Photo: Fahim Siddiqui/White Star
Photo: Fahim Siddiqui/White Star

It was one of those rare occasions when singer par excellence Nayyara Noor made a public appearance. She was invited to sit alongside composer Arshad Mahmud to answer questions put to both of them by Nafees Ahmed about their remarkable collaboration over the years on the second day of the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) International Theatre Festival.

She was also there to listen to and encourage young Napa vocalists Nigel Bobby and Sajar who sang some of the compositions that Noor has made immortal.

Going back in time to talk about how they got together, Mahmud said they met each other when Noor was a student at the National College of Arts (NCA) and he at Government College in Lahore. Back then he used to play the guitar with a bunch of friends. One day he was invited to a concert at NCA where he heard Noor sing Lata Mangeshkar’s song 'O Sajna Barkha Bahaar Aaee'. He liked it, and from then on they started working together, doing a number of songs, including for TV shows made by Shoaib Hashmi.

When Noor was asked why she kept her demeanour simple despite being a showbiz star, she replied that from the very beginning she wasn’t drawn to material attractions. She had never thought of herself as incomplete and always felt contented with what she had. She never developed the urge to add something to her personality to look better.

At that point Mahmud interjected saying when they made music together in the 1970s and ’80s, the thought of whether their songs would succeed never crossed their minds. They just had shoq [passion] which was the driving force behind their creative work. The other thing, with reference to compositions, was to understand what the poet whose kalaam they were setting to music wanted to express.

Expanding on the argument Noor said [artists] needed to connect with their inner voice, the real selves. “Music is probably the purest form of art. Do no adulterate it.” In response to another question, she highlighted the fact that for her [throughout her career] music was meant for her soul, it had nothing to do with material things.

The chitchat was interspersed with live music where Bobby and Sajar sang some of the famous compositions that Mahmud made for Noor. The first one that Bobby sang was Nasir Kazmi’s 'Phir Sawan Rut Ki Pawan Chali', followed by Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s 'Wo Dar Khula'. He did particularly well with the latter. The young man has tremendous control over the sur, and understands the subtleties of a poetry-based tune very well.

Sajar’s performance was also of great merit. Her rendition of Faiz’s 'Tujhe Pukara Hai Be Irada and 'Phir Aaena-i-aalam' was truly impressive. Bobby sang one of Mirza Ghalib’s ghazals 'Sadagi Par Us Ki Mar Jaaney Ki Hasrat' as well — Mahmud had specially prepared it for the evening.

Originally published in Dawn, March 16th, 2019