By Muhammad Asad Ullah
When a 24-year-old, who professes to “singing a bit” cuts the coveted Coke Studio — Pakistan’s music chartbuster — teeth with 6.5 million views in just a few hours of the release of Afreen (remake of Ustaad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s famous number) alongside the current numero uno Rahat Fateh Ali Khan under the banner of Coke Studio Season 9, you can’t but sit up and take notice.
Meet the new sensation with a naturally soulful voice: Momina Mustehsan. She would ideally be headed for resurgence two years after the release of her Bollywood debut single Awari in Ek Villain.
The most noticeable thing about Momina — apart from her presence — is that nearly everywhere she goes, she turns up more or less unattended, trailed all by herself. She doesn’t employ a manager or even a publicist.
Momina has an explanation for this. “I don’t think releasing number of albums defines a musician. I do music for myself and not for the masses. I’m not into the idea of being a celebrity or having people know or follow me. Actually, when Afreen came out and I was the only person trending on twitter for four days in Pakistan, it freaked me out. I’m a very private person. Experience, I don’t think is only limited to the product released,” Momina tells Community in an exclusive interview at a reputed coffee joint in Pakistan’s picturesque capital Islamabad.
Although settled in New York but keeping up with traditional Pakistani wear in a serene green kurti and sipping cold coffee, Momina is keeping her fingers crossed about making it big in the Pakistani music industry with Coke Studio.
Her last song released was Awari for Sidharth Malhotra and Shraddha Kapoor’s Bollywood starrer Ek Villain in 2014, but who knew Afreen would foment her as the new sensation of the Pakistani music industry.
Despite the brassy work that speaks for Momina herself, some critics called hers an unfair hype for not contributing to the actual tenor of the song but just appearing in the video with few lines in pocket.
To this, Momina responds calmly: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I did notice many people talked about my smile, but honestly I didn’t even realise I was smiling during the shoot. I was extremely nervous because I had never rehearsed and had never heard the song before — I mean the new track, the way it was.”
Being the youngest lead singer to have performed three songs in Coke Studio Pakistan this season, Momina surprised herself with the nuances — otherwise a unique distinction in the industry. “I’m honoured being the only female lead to do three songs at the Coke Studio — something, I didn’t really expect doing,” she says.
Ever since Momina’s phone just doesn’t stop ringing.
Asked to compare the Pakistani music industry with its Indian counterpart, a philosophical Momina said while she admired Bollywood, “I would definitely say Coke Studio is right up there because Indian music industry is just all about Bollywood. It’s mostly commercial music and they do a good job of it. In Pakistan however, the uniqueness is that everything is not very commercial. At Coke Studio, we experiment with the music and explore different genres with a lot of fusions.”
Despite Pakistani musicians and actors making their mark in Bollywood over time, there appears to be no real initiative for joint ventures, especially with different genres of music on both sides of the border. Asked why, Momina puts it down to politics holding back such explorations.
“I think majorly, it’s to do with politics. We have been in such an environment for so long that when a Pakistani goes and works in Bollywood or vice versa people seem to get offended,” the starlet opines.
However she adds, “There is collaboration on some level depending upon the platform you’re talking about because in India, it’s all about Bollywood and, in Pakistan, we don’t have much to offer, Bollywood-like.”
Sometimes a single performance sets the standards and all subsequent performances pale in comparison no matter how hard one tries. Asked if she’ll be able to outdo Afreen, Momina avows that her best is yet to come.
“I wasn’t even supposed to do that song. I found out about it just a few days before it was to be shot and the other two main songs that I did are definitely different. The song I did with Shujja Haider might outdo Afreen. I personally enjoyed singing it. But it depends if it will get the same media attention because with Afreen there were a lot of different elements that made it a success,” explains Momina, adding, “First it was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Sahab’s song and it was already a huge hit; then, it was Rahat Fateh Ali Khan rendering the number, and the arrangement for the last was really nice. I only sang literally, six lines in it. So my contribution wasn’t much, but as far as my work goes, I do have much better to offer.”
It won’t be erroneous to say Momina has inherited the ingenuity of vocals which comes naturally to her from her mother, who indeed has a melodic voice. Momina credits her success to both her parents.
She also hopes to bring about a change in the perception that the female of the species rarely make it good in the industry. “Yes, you don’t have many female musicians around. I have done a Bollywood song before and it’s not that I haven’t got offers before, it’s just that I don’t want to pursue music as a career. For me, it was hard to make a decision since I had no references. Maybe after me, people would come out to show their talent,” enthuses Momina.
Momina is planning to move back to New York, away from stardom soon whilst initiating an education programme for children in rural Pakistan along with a polio campaign.
“I plan introducing distant education plans for children in rural areas where there are no schools or a learning environment. We’ll introduce learning videos which, along with projectors, would be provided to the mosques in different areas to enable children to learn. From making rotis to learning physics, they’ll get it all,” she says, with profound intonation.
In conclusion, Momina thanked all her fans for their love and support. “I would like to thank you all for being extremely supportive since the time of (her single) Pee Jaun and now, Coke Studio. Please keep backing us and let’s make this world a better place! For Pakistanis living abroad, I know you miss home — so stay tuned to Coke Studio this season and regale in the fond memories of your homeland.”
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