Zahra Paracha

“In those moments on the roof, I’d know everything was alright”

In conversation with Zahra Paracha

Indie music in Pakistan is an evolving medium of expression, the sound of the new generation. Zahra Paracha’s new song “Tum Kaafi Ho” is uplifting and relatable. The undertones of the musical composition feel intimately soul searching with Zahra’s gentle vocals soothing us like a lullaby. Zahra sat for us for an in-depth interview sharing her experiences and musical journey.

Mosiki: What was your first experience making music? 

ZP: I used to play the keyboard when I was five years old and around the age of 6 or 7 I was obsessed with the black keys of the keyboard and made songs around those as a child. It’s weird because in “Tu Fikar Na Kar” by Sikandar Ka Mandar I composed a synth riff that plays towards the end of the song that’s also based on black keys. That being my first music composition experience relates directly as the song is one of my favourites that I have ever made with any band.  

Mosiki: Can you share the backstory of “Tum Kafi Ho”?

ZP: I find it very difficult to relate to people normally, sometimes I have a problem understanding how others think, having issues with connecting with people and places. This is something I remember I struggled with as a child. With things happening at home and a bunch of reasons why I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. Whenever I felt upset, I would go to the roof of the house during the quiet of the night, when everyone was asleep. I would listen to music and walk on the roof imagining doing all these cool things in the future. In those moments when I would be on the roof, I’d know everything was alright “abhi sub kuch sahi hai” everything else maybe horrible (excuse my language) but everything might be have been sh*t but in that exact moment everything felt great.

It is those little moments on the roof, I felt fully present looking for a sign of validation and suddenly a strong gust of wind would hit me and I felt accepted. That roof was very important for me because you need time with yourself, people are going to be horrible, they’ll say things that they mean or do not mean but it doesn’t mean that they are right or that it’s fair. Regardless of what they say to you, you are here because you deserve to be here. That is something that I have struggled remembering, I imagine others share these moments of self doubt.

When you hear the song “Tum Kaafi Ho”, it is a trajectory of my thoughts describing people and how to deal with people. The last verse, I wrote during a particularly vulnerable moment. People try to console themselves by saying “bura waqt ka koi tau faida ho ga” that enduring trauma has rewards. I remember being told this so many times when I was younger. I am fed up with this kind of thinking, I’m not saying that they are wrong or say that this kind of thinking is wrong. But like I wrote in the song “is ka faida kia jub dil baitha” I meant having to convince myself to see the silver lining is a disconnected thought process. In the end time will be your best friend and having faith in yourself will take you furthest in life that you will ever go. I think if I didn’t believe in myself for that brief period of time, I wouldn’t have even released this song. I do cherish the nighttime and the idea of solitude which is why this isolation period that we all are experiencing now is familiar to me. 

Picture Credit: Areesh Zubair. Color: Mosiki

Mosiki: Share with us your history and journey of playing and performing with Sikandar ka Mandar, Dolce and Ghabraana and Biryani Brothers.

ZP: I joined Sikandar Ka Mandar in 2017, it was a musical coincidence really as I had met the band briefly through Lahore Music Meet. When we were all in Karachi at a later point they asked me to play with them for a gig. After that, I joined the band and we started meeting daily to work on the album. We were goal-driven and releasing the album titled “36 Chhatees has been such a great experience for me. Working with Ali Suhail, I learned technicalities of recording, mixing and distribution of music. It was a great introduction to the indie music community and the songs were complicated but a lot of fun to play. As a member of the band, I get to do all sorts of things including playing the synth, the mandolin, the guitar, backing tracks on Ableton which itself is a very enjoyable program to use. 

Someone asked me recently “how does it feel to be in an all-male band?” and honestly, I do not feel the gender dynamics as there is no gender affirmative role-playing or conventionalism. I feel they do not differentiate. In the past, I have experienced feeling excluded from the music community and they were the first band to make me feel like I was truly a member. 

Dolce and Ghabraana is a duo band composed of me and Aaishay Haque. We had been playing together since LUMS, she was a few years junior and we often jammed in the college dorms. She and I bonded over having grown up watching Youtube covers, it was a match made in heaven. We were a powerhouse being able to pull off performances with only a night’s notice at times. It was a long time coming when we finally formed Dolce and Ghabraana as we had already released a few covers. Aaishay constantly challenges herself, possesses an amazing vocal range constantly evolving her singing and songwriting. It is a lot of fun even though we haven’t performed a lot for an audience, we both love doing covers. Performing covers is considered a taboo in the Indie scene. But because we started bonding over covers in the first place, we have a deep love for it as an art form. I have had some very random people ask me about our “Redbone” cover. Our covers are popular and people enjoy listening to them. 

It’s difficult to tell the story of Biryani Brothers without mentioning Lahore Music Meet. Natasha Noorani and I met in LUMS and formed LMM because we worked really well together. When it came to music synchronicity, she listened to Pop and Rnb growing up and we had the same musical aesthetic. During the same time that I joined Sikandar Ka Mandar, Nadir Shahzad penned our first original “Ikisvi Sadi” as we were not experienced enough in composing lyrics in Urdu. Before that song, we were just a cover band and you can tell by our name, we didn’t take ourselves all that seriously. Biryani Brothers was meant to be a fun collaboration. It wasn’t until early 2018, while I was in Lahore and Natasha was in Karachi is when I really sat down and composed the song. At that time, it only had a two-chord Ukulele structure. I reflected back on everything I had learned during the making of “36 Chhatees” in making “Ikisvi Sadi”. The creative process was a back and forth between Natasha and me, I’d send her notes and she would send me feedback. When it was time to shoot the music video for the song, I felt camera shy but willing to participate. People really liked the song and video. A year later we released “Sub Theek ho Jai Ga” where I tried different styles to sing lead vocals and played a crazy funk solo on the track. 

