Obituary: Nayyara Noor — the self-effacing nightingale

Published August 22, 2022
NAYYARA Noor shares the stage with composer Arshad Mahmud at Napa Performing Arts festival in March 2019.
—Fahim Siddiqui / White Star
NAYYARA Noor shares the stage with composer Arshad Mahmud at Napa Performing Arts festival in March 2019. —Fahim Siddiqui / White Star

TO say that music lovers received a shock on Saturday night to know that singer par excellence Nayyara Noor had passed away in Karachi would be an understatement. Yes, she was 71 years of age. Yes, she hadn’t been feeling well for the last few weeks. But death of an artist of her stature is extremely hard to come to terms with. What also endeared her to admirers was that she was an unassuming person who never took her fame and recognition seriously. As a video clip that’s circulating on social media suggests, she never ‘claimed’ her achievements because she always felt happy to ‘share’ works of art with people.

Noor was born on Nov 3, 1950 in Guwahati in Indian state of Assam where her family had shifted from Amritsar. According to one account, her businessman father was an active member of the Muslim League and when Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah visited Guwahati he stayed at their residence. Her mother along with her children immigrated to Karachi in 1957 while the father stayed back to look after their property. He arrived in Pakistan in the early 1990s.

It was in Lahore where Noor was a student at the National College of Arts (NCA) that her singing ability came to the fore. She hadn’t acquired any formal training in music. As a teenager, she used to listen to eminent vocalists such as Begum Akhtar, Lata Mangeshkar and Kanan Devi. Her gift was natural. Once recognised, she, like a student who had developed unwavering focus, worked diligently to polish her art. Her understanding of the sanctity of words, too, came in handy. Most of all, it was her unique voice that won many a heart. She used its nasality to her advantage by never compromising on the subtleties of compositions.

Noor began her career from Radio Pakistan, graduated to television and then playback singing for films. She shot into national prominence when she appeared in Shoaib Hashmi’s TV shows Taal Matol and Sach Gup and her initial job for the silver screen included the movies Gharana and Tansen. The song Ruthey ho tum tum ko kaisey manaon piya that she sang for the film Aina (1977) is one of the most popular tracks ever recorded in the history of Pakistani films.

What distinguished Noor from her contemporaries, and perhaps from a couple of her illustrious predecessors, was the ease and facility with which she sang Urdu poetry. Ghazal singing had been in vogue for decades, and she was brilliant at that — Behzad Lackhnavi’s Ay jazba-i-dil gar main chahun is a prime example — but it was her rendition of nazms written in free verse that carved a niche for her in the world of music. The poem Kabhi hum khubsurat thay used as the soundtrack for a TV serial Teesra Kinara in the late 1970s is loved to date and sung by modern-day vocalists.

In that context, her collaboration with composer Arshad Mahmud cannot be under-emphasised. He set Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s iconic poems to music and gave them to Noor to sing. Both the words and the tunes could intimidate a lesser singer, not Noor. She had a consuming passion for singing and poetry in equal measure. As a result, music and literature buffs were treated to masterpieces such as Aaj bazaar mein pabijonla chalo and Merey qaatil merey dildaar merey paas raho.

Her voice also lent a distinct flavour to the patr­iotic number Watan ki mitti gavah rehna as well.

When Arshad Mahmud was contacted by Dawn for his comments on Noor, he was in tears. He couldn’t speak properly and only managed to say that his association with her went back to 60 years. He had been listening to the poem Ayey arz guzarein ke nigar-i-hasti sung by her ever since he came to know about her demise.

Noor — who gained the honorific title of Bublbul-i-Pakistan (Pakistan’s nightingale) — was the recipient of the President’s Pride of Performance award.

Her funeral prayers were held on Sunday at Imam Bargah Yasrab, DHA Phase IV. She is survived by her husband and two sons.

Meanwhile, President Dr Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif expressed their grief over death of Nayyara Noor, APP reported.

Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2022

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