeans, Duur, Manwa Re, Sar Kiye Yeh Pahar and so many others.
Keeping up with that same tradition, June 14th 2009 saw the latest and arguably among the greatest piece of music from Pakistan see light of the day. Rohail Hyatt, the maestro, yet again delivered what he started off last year with the brilliant Coke Studio, by combining the unique abilities of two most diverse practitioners of music and giving birth to something which is completely, truly, and absolutely MESMERISING.
‘Aik Alif’, the famous kaafi by Bulleh Shah was performed by creating a fusion between contemporary guitar driven sound, vintage banjo, the mystical sufi instrument Ek Tara, and an assorted collection of unique instruments that provided the serene, sublime quality to the music and sung by the enigmatic Sufi virtuouso, Saaein Zahoor and my FAVOURITE Pakistani band, Noori.
I have been exceedingly vocal about my partiality towards the noori brothers and their music. I have been religious following them since `99 and God knows how i miss the original line up and wish them to come back.
But here i want to set the record straight about my love for this singular performance.
I was fortunate enough to be invited by Ali Hamza, and ended up attending the recording session for noori in March earlier this year at Coke Studio. I honestly feel privileged in the hindsight, that i was witness to the live performance of one of the greatest single music performance with some of the most fantastic musicians in Pakistan.
I saw Aik Alif happening right in front of me, and believe me when i say; it was truly an out of world experience. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime moment when everybody in the room KNEW it that very instant they witnessed something ground breaking.
Although it took a while for the house band, and the main performers to gel together and decide on the arrangement and timings. Repeatedly starts faltered and retakes were done. But once the timing was sorted, and Rohail gave thumbs up for the first full take – the gang just elevated themselves to an entirely another planet. In one fluid motion, the entire place was swept over by the haunting chants of Allah Sayyan, the crashing cymbals, the violins, the rhythm, and ofcourse, Hamza’s banjo.
Believe me when i say, it was nothing short of divine. That single take, that 10 minute long performance, it was straight from heart. You can even see it in the video. By the end of the song, from 5:11 onwards, the smile on the faces of Noor, Gumby, Hamza … and the joyful final chant by Saeein, you could just feel the sensation, the hair raising tingle, that welling up of emotions, you could just feel that it was nothing but divine wizardry from men who were on absolute peak of their powers, who knew exactly that they attained the zenith of perfection in this single performance.
Saeein Zahoor has always been living under the shadow of some very famous sufi music practitioners in Pakistan but thanks to Rohail Hyatt, he has been brought forth in the mainstream media where more and more people are becoming aware of the unbelievable powers of the 72 year old grandmaster who has complete command and ability to maximise his abilities. He literally makes his Ektara weep and sing, his dervish like whirling, his black turban and those deep, intense intimidating eyes, they completely captivate the audience and once he starts singing – that magical voice with power like no other – completely mesmerizes those listening him. I repeat, he was the one who laid the foundation for a great performance with his brilliant opening part where he sang the kaafi, which enabled noori brothers to carry on the good work and take the song to next, an unprecedentedly high level.
Nobody doubted Saeein’s capability, however, when the second part of the song began with Hamza showing his nimble skills on a Banjo, the spotlight was well and truly on Ali Noor, the man with most to prove. Noor have always been accused of being the second best vocalist in his band, and he had the enviable task of ensuring he stands up to the scrutiny by critics, stands up to his own sky high expectations, stands up to Rohail Hyatt’s expectations – and by God, stand up he did.
With that superb performance, where he had to unleash all his vocal might and touch the highest octave and not let his voice break, Noor accomplished perhaps the most difficult task he was given, with flying colors. I`d like to slap them silly if anybody ever, ever dare questions Noor’s capability as a vocalist after his incredible performance on an incredibly difficult part of the song.
And now we come to ‘The Professor’, Ali Hamza – who had the ultimate job to give this song as rousing climax as possible, to deliver the most perfect ending, and Lord, Hamza delivered like he never did before. The Haq, the Taqat, Nayya, Manjhdar … it all just seamlessly melted together, with Hamza’s intense, deeply rich, throaty voice, which provided the perfect closing to this magic called ‘Aik Alif’.
There was this stunned silence in the hall. People had this bewildered look on their faces, knowing full well this was not an ordinary performance, and once it dawned upon them, the magnitude of it all, there was nothing but a standing ovation, which lasted for a good while, for the performers.
Since the first season of Coke Studio, I have been harping about Sar Kiye Yeh Pahar and how it is the single best Paki Pop Song, as well as the best song done on Coke Studio, despite some brilliant performances by Ali Azmat, Ali Zafar and others. ‘Aik Alif’, however, has simply destroyed the competition and set the bar way too high. It didnt matter one bit that Javed Bashir, Zeb and Haniya, Shafqat, Atif, they all performed some beautiful tracks but this one was simply far beyond anything ever done on Coke Studio.
I have nothing, but absolute respect for Rohail Hyatt, for words can’t do even remotest justice to what he has done, or what he is doing with this project. And i won’t even bother with confining the musical genius of the man in mere words – rather would suffice with a bow and another round of applause for bringing together the best of Pakistan Music, and giving them entirely different direction to explore and work some wonder for us deprived souls.