The Arts Council of Pakistan (ACP) on Monday night held a memorable tribute event for Nayyara Noor (1950-2022), one of the most admired singers of the country who passed away in Karachi on August 20.
What made the event memorable and worth attending from its beginning till the end was that its moderator was one of Nayyara’s closest friends, Arshad Mahmud, who also has the credit of composing a large number of her musical hits. Between inviting various speakers, Mahmud throughout the ceremony shared his experience of working with Nayyara as well as his memories of her as a family friend.
He said he had known the late singer since the late 1960s when he studied at the Government College Lahore while Nayyara was enrolled on a textile designing programme at the National College of Arts.
He recalled that some youths with musical acumen at that time regularly gathered to sing and discuss music. Arshad played the guitar, his friend Shahid Toosi the harmonium and the accordion, and another friend Ilyas the tabla. Later, they would work together with Nayyara for Pakistan Television (PTV).
It was in one of such gatherings that Mahmud met Nayyara. He remembered that she wanted to sing Lata Mangeshkar’s ‘O Sajna Barkha Bahar Aayi’ from the film ‘Parakh’. After a short discussion in which they decided the scale on which Nayyara would sing, Mahmud and his friend agreed to accompany her on the guitar and the tabla respectively.
“When she started singing, I forgot how to play the guitar and my friend on the tabla likewise could not play the instrument because we were spellbound,” Mahmud recalled. He said their musical troupe then started to perform regularly at various gatherings, and since they did not charge money and performed well, many people invited them to perform songs. Although Nayyara had started to sing for the radio, a major breakthrough in her career came in January 1972 when Mahmud’s teacher Shoaib Hashmi started a programme for children on PTV titled ‘Akkar Bakkar’.
The programme would also have songs, and Hashmi tasked Mahmud and Toosi with composing children’s songs for ‘Akkar Bakkar’ that would be sung be Nayyara. However, that show was for children. Nayyara would sing for adults on PTV a year later when Hashmi started another programme titled ‘Such Gup’, which would have skits as well as songs.
It was during that time when Nayyara was rejected by a famous PTV producer because he thought her simple looks and style did not make her fit to appear on television. When Hashmi heard about that, he decided that Nayyara would be the sole singer for ‘Such Gup’.
Mahmud said that once legendary producer Agha Nasir objected to the title ‘Such Gup’, saying that it was against the Urdu idiom, and that the title should be ‘Gup Shup’. Hashmi replied he had chosen the title because it had both ‘Such’ (truth) and ‘Gup’ (gossip). He explained that Nayyara’s songs constituted the ‘Such’ part, while the rest of the programme was ‘Gup’.
How Nayyara embraced any musical composition and channelled her heart and soul in it was something that only she could do, Mahmud remarked. He told the audience that the late singer had a refined taste in poetry and she herself had composed some verses as well.
Artist Saleema Hashmi, Shoaib’s wife and daughter of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, recalled the days of ‘Such Gup’ when Mahmud, Toosi, Nayyara and others would spend hours at her home rehearsing songs. She said that in order to deal with the simple persona of Nayyara that many found incompatible with the medium of television, they had to come up with unique solutions like using floral arrangements on the set and creating lighting effects on her face.
She also said that as Nayyara would sing in the programme always in a sitting posture, rumours started to spread that she was crippled — something she heartily laughed at when she came to know about it.
However, her simple persona and style of singing that shunned unnecessary emotions or gestures did not prove to be an obstacle for her. “The ‘Sur’ which resided in the throat of Nayyara was not something from this planet — it came from some divine source,” remarked Saleema.
Musicologist Sultan Arshad, who was also once a neighbour of Nayyara, recalled the times he spent with her discussing music. He said Nayyara never compromised on her household duties and most of the time when he went to see her, he found her cooking.
About Nayyara’s admiration and fame in India, he said that once he was posted in Mumbai for a long period, during which he had the chance to meet some great composers. He recalled once playing Nayyara’s rendition of Anil Biswas’s song ‘Un Ka Ishara Jaan Se Pyara’ in front of the legendary Biswas who was so moved by it that he wrote a message for Nayyara, saying that she had sung his composition as a nightingale, and that he wished she were the original singer of that song.
He said that once the recording company EMI invited her to come to India and perform in concerts in Bombay and Calcutta. A video was also played on the occasion in memory of Nayyara that was prepared by young music enthusiasts of the ACP. The video showcased her career as a ghazal singer and a playback singer for films. It also included clips of one of her interviews on PTV.
Some of the ghazals and Nazms rendered by Nayyara included in the video tribute were Shohrat Bukhari’s ‘Har Chand Sahara Hai’, Zehra Nigah’s ‘Mulayam Garm Samjhaute Ki Chadar’, Akhtar Sheerani’s ‘Ae Ishq Hamein Barbaad Na Kar’, Behzad Lucknavi’s ‘Ae Jazba-e-Dil Gar Main Chaahoon’ and Faiz’s ‘Hum Keh Thehre Ajnabi’. It also featured some famous film songs rendered by Nayyara for Shabnam and other actresses, such as ‘Tera Saaya Jahaan Bhi Ho Sajna’ and ‘Roothe Ho Tum, Tum Ko Kaise Manaoon Piya’.
Rights activist Karamat Ali said Nayyara believed in progressive ideals, and she once sang an anthem for a social conference free of charge because it was about the message of equality. The late singer’s son Naad-e-Ali and husband Shehryar Zaidi also spoke on the occasion but, naturally, they were overwhelmed with emotions and had to take pauses between their speeches in order to recollect their fond memories.
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