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Singer Maha Ali Kazmi accuses Ali Noor of professional misconduct

  • April 20, 2023


Singer Maha Ali Kazmi, while interacting with fans on her IG Stories on Monday, opened up about her experience with professional misconduct and workplace harassment in the Pakistani music industry. While doing so, she accused the Noori front man Ali Noor of “harassment and professional misconduct” amid a Coke Studio audition. She also called him out for “sabotage”.

The Express Tribune reached out to Maha to get more details on the matter and she responded in a written recollection of events. Noor, on the other hand, has not responded to the publication’s request for a comment on the matter, nor has he publicly accepted or denied the allegations. It is, however, important to note that this is the second harassment allegation levelled against Noor, the first being in February last year.

Maha, in her statement, claimed that Noor reached out to her through a Coke Studio employee, expressing the desire to meet up with her for an audition for Coke Studio (CS) Season 9, which commenced airing in August 2016. Subsequently, a meeting was scheduled at the CS office in Karachi. She recalled being “over the moon” at the possibility of being featured in one of Pakistan’s leading music platforms. But after she arrived at the venue along with her manager, things changed.

The harsh details

“I was asked to wait in the interview room. Ali Noor entered and greeted us. No sooner, I sang two lines of a song I had prepared but before I could finish, he interrupted me with belittling comments. Asked me in an authoritative and rather intimidating manner whether I would be choosing the key I will sing in or he will set it for me. Anyone with the slightest knowledge about music will know that every singer has a unique vocal range and a comfortable key they can sing in. He then turned on the tanpura app, as if I could not sing myself rather than letting me continue my song. His motives were clear, he just wanted to shatter my confidence. At that point I felt very intimidated, deeply uncomfortable and vulnerable,” she shared.

During their brief but triggering interaction, Maha alleged that Noor took the liberty of attacking her character, criticizing her voice, her ability to come off as a star, and told her that she was not the girl he envisioned after listening to her debut single, Nazar. At that point, her manager was not in the room. “He went on to suggest that if I wanted to salvage my career as a musician, I should come to him to Lahore and record an album with him. He went on to describe me as weak and gullible and incapable of making decisions for myself. He said he would like to take the opportunity to mould me in the image he felt fit.”

A post shared by Maha Ali Kazmi (@mahaalikazmi)

Following this, Maha said she received an invitation to meet Noor at a hotel to discuss the possibility of collaborating on an album. “I obviously took my husband since it was a hotel room where the meeting was taking place. At the hotel, nothing of substance was discussed, no future endeavours or album was mentioned.”

She recalled the hour-long alleged visit as being “futile” with Noor “psychoanalysing” her like a “deranged man with a big ego and very little respect for women.” She added, “he told me in front of my husband that I was self-conscious, stiff, and possessed no qualities of a star. That I was too proper and careful, too much of a good girl and that I needed to loosen up and take drugs to become a wild rock star.” Maha also shared that Noor described her voice as “ordinary and nasal”, words that scarred her and shattered her self-confidence as an artist for years to come. “In a nutshell I believed him. I believed that I was worthless.”

When asked how she feels now, Maha held, “Today I have healed. Ali Noor is a demon of my past. Today, no man can tell me my self-worth, especially not under the guise of exploiting me. At that moment, I felt like the world had ended, I had come from Melbourne in 2013 with a young girl’s dream of one day being on Coke Studio. However, it took me many years to heal and to understand that Ali Noor’s words were his own insecurities, brokenness and ugliness that had no consequence to my craft. However, he did use his power and position to sabotage an extremely important opportunity for me. It would not have mattered if I had been rejected for that season. What mattered and hurt was the unnecessary painful ordeal I had to experience.”

The singer maintained that she does not hold “anyone associated with Coke Studio responsible for what happened since it happened without the show’s knowledge.” About informing the CS management of the alleged abuse of power, Maha said, “I knew no one from Coke studio to reach out to, and what chance did a newcomer stand in front of an established star, Ali Noor?” The artist continued, “My husband is a witness to what happened. I also mentioned this to my then manager who was in shock.” However, Maha felt “too afraid to mention this to anyone else in the industry because frankly, I believed that no one would care. I believed my voice would fall on deaf ears.”

