“It’s ridiculous how little the musical history of Pakistan has been studied” – In conversation with Natasha Noorani
We spoke to Natasha Noorani, who recently released her latest EP Munaasib, about creating music in Pakistan, her future plans, and playing her EP live for the first time to an audience in Lahore.
Firstly, how are you? You’ve just moved to the UK to pursue a masters degree in Music. How is that going? Tell us a little about your programme and what interested you the most about it when you applied?
I’m keeping well, thank you! Yes, I just moved to London to pursue an MMus in Ethnomusicology. I’m really enjoying it. The last 5 years and the work I’ve dabbled in is driven by a desire to learn and understand the way music and culture in Pakistan interact so this is just a really fun area of study for me. I’ve always been curious about different forms of music coming out of Pakistan. It’s ridiculous how little the musical history of Pakistan has been studied, especially how music has been shaped in the region of Pakistan, post-partition/contemporary music. I’m obsessed with finding out more. A huge jigsaw puzzle of music history is just waiting there for us to figure out.
How do you see yourself using what you learn here and applying it to your life and career?
(That’s such an uncle question. It’s only missing a ‘beta’ at the end. Hahah)
Most of my research is fuelled by what my experience has been in Pakistan. I’ve always been so intrigued in finding out the stories behind the music. I’m not really sure how I would classify my career. I’m just really interested in finding out more about what narratives music in Pakistan can help us unearth. The programme really equips me with better informed frameworks and resources to document it better. So definitely a lot of research work and writing on the cards for me.
Getting into a little about your life in Pakistan – How did you get involved with music?
I attended a lot of concerts growing up. Gymkhana, Al-Hamra and the schools I attend always had concerts especially in the late 90s and early 2000s. I remember going “gig-hopping” with my family on Basant. We’d go from one haveli to the Lahore Fort to the PTV studios rooftop to hear various artists perform. The fact that my family was so invested in music, both performing (casually) and listening to it, had a huge role to play in my life.
I began playing guitar and singing when I was 14. It was just messing around until I started competing in Olympiads and Battle of the Bands which I spent most of my O levels and A levels doing. I went from playing shoddy covers alone to playing with seasoned musicians. Fun fact, I was one of the original members of Takatak!
I was part of the Music Society at LUMS which meant that we got to play music very frequently on various different stage set-ups. So I nurtured my performance skills a lot during those years. Plus I was also managing and organising gigs during that time. Most notably, I met Zahra Paracha during college and we began playing music together and I really drew inspiration from her to actually pursue music as a career and then we got started on Biryani Brothers and LMM! So I’ve just been lucky to be surrounded by brilliant musicians that have just nudged and prodded me in the right direction.
I’d like to know more about the entire thought process and work put into your new EP Munaasib. Can you elaborate how the whole process was for you and what were your feelings through out?
I started writing this in the summer of 2017 and it mostly happened in waves. During the initial writing process, I was learning a lot about myself and I think that really forced its way into the music. If you really listen to the album, I’m the antagonist.
These songs began to formulate as doodles and I was spurred on by the fact that I had to play a set of my songs live at Sine Valley. It was really the kind of deadline I needed to stop messing around and actually get to finishing musical doodles. Being in Nepal for a month and performing songs from the EP live also really helped me shape them. I continued working on them after I came back and eventually had enough scraps to be able to take to a producer.
The actual making of the album was a collaboration with one of my favourite musician-producers, Ali Suhail. It was brilliant working with someone who already has such a ridiculously impressive roster of musicians and albums he’s produced including his own. He made sure I got the sound that I want and the process of figuring out my music and co-writing some of the songs with him was phenomenal. He’s produced the whole album and is playing on it as well, which really is a dream come true. He’s been extremely integral to my musicianship over the last 3 years being responsible for my single ‘Certainly’ in 2015.
