ROLLERCOASTER RIDE: Maha says her life has been a rollercoaster ride made of many dreams and illusions. INSET: ON A SONG: The singer has made her presence felt with her first shot in the limelight. Cover photograph: Maha Ali Kazmi in a still from the video Nazar.
By Kamran Rehmat
The Pakistani music scene is abuzz these days with the emergence of a singer whose spectacular debut is an early portent of a star.
While one swallow does not a summer make, listeners have found a nostalgic note or two about Maha Ali Kazmi’s single Nazar that reminds them of the kind of talent that Nazia Hassan, the subcontinent’s first iconic pop singer, possessed.
Coming at a time when the music scene has endured a bit of a parched spell, Maha has made herself count not with some bubble gummy peppy number, but a rendition for the soul.
Nazar hit the airwaves in Pakistan this month and became a sensation on the social media overnight. The song was first launched on her facebook fan page where it received an overwhelming response.
An alma mater of MONASH University, Melbourne, she returned home after completing her degree and auditioned for a local show ‘Cornetto Music Icons’ produced by Shahi
Hasan of Pakistan’s first celebrated pop band Vital Signs. Hasan selected her as part of the house band.
After lending backup vocals at this show which was aired on Pakistan’s premier TV channel, ARY Digital, she realised music was her true calling, and decided to collaborate with OVERLOAD Band’s front man and drummer Farhad Humayun and keyboardist Sheraz Siddiq on her debut single Nazar.
Here in a freewheeling interview with Gulf Times, she holds forth on her passion for music and dreams.
Do you think you’re on your way to stardom with Nazar?
My song was released nationally and exclusively on a local music channel 8XM. It feels almost unreal. I’m dazzled because I’m used to facing many obstacles in the way of everything I set out to accomplish. To my surprise, this time, it feels like the stars are on my side.
Tell us about yourself…
I was raised in Karachi and after completing my ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels here, I went to Melbourne for higher education, where I stayed almost four years. I’ve grown up singing the music my parents listen to with my earliest exposure to music being my dad’s record collection — mainly 60s and 70s music.
Are there any icons that have influenced your style and image musically and otherwise?
Audrey Hepburn, yes, but musically, I’d say Nancy Sinatra.
Are you brand conscious?
I think fashion goes beyond brands. I’m no expert on fashion and, not to say I have anything against being brand conscious, but I feel it’s a general misconception that good taste comes with good money.
Tell us about your experience in Melbourne…
I went there for higher education. I was studying Finance & Macroeconomics/Management in MONASH University. Melbourne is a city that grows on you and it inspires you in so many different ways. There’s so much to explore. It was a great learning experience. There were happy times and tough times. When you have a family that cares for you, you tend to take a lot of things in life for granted. It taught me to be strong, to survive and, most of all, to be grateful.
What did Melbourne offer music-wise?
It has a very vibrant and diverse culture. It’s a city where you’re exposed to different kinds of music. Busking, or street entertainment, as Melbourne people like to call it, is very popular. You get to hear unbelievably talented people playing on the streets, near malls and restaurants, by the river, etc, and that’s when I was exposed to new styles of music. In Melbourne, my friends and I were frequent visitors to this fancy restaurant that played live Jazz music. That’s when I developed a taste for Jazz.
When did you first decide you wanted to be a singer?
While watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s, at the age of 11. I saw Audrey Hepburn with a guitar in her hand sitting on a fire escape and singing Moon River. That moment I knew I wanted to be a singer.
Do you write your own songs?
I love writing songs. I mainly write in English. It’s a way for me to translate my experiences, especially the ones that are close to my heart, into words.
How would you define your style of music/genre?
Tell us about your debut single…
Nazar is a sad song about unrequited love. It’s about a girl who wants to be loved and cared for, like all girls do, but despite all her beauty and all that jazz, love is the only thing she can’t afford. It’s a message that rectifies this general misconception that most people have that “with all things material and worldly” you can buy happiness. The truth is that the wealthiest, famous, good looking and fortunate people are sometimes the saddest ones, too.
She looks at her reflection in the mirror, trying to identify flaws in herself, and she is wondering why she cannot court the attention of the person she loves. She looks her best and brings him fruits and tea on a tray and each fruit symbolises her feelings. For example, the redness of the watermelon is a symbolic representation of her bleeding heart. She tries to win his heart, but she knows that she is fighting a losing battle and that he will never love her back. So she is hurt because she knows all her yearning is in vain.
In the video however, we’ve left the message open for interpretation because music is an art form and, like the greatest paintings have unambiguous meanings, therefore, I believe so does good music.
You collaborated with OVERLOAD band members for this song. How was your experience producing Nazar?
Working with Farhad Humayun and Sheraz Siddiq was a real breeze. I hear musicians frequently complaining that when they step into the music Industry, music is produced like any other commercial product — that it stops being an art form. This experience proved that when you work with the right people, true musicians, as I’d like to call them, music remains an art form and is not a mere business transaction.
What is your philosophy about life?
In happy times, I’ve experienced crippling fear of not being able to hold on to the moments of joy, laughter, and hope that eventually fades away. My life has been a roller coaster ride made of many dreams and illusions. So I’m not a believer of happy endings, but I can’t help being a dreamer, and so I dream of roads paved with stars, and hearts of gold, and clouds with silver linings, and so much more.
What are your favourite bands/genres?
Internationally, I listen to music from the 60s and 70s mainly. I’m an old soul. The bands/artists I listen to the most are Nancy and Frank Sinatra, Leonard Cohen, Dire Straits and Nat King Cole.
And your favourite song?
I’ve never had one fixed favourite song. That’s like having a fixed personality, and my personality has evolved throughout my journey in life and so has my taste in music.
Do you have any regrets?
I think not having learnt an instrument…so I’d like to learn to play the piano. But in terms of my life, no. I think everything that has ever happened — the good, the bad, the ugly, I own all of these. These have shaped who I am today, and how I look at the world. I won’t want to change any of it because I don’t want to change anything about myself. I’m very comfortable with who I am as a person and as an artist.
There is a perception that you sound like Nazia Hassan. What is your take on that?
I feel very humbled that people compare me to one of the biggest Pakistani icons. I think she changed the course of music for Pakistan. It makes me happy to feel the warmth and acceptance that people convey in their review of my song Nazar. But I want to have my own distinct image and style — be it my songs, my voice or the way I look. I believe I want to be known for my personal style alone.
Is there anything you want to say to your listeners?
Nazar is a song about love and disappointments. My message to them would be to love those who can love you back with an equal intensity; who are worthy of your love. The road to happiness is never an easy one and disappointments and failures are part of the journey. The trick is to keep going on, with the hope and conviction that the destination is not far from reach. It never is.
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