Pakistan’s sweetest-voiced vocalist Nayyara Noor sang about more than the mundanities of life, and looked for more too
Nayyara Noor has held us mesmerized with her voice for over five decades. It doesn’t matter that more recent decades didn’t see much of the artist; it seems as though she had created enough during her years active as a singer to last for a lifetime, and beyond.
At the very onset of her career, Nayyara Noor found herself singing both poignant poetry as well as playback for popular films. Her voice had a quality that could transform from playful and girlish to grieving with every piece of poetry she sang.
We know all her hits; entire generations have grown up on them. Some signify important junctures in Pakistan’s history, others mark our own personal milestones.
Her work is most associated with revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, though her hits include the very unlikely Ibne Insha’s ‘Jale Tu Jalao Gori’ as well. Noor had commented during an interview with Muneeza Hashmi that she picked poetry based on its “essence”.
During the same interview, she spoke about how her carefree, adventurous childhood self had started to wear off around the time she started deep-diving into music.
Nayyara Noor didn’t practice or sing as a child, but she did listen. Melodies held her captive, just as looking for that extra something in life did, and she sought out poetry and lyrics that spoke to that side of her, so it is little wonder that she found a kindred spirit in Insha, who himself spent much of his life looking for that something too.
Faiz’s poetry can be the backdrop to any life, during any time. We have sleeker gadgets and better looking hair now, perhaps, but the political, economic, and societal concerns remain very much the same. Noor’s rendition of any of Faiz’s works can strike a chord with anyone, simply because of the approachability of her voice.
‘Approachable’ might be a word anathematic to progressive art, but if your work isn’t appealing to wider sections of your intended audience, is it getting the job done?
While many of the vocalists of that time were equally enchanting, their sound was unique. Nayyara Noor wasn’t earthy or smoky.
Her brand – or rather, the brand of her voice – is sweet and melodious, very much the definition of girl-next-door.
Perhaps it was that quality, which allowed Noor to sing the gravest lyrics without the slightest implication of rebellion. Perhaps swee-tly packaged words don’t aim to deliver a punch, but seep into our consciousness gently, in time.
But again, she hid her curious nature and her broad interests in the universe from the world, rarely speaking to the press, or even performing in the last decade.
“When you know your inner world and know how to navigate it and who you are,” she tells Hashmi on her show, Tum Jo Chaho Tu Suno, “you become strong from the inside, and can manage to handle things better.”
In the same conversation, she indicates her bent towards introspection and spirituality.
“This is a very large system [that we live in],” she says, “and it is a great entity that runs it, I am a mere particle.
“A particle doesn’t have the right to ask ‘why’ – if you submit yourself and let things happen the way they are meant to be – that is total peace.”
These little snippets of knowledge put together with Nayyara Noor’s choice of music, her brief tryst with playback singing, the people she often chose to work with paint a very vague picture of the person herself. But what we can surmise from her long career in music, and the quality of the body of work she created, is that Nayyara Noor, the artist, knew her mind, what she wanted to do, and when she wanted to stop.