It is a lot of fun being a member of each of these bands and bringing it together. I like everyone for who they are as people as that is a really important aspect of being in a band.   

Mosiki: You are part of multiple bands, collaborate with other musicians and are the Co-Founder Lahore Music Meet – Could you talk about the experience of working with others as compared to working on your own solo music.

ZP: Being the co-founder of LMM has really helped me connect with a lot of talented musicians. I have been fortunate with the kind of people that have approached me. Generally, it is easier to have the right people on my contact list because of the festival. If for example, if I am in the mood to make a rap song I know who to talk to. I can find the right artist or producer, find the right people to collaborate with through my network. You get to bounce different creative energies off of people and explore parts of your skillset that you didn’t even know existed. 

I collaborated with Elina Shaukat last year and it was a whole new experience. I did not even realise that this is a possibility. Our song “Kaisay Hoga” has 50,000 plays and that is crazy to me. We took two days to make the song, everything else took a little longer. I love working with other people exploring new musical ideas that I wouldn’t have been able to come up with on my own.

My solo music is still in process, I have so many ideas floating around in my head. Sometimes I don’t even know how the song will turn out until I make the arrangement. I change my mind and might hate what I created the next day and throw that idea out. Solo music feels limiting because you can not bounce ideas off another person. You are literally bouncing the ideas off one part of your brain onto the other part of your brain. Sure, you can make other people hear it later to remedy that problem and the challenge is making independent decisions for your music. You take ownership and push yourself to create your own sound. Even if I decided to do my own solo music, I would not stop collaborating with other musicians. Because there are some artists that you meet that end up becoming your musical pals and friends. And in an industry like Pakistan, whether it’s the indie scene or mainstream, you need your tribe. You need that friendly energy around you because this is a cutthroat place to be for a musician. 

Mosiki: You are credited for having done technical sound for Takatak and Sikandar Ka Mandar. Could you guide us to what this entails and why is it an important practice for you as a musician?

ZP: I did the technical setup for Takatak during their performance at Koblumpi, Islamabad and have been doing it for years in Sikandar Ka Mandar. I handle the clicks and the cues. Backing tracks can involve playing effects or synth pieces which are important for the sound design of the show. The band members need to be on point with precision, following the metronome right on the click in order to meet at the exact same moment back after a sound gap. The technical part is to ensure the clicks are routed to each member’s earphones and the rest of the sound is plugged into the front of the house which is what everyone else hears. This is important for me because I am a geek that enjoys these things, I genuinely enjoy the wires and the connections, it’s like a puzzle to me. 

The metronome really keeps everyone on stage in check, a little off and the entire song could collapse. This is the reason people say Sikandar Ka Mandar sounds tight in terms of live performance because it is the backing tracks and the clicks without which our music could suffer. When we find out there is a gig tomorrow, we know that we are already prepared for it. As Nadir lives in Islamabad, we travel from different cities for gigs in Karachi which means that there is little to no time to jam before the performance. This technical foundation ensures we are able to deliver the best performance especially when it is a long-distance band.  

Mosiki: List down 5 to 10 songs you have played or performed or recorded or produced in the past that you recommend we add to our Self-Quarantine Playlist. 

  1. Kaisay Hoga – Elina Shaukat & Zahra P:
  1. Ikisvi Sadi – Biryani Brothers:
  1. Sab Theek Hojayega – Biryani Brothers:
  1. I Need Space – Dolce & Ghabraana:
  1. Tu fikr na kar – Sikandar Ka Mandar:
  1. Redbone (Cover) – Dolce & Ghabraana:
  1. Stronger (Cover) – Dolce & Ghabraana:
  1. Tum Kaafi Ho – Zahra Paracha

Mosiki: What is the best advice you have gotten about being a musician in Pakistan?

ZP: My uncle said “the struggle is not being a successful musician, it’s being a successful musician and being happy at the end of the day. If you aren’t going to be happy about your art then why are you doing it?” There should be a sense of happiness when you perform in front of an audience. If you aren’t going to be happy while performing, do not perform at all. It made so much sense to me, that if I lose that fun energy release moment while singing, producing, performing then why am I doing it in the first place.  

Mosiki: What can we expect in 2020 and beyond? 

ZP: Album is such a strong word, I wish I could make an album. But I have a unique problem where I can technically engineer the production of my own album and even be able to do the songwriting. What I struggle with is promoting my music. The launch events and other important aspects of the release feel burdensome. I feel self-promotion is my biggest flaw as a musician in Pakistan. I have been putting off releasing my songs for such a long time because of this issue. Instead of deciding on an album, trying to figure out who to contact knowing I wouldn’t enjoy the process I decided to release one song at a time. Right now I have 5 unreleased songs that are very personal narrations of my life. The most personal and vulnerable was “Tum Kafi Ho”. I’m not sure what the response will be but I like them and currently working on all the aspects of their music. I am also working on the visuals for the music videos to accompany the songs. In 2020, you can expect at least two more songs from me. I am hoping to release more, my target is 5 songs for now including “Tum Kaafi Ho”. I would call this an EP release while working with other acts including Maanu and Towers. I can not say more about my other plans yet but there are more exciting things happening behind the scenes.    

Mosiki: What Self-Quarantine tips can you share?

ZP: Sit down with yourself in silence and know you are not the worst person in the world. It is okay and even if those thoughts are there, those are not the worst thoughts in the world. And it’s okay to sit alone and think about things. Practice your skills cause that is what I have been doing in hopes of becoming a better musician and producer. Help other people and bring out the best in their music. Improve yourself in ways you are lacking, for those who said “if only I had the time” all I can say is “Bro ab time hee time hai.”  

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