Maha even recollected asking Noor about what he had said to the then CS producers and Strings front-men, Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia. “When I asked him what he told them about my audition, he said, ‘The girl is no good, her voice is too nasal.’ My heart sank but I smiled. That is how he sabotaged me.”

The artist also commented on the “great men and musicians” she has worked with, who uplifted and mentored her, including the late Farhad Humayun. “But every now and then we come across predators. Their best weapon is to make us doubt our talent. And as women, we have been conditioned to walk on eggshells to protect ourselves, which is not easy when our work and success depends on it.”

Reflecting on the culture of exploitation of women seeking work, Kazmi added, “It is assumed that we are desperate so we will be willing to perform any sexual or other favours. Harassment comes in many forms; it is emotional, mental as well as physical. It is cruel to give an ambitious, hard-working woman the choice between succumbing to a man’s will to attain success or going home. It is an epidemic, deeply ingrained in our culture that people just accept as normal.”

Previous harassment allegation against Ali Noor

Last year, Noor was accused of sexual harassment by journalist Ayesha Binte Rashid, who shared screenshots of an alleged and shocking conversation she had with the renowned singer, calling him out for “predatory behaviour”. When reached out by The Express Tribune for an explanation, the singer refused to give a statement but shared the “complete” version of his conversation with the journalist and allowed for it to be made public.

A post shared by Ali Noor (@thisisalinoor)

Later, he tagged Rashid in the teaser post for his then, upcoming song, Mein Ne Chorh Diya, as seen in the screenshot of a DM shared and eventually deleted by Rashid on Instagram. He also tagged Rashid in an apology, only to share a cryptic post of his tombstone the next day to write, “Absolutely not sorry.” The singer then said he never admitted to being a harasser and denied all “allegations of sexual harassment” levelled against him.

No response from Coke Studio

Maha’s entire ordeal revolves around a possible life-changing opportunity to work for South Asia’s biggest music show, Coke Studio. Noor, a veteran musician who was later on seen producing some of the most popular songs for that season, had allegedly approached Maha using the Coke Studio channel to audition for the show.

The meeting, as Maha claims, was held at Coke Studio’s Karachi office. And judging from her statement, it was clearly not a case of a young artist reaching out to a veteran for an opportunity but rather a senior artist scouting potential talent for his next offering. This alleged misconduct that Maha details in her conversation with The Express Tribune raises important questions about how Coke Studio operates and what kind of power and freedom the show’s producers or major talent is allowed to exercise. The Express Tribune reached out to Coke Studio’s PR company with these questions:

  1. We wanted to know what authority and freedom does the Coca-Cola company provide its producers with?
  2. Is there a code of professional conduct they follow during the course of the show? Is there a guideline to what producers are allowed to do, or are forbidden from doing, even if under the vaguely defined ‘creative liberty’ they practice?
  3. If the season’s production is outsourced to an independent production company, how does Coca-Cola ensure the respect, safety, security, peace and comfort of all the people involved in various stages of the show? Especially those from the marginalised groups
  4. Do you feel Maha Ali Kazmi’s call out is an important reminder for Coca-Cola Company to ensure that their creative labour – potential or hired – is working in a safe and sound environment?

The PR company responded by saying that the team was not available to comment on this at the moment. The publication insisted on getting answers to at least some of the questions but to no avail. Sources, however, claimed that the company has a very strong code of ethics and similar values are reflected in the contracts the company initiates but we are still not sure about how it applies to the talent involved, since the company is mum about it.

It is pertinent to mention that since the show’s inception in 2008, there have been numerous concerns regarding misconduct on the show. Numerous concerns and hearsay have been raised by artists who have been disgruntled by some level of harassment at the workplace. Some have also hinted in whispers, about harassment that is sexual in nature or otherwise.

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