Putting together a jigsaw puzzle – Ali Noor returns with single ‘Banjo’

“It was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle”. That was how Ali Noor described the strange process of recording his latest upcoming album ‘Pagal’ -- his first solo record in 4 years since Noori went on hiatus. 

The first single “Banjo” is a fun, light-hearted, simple pop-rock earworm of a track that further cements Ali Noor’s knack at constructing massive stadium-size melodies. As I speak to him on the phone he likens these huge choruses to something like modern qawwali. The lyrics are fun and self-aware in their immaturity -- ‘banjo’ here is just getting away with saying bhen***d (akin to Bhaag DK Bose) but the process and craft behind recording the album was careful, organic and mature. 

After battling through a severe illness in 2019, Ali Noor and Ahsan Pervez, a long-time collaborator and ‘song writing machine’, were inundated with commercial work and big projects. In the midst of the hectic work schedule, Pervez asked Noor a simple question: “why aren’t you releasing your album? Why aren’t we writing songs for you?” This was the spark that kicked off the process of the constructing the album.

And it was an unconventional process. During the coronavirus lockdown, Ali Noor and over 9 other musicians, artists and collaborators (a list that includes Ahsan Pervaiz, Kami Paul, Mehak Ali, Hina Jawad, Nauman Javed, Aleena Naghman, Kumail Jaffery, and Raheel Minhas) were quarantined in his house in Bedian, Lahore for 21 days to make the record. I had a lot of questions about this. For me it sounded torturous; to be locked in with other creatives trying to create something seems like a recipe for disaster and conflict. 

But Ali Noor explains that it was an almost cathartic experience. I press him to remember any big phaddas, any huge creative clashes but, after some contemplation, he says they were none. Not a single conflict. “It was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle”, he said. All the pieces have their place, it’s just a matter of getting them there. 

In this sense, Noor took on a more curative role that authoritarian, steering the creative ship, and avoiding any icebergs that might flare into conflicts. “We were exploring democracy with this record”, Noor told me. “My idea might not be the best one”, and so the process was one of humility, of giving things space to grow and transform. “This album is now not mine at all, it’s been taken over by these people,” says Ali Noor. “I’m just the catalyst, the curator.” 

In fact, Noor explains it almost like a biological process: “the songs evolved like how wild plants grow in a garden”. He goes on to explain that there was no concept of mentor-mentee, or dictatorship. Instead, it was a process of catalysing creative ideas in each other -- a mysterious, unique process that he himself cannot describe. “Four to five people make lyrics as if they are you. I don’t know how it happens… I don’t know how they got in that space, but it just happened”

After a few years of producing commercial music, the new record has been something of a breath of fresh air. Commercial work has never been a problem for Noor -- he tells me that his clients know that he cannot be dictated to, but must instead become a part of his process. But nevertheless, the only thing that bothered him was that commercial projects always have a purpose behind them. They are commissioned for a particular reason, to fulfil a need. “It’s never my own thing, my own ideas” he says. But with the new record, that freedom is back. “Naya gana bana” is the rallying cry he needed.

Watch out for Ali Noor’s album ‘Pagal’, coming soon. In the meantime, listen to ‘Banjo’ above.

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