MUSICIAN & ETHNOMUSICOLOGIST NATASHA NOORANI
Born into a family of non-musicians, Natasha knew from a very young age her interest lies in music. With no particular genre, she makes music in Urdu and English to allow her to experiment different moods of the music. We sat down with the talented musician as she spoke about her favourite songs, future of female musicians in Pakistan and much more...
Tell us about how you started making music. Do you have a musical family or did you just fall into songwriting all on your own?
While no one in my family is a professional musician, everyone from my grandmother to my siblings are intense listeners and their music tastes naturally influenced mine. I was adamant from a young age to pursue music and had been performing since I was 14 but I started making music seriously in my early 20s.
Who has been your greatest guide, support and source of inspiration in music? Do you follow or incorporate any particular singer’s style in your rendition?
I think I’ve been lucky to consume a lot of music. Lots of inspirations and they keep changing. Vocally, I really took to Maynard Keenan James (Tool/A Perfect Circle), early 2000s R&B and alternative rock (both local and international bands). I think my greatest guide has been the way I listen to and perceive music. I find genuine happiness in making and performing music and that’s probably the primary reason I’ve been able to keep at it for this long. More recently I’ve been gravitating towards artists like Lianne La Havas, BTS, Taemin, Ahmed Jehanzeb,
The Internet and Jordan Rakei. What’s your particular brand of music and the latest musical collaborations you’re currently working on?
Fortunately, I don’t think I’ve boxed myself into any particular genre of music. I make music in both Urdu and English so that allows me to experiment and try out different moods of music including R&B, progressive rock, neo-soul, synthwave and pop.Alongside working on my next album, I’ve got collaborations with artists such as Shorbanoor and Maanu in the works.
You’re also an Ethnomusicologist. Tell us a little about that...
To channel my obsession with Pakistani music, I ended up getting a Masters in Ethnomusicology, which is the study of music and its relation to culture. A lot of my fieldwork and research pertains to 20th century Pakistani music and the institutions that were responsible for curating them. My research involves everything from collecting cassettes to oral narratives.
Why do you think there is a dearth of female singer, song writers and composers in the Pakistan’s music industry barring a few? Do you see that changing soon?
There are plenty of talented female singers, composers, musicians and producers in Pakistan. The problem is barrier to entry. Considering how sketchy and inaccessible things such as studio spaces can be, it’s yet another hurdle for women to deal with both in learning and in recording their music. It’s a fight a lot of women including myself are still fighting. Getting permission, choosing the right risks to take, ensuring that you’re not being silenced by louder male counterparts, it’s a constant struggle. So I’d say female musicians have been on the rise for a while, the industry just needs to keep up with them. Artists like Aaishay Haque, Mahak Qayyum, Elina Shaukat, Janat Sohail, Rahema Zaheer, Nimra Gilani are just a few names that deserve a lot more attention!
What would be your future plan of action? Is international indie music scene calling?
It would be excellent to showcase more of my work internationally. I’ve managed to perform in Kathmandu and London and would love to add more cities to that list. Beyond that, I just plan to keep making as much music as possible. I’m working on an album along with some throwaway singles. I’m also always interested in working with more musicians on collaborations because that forces me out of musical tropes I might get stuck in. So hopefully you’ll be hearing a lot more of me in the near future.
Which songs would you say were the game-changers in your career?
Working with Jamal Rahman on reimagining ‘Ye h Aaj Mujh Ko Kya Hua’ by Naheed Akhtar for ‘Baaji’ was definitely a game-changer. I wouldn’t have even tried to attempt something in that style but once I did, it really put into perspective what I was musically capable of. Plus I got to be the voice for Meera jee so it’s definitely a hard moment to top.
You’re also the co-founder of Lahore Music Meet, how are you curating new talent? What is the method behind your selection of performers?
For LMM, Zahra Paracha and myself work year-round to scout the best new talent through scouring the internet and attending as many hole in the wall gigs as we can. The method is finding artists that exude talent but are likely to be overlooked by the current machinery of the industry. So it doesn’t matter what genre, what age or stage of their career they’re in. We’re looking to give a space and context to artists who would normally not fit the extremely myopic standards of the ‘mainstream’.
How do you think the digital music has changed the industry? What’s the future of festivals, live experiences and the overall music business landscape?
While digital music has made it easier to produce and share music, it’s also become harder to find artists and bring them to their most suited audience. In the midst of coronavirus pandemic, I’m unsure what the future of festival and live music is. It’s quite sad because as of early 2020, things were finally looking up for live music in Pakistan. Now many venues are shutting down and are unlikely to pop up again for at least another few years. The music business landscape is still in its infancy at best. There aren’t many models to monetize off of music which leaves musicians even more marginalized than ever before. I think if we get reliable record labels, there might be some hope of developing a business model around music.
Who is your favourite local singer/band?The next big thing according to you?
Some of my current favourite local musicians include Abdullah Siddiqui, Wisdom Salad, Mahak Qayyum and Shorbanoor.
INTERVIEW: SUNDUS UNSAR RAJA
PHOTOS: COURTESY NATASHA NOORANI