January issue 2016
Left of the Dial
“I’m such a hippie at heart… my approach is that of a hippie,” declares Natasha Humera Ejaz. The singer, who has also made a name for herself as an actor on stage, a choreographer and an artist, doesn’t have a flower in her hair or a tie-dyed shirt on her body. She does, however, possess in abundance the attitude and dedication we expect to find in those who refuse to compromise.
It might be too trite to say that Natasha was destined for a musical career, but the signs were there. Her family has always had an artistic bent. She says, “My mother went to Punjab University and did fine art. My brother went to NCA and did graphic design and he’s an illustrator. My sister writes and draws, and before that she was a model.”
“I was three when I started performing. I did a play in school and learned all the characters’ lines and, much to the dismay of my mother, performed a one-person show for her for the next two years.”
Natasha’s resumÃ© is fascinating in itself. In 2010, she studied audio production at the International College of Music in Malaysia. Last year, there was the Dosti project in the US, which brought together musicians from Pakistan and India to play at prestigious festivals like South by SouthWest in Texas and in New Orleans. She says, “I only applied two days before the deadline and was not expecting to get in. I was flabbergasted when I got in. It was a music residency comprising Pakistani, Indian and American artists which was literally promoting peace between the three countries. It was an amazing out-of-body experience.”
Natasha has also worked in advertising and teaching and was a radio jockey on FM 89. She even formed a company called Insolent Knights, in her hometown of Islamabad, which gives amateur aspiring artists, singers, standup comedians et al, the opportunity to perform on stage. It was one of Natasha’s mentors, the late Shayan Afzal