Banjo

Ali Noor is working on a solo album.

The first single off this album is a song Ali Noor has written to himself, telling himself to make a new song. The hook for this single is not in the song itself, but in the much-publicized backstory that the title of the song is not-so-secretively an expletive.

People my age began listening to Ali Noor when he appeared as a prophet of the future. The early polish of Noori demos was inspiring. The seriousness of those early compositions proof that in a society dogged by a belief that it was destined to second-class standards, an escape was possible.

After the first couple of albums it appears Ali Noor spent a few years coming to terms with how good his work was. Hundreds of concerts, reasonable claim to having left a lasting impact on the music industry, and going down as one of the defining acts of his generation. But that third Noori album was haunted by demons of failed partnerships, old demos, a changed music scene. As live concerts gave way to corporate sponsorship, the very ethos of the Ali Noor style of music was under threat. Ali Noor thrives on a stage being his own man, so fronting an ad campaign in an empty warehouse of course, does not cut it.

So for many years Ali Noor proselytized the virtues of original music. A call to quit recording covers on the corporate music shows. His new record label, Believe In Yourself Records, a hark back to the theme of Noori’s first album Suno Ke Main Hun Jawan.

Some time before Suno Ke Main Hun Jawan, Noori gained notoriety by singing a song built around the very same expletive that is the motif of this latest single. Then, it was startling. That song became mainstream by being shared on peer-to-peer sharing networks. Using the medium of the time the politeness of existing popular music was subverted, signaling that this act was something new.

The world, in the nearly two decades since, has however changed. There are thousands, maybe millions of people swearing on the internet. Post 9/11 it made sense to yell “ہم دنیا بدلیں گے، ہم نے کھائی ہے دل کی قسم”. Now, does it hold the same weight? Is it just enough to continue to make promises? In the time since, Imran Khan has boycott one election, lost another, and then subsequently won. In each, the weight of promises made rising and the questions plaguing us changing from our ability to make promises to our ability to keep them. It was this bit, that haunted Ali Noor as well. Many promises he kept to his audience, his own release dates, slowly slipped.

When young people yell “ok boomer”, it is, at worst, ageist. It can be fueled however, by a consistent pattern of an old guard so set in a worldview that they found their own selves in in, that they may become blind to how much has changed around them. That the worldview which was once central to them building their own lives is not what everyone else now needs to make themselves. And this song makes one wonder, is it enough for us to get a kick out of swearing in secret on YouTube? I hope not.

Why do songs become popular in the first place? Perhaps every song has to be a little bit about the artist themselves to be sincere. But for them to catch on they have to say a little bit about the audience. The popular songs find a way of using the artist’s journey to let the audience find something about themselves.

I can imagine that for an act to have touched a culture so deeply, it can be hard to process that the culture has moved on such that the act’s personal journey is no longer as relevant to a broad audience as it once was. And at this point the act has two choices: use existing cache and credibility to push boundaries, or attempt to remain relevant to the original audience.

Luckily Ali Noor’s sound is a noticeable departure from his earlier work. Powered by a refreshed backing band, the sound is more electronic than the straight rock sound of early Noori. It is a shift to something more modern. I hope also, that the lyrical motifs of the album allow Ali Noor to push these boundaries further. He made us believe, and I hope he continues to do so himself.