Some ten years ago, when napster was the rage and having 540mb hdd meant you`re a uber-techie … I saw noori’s manwa re on tv and found myself hooked. This was soon followed by their appearance on PTV on a show called Rockin`2000 where they performed Mujhe Roko unplugged and aired the video of Khalla. All of this had the then still infant internet buzzing among pakistanis and noori were in demand. That is when on one of the greatest defunct website of all, I found a treasure trove of rare noori songs, allegedly hacked from Ali Noor’s PC.
Among those, was a song called Saari Raat Jagaa [SRJ], a brilliant song with fascinatingly dark lyrics, powerful yet complex composition with some phenomenal guitar work and drum solos. Since that moment, this song became one that I used to swear by, and in my opinion remains possibly among the greatest rock number from the land of pure.
Over the years, as my association with the band grew and I got to know them, and people closely related to the band, my love for this song kept growing. Particularly when I saw the original, handwritten notes of the first lyrics penned about this song, the intensely violent nature of them, the ideology behind the name, and ofcourse that initial audiogalaxy version of SRJ – all of them created this aura, this mystique about this song which had me drooling and anybody who`d talk about noori – would proclaim this number as among their favourite noori track.
From 2002 onwards, when the noori mania truly blossomed into a full fledged cult, people would clamour to noori concerts and implore the band to perform this song. One of the finest performance that I saw was at IBA concert at now defunct hotel metropole, followed by Noorifantaix concert at Lahore. Both times, the power of this song reverberated throughout the venue and brought the roof down like no other. When noori released their 2nd album in 2005 – SRJ was considered as the jewel in the crown, the true Pièce de résistance of their record.
Fast forward to 2009 – with coke studio project, noori had an opportunity to perform a few of their best songs and rework them as a completely new entity and show their experimental side. Collaborating with the genius of Rohail Hyatt, and a collection of finest musicians in the country, this was the platform where possibly the most difficult, the most complex noori song, SRJ, would be reincarnated as something magnificent, something extraordinary.
With the house band and noori deciding to break the song into three distinct parts, Vocal and the Drums were the most critical elements as they were the bridge on this the whole transition between parts would take place. The fate of ‘flagship’ song of Coke Studio II, as declared by Rohail Hyatt, depended upon two men who have had their share of ups and down with each other.
As the band prepared to record the final song in their set at the studio, there was this keen sense of anticipation, this buzz around the arena where everybody was looking forward to how the song will unfold in front of their eyes and if it is going to be an epic fail, or a masterpiece.
To the surprise of audience, Rakae Jamil, began the song with a mellow sitar solo, which caused the first ripple within the audience. The curiosity built as slowly yet surely, a fast paced, intense song took a completely new shape as the sitar solo was followed by traditional eastern instruments, fused with some violin; it created a surreal atmosphere, before actual singing began.
It is quite clear, once you hear the whole song, that Gumby is the rock on which this magnum opus is built. Gumby provided the foundation on which all the other artists could stand on and deliver what could possibly be described as the zenith of Coke Studio. Quite literally, this was the jewel in a very glittering crown of Coke Studio. The very performance was testament to the skills of musicians involved, it paid tribute to the quality of all the in-house band who were putting on a show for us audience. This song, in words of the producer Rohail Hyatt himself, is the flagship song of the show and undoubtedly, speaks volumes about the genius that Rohail Hyatt is.
From the first transition, starting at 3.40, the journey began towards showcasing the luminosity of all the performers, the wonderful fusion with violin, rhythm guitar and sitar being the most outstanding of all, till the last part beginning at 6.25, where the entourage shifted a gear towards a rollicking final delivery which was based on the original song, this entire performance was a winner by a long distance.
The manner in which every single musician was allowed to contribute was most remarkable feature of this song. All the other songs on Coke Studio II had one standout/guest performer and rest of the house band had a bit and part contribution. On SRJ, the composition was done in such a manner that each and every artist was allowed space to deliver their best, and that is exactly what they did, giving SRJ a completely different identity, for which the entire team deserves a big round of applause.
P.S: One of the observation I made during these coke studio performances, is that the addition of Sitar particularly, and banjo and violin add immense value and quality to noori songs, something the band must consider about during their feature ventures such as albums and live performances.