Adeel Tahir had such a massive part to play in the whole EP as he was mixing and mastering. We had to live-stream his mixing sessions on Instagram because we were in Lahore and he was in Karachi. Truly the most millennial thing possible haha. Adeel and I had worked together previously but it was such a fruitful experience to finally work with him musically. Then, Daud Ramay decided to grace the EP. He’s such a dynamic drummer and so intuitive as a musician that it was just blissful having him plaster his sound on the EP. I had been wanting to work with Daud for almost a decade, so this was especially rewarding. The afternoons we spent recording on his new e-kit really was when it hit home that the EP was coming together. I still can’t believe that these individuals agreed to work with me on my debut body of art.
What have been your biggest influences that inspired you to create Munaasib?
I think a lot of it had to do with my move to Karachi. The city is chaotic and kind at the same time and I feel that has had a huge affect on me personally. I really enjoyed trying to get to know the city. I think the many references of water showed up because of that.
I was listening to a lot of Hiatus Kaiyote, Nai Palm, Jordan Rakei, Lianne La Havas and Ali Suhail’s Pursuit of Irrelevance around the time I was writing these songs in 2017. I do think a lot of the progressive rock I grew up listening to seeped into this as well.
I was wondering why the title is in urdu but the songs are in English?
It was just the most apt word for what the album means to me. No word in the english language really captures the connotations of the word ‘munaasib’. People who know me personally would also really understand the reference I’m trying to make with the word. I didn’t really give the difference of language much thought. I also write in urdu but none of that really fit where I was musically for those songs to make it to the EP.
Listening to the EP, I was pleasantly surprised with how different it is from your music with Biryani Brothers. Kaisay kar leti ho? How would you say this EP helped you create an identity in the scene?
Zahra’s actually the reason I chose to pursue music and didn’t kill my dreams for an unrelated desk job. We’ve been playing together since 2012 and I think her musical significance in my life is insurmountable. Biryani Brothers is very special because I feel it’s the celebration of not only our friendship but all the burdens our friendship has had to bear because of the work we do together. So that sound is really something I’m incapable of achieving on my own or with another musician.
I think my personal sound is all over the place. I can’t define what it is. I’m still finding my voice. I’m a lot closer than I was even 3-4 years ago. But I think I still have a lot to learn both musically and about my identity. I don’t think the EP has sunk in yet, for me personally. I don’t know if this EP has helped me create an identity in the scene. I do know that people that I’ve encountered in the last few years weren’t aware that I’ve been trying to do music since I was an angsty young teen so this was news for them.
You also performed you EP live in Lahore. What was it like playing it in front of a live audience. What was the response like?
Man, I love playing live. If I had to choose between the studio and the stage, I would always pick the stage. The gig we did in collaboration with True Brew Records was very much another dream come true. I actually interned there in 2014! And I’ve seen so many of my favorite bands perform there that it seemed to me to be the finish line to all the hard work we had put in over the year.
The space was great, the audience was brilliant. I was really blessed to be able to play with behemoth musicians like Ali Suhail, Shamsher Rana, Asfandyar Ali and Daud Ramay. I was nervous playing with a band after 3 years but both nights were incredible.
How do you feel about the music scene in Pakistan right now? If you could change or add one thing to Pakistan’s music landscape, what would it be?
What the music scene desperately needs is a space for musicians somewhere between the realm of selling out to a corporate beast and having to struggle and make ends meet to keep their art pure. There’s bits and bobs of infrastructure but there’s no real ‘industry’. We have the musicians, we have the music, we even have a an audience but there’s barely anything on the other end of the spectrum. You can’t put the burden on the musician to constantly invest their own money and resources to get their music across to the appropriate audiences. More journalists, more labels, more agents/managers, more PR companies need to sprout up.
Are you working on new material? Would you like to share with us the direction you plan to take with your music in the future?
I’m musically/emotionally exhausted at this point. I’m in a space where I’m just trying to absorb new sounds and techniques and waiting to see what comes of it. I’m constantly writing but they’ll stay doodles until there’s a catalyst. It’s also been really trying to put so much of myself out there with this EP and I feel like I want to go back into hiding for a while.
Munaasib, the new EP from Natasha Noorani, can be streamed on Spotify, SoundCloud, and YouTube.
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