On the day of Noori's much-hyped album launch, the first thing that caught my eye was the long line of fans waiting to get their copies of Begum Gul Bakaoli Sarfarosh signed by a beaming Ali Noor and Ali Hamza.
They pored over the album art while they waited in queue, reminding me of earlier days when buying cassettes and CDs – physical copies of the music – was the only means of listening to it.
The album played on repeat, as the band stood around for hours, greeting every single fan with a smile or hug.
That made it real. The final part of the band’s musical trilogy is out — and despite the risk of being released in times when the music industry is floundering, it beckoned evergreen fans to converge.
The palpable animation and fever that night seemed to bless BGBS with the status of an iconic album, even if the songs didn't have that impact.
Introducing Begum Gul Bakaoli Sarfarosh
Who is this Begum Gul who takes centre stage on Noori’s new album?
BGBS is titled after a fictional character who migrated to Pakistan in 1947 and now wonders where the country went wrong. The album is framed to explore what Pakistan’s ‘azaadi’ means.
So when the song '1947' kicks off the album, it puts the listener in a retrospective state of mind. The lyrics, written in a narrative style, reflect the hope harboured by the migrating hordes of '47. Ali Noor tries to transfer the same kind of optimism to the listener of today through lyrics like “Pardes des ban gaya/Aur jaisay doobtay ko sahara mil gaya”.
The buoyant streak continues in 'Hoshiyar', one of the best tracks in the album. Ali Hamza’s high-tempo vocal style not only complements the upbeat melody but also powerfully expresses the ‘it's-time-to-wake-up’ sentiment of the song.
It helps that the drum beats like a war-drum behind lyrics like 'Hoshiyar ho, majboor na bano/Jis noor say ho tum, us ka hisaab do’, which amps up the sense of urgency and convinces the listener to part with the long-felt pessimism. It wouldn’t be surprising if 'Hoshiyaar' becomes an anthem like 'Suno Ke Main Hoon Jawan' and 'Nishaan'.
The album ends with Noori's part-rendition of the national anthem, 'Saya-e-Khuda-e-Zuljalal'. It begins on a mellow note, and effortlessly transitions from calming acoustic to invigorating electric. As the album starts with a song like ‘1947’, the national anthem provides closure to the trilogy, and serves as a perfect and moving end to the record.
It’s not just the album’s patriotic element that makes it a nostalgic piece. Although musically tighter and not as raw, songs like 'Pinjra', 'Hey Ya', 'Kedaar' are reminiscent of the band’s previous work.
But the album doesn't rehash Noori's signature. Earlier albums punctuated Noori's typical high-energy, distortion-fueled tracks with a few mellow ones, but BGBS keeps to a fast, upbeat pace and tempo. It seems the band really wanted to grab its listeners by the shoulders and shake off their feelings of hopelessness and ennui.
Also, another departure from their signature is the more pronounced use of synth and keys, although the album version of 'Aik Tha Badshah' is sans electronica, unlike the version that was released with the new music video back in June.
In fact, the songs that sound most like signature Noori, namely 'Sarfarosh' and 'Mujhay Roko', are also the most subpar.
As 'Sarfarosh' begins, hearing that one word ‘sarfarosh’ on loop in the intro and later in the song takes away from the otherwise motivational feel of the song and its impressive guitar solo.
'Mujhay Roko' is also similarly structured, which is surprising considering that it follows 'Sarfarosh' in the track order.
It’s understandable that the band deals with the pressure to make a mark with this album, but there’s only so many times one can listen to a similar style. It was as though they wanted to play it safe with this one and give the fans what they have always wanted to hear from Noori, rather than experimenting with something different.
Noori: From past to present
It was 2003 when the first record of Noori's trilogy, Suno Ke Main Hoon Jawan, was released.
Back then, they were the only mainstream musicians who were giving their listeners advice beyond pyaar, mohabbat and heartbreak. Noori spoke of not giving up on dreams, moving forward with strength and listening to your heart.
Noori’s enduring verses from that album such as “Hum dunya badlenge/Hum ne khaee hai dil ki qasam” or “Yehi to teri apni hai zameen/ keun na degi ab tuj ko yeh qarar/jo nahi jaane woh sun le meray yaar/ ab mano nahi haar” gave hope to an entire generation of music fans growing up at that time.
Moreover, the euphoric verses belted out by Ali Noor in ‘Gana No 1’ leaves us with happy warmth to this day: “Jhoomay sari zameen, jhoomay aasman/ koi gham nahi, naachay sara jahan/ keun khoay waheen, meri jaan/ ab paas ao yahan”.
BGBS seems to be bringing back this very sentiment. However, it has to be said that it shares more similarities with the band’s darker 2005 album Peeli Patti Aur Raja Jani ki Gol Dunya, which focused more on the human condition and society, and being hit in the face with harsh realities of life – a contrast from the initial positive lets-do-this attitude of Suno Ke Main Hoon Jawan.
Still, BGBS reminds us of a younger Noori. And who doesn’t remember the early days? Some of us were in school or college — a crucial time in any individual’s life — and it's Noori's music that is likely to be the aural backdrop of our highs and lows. Those snippets of memories come and go in flashes throughout the album-listening experience. When it comes to the success of this album, nostalgia is Noori’s best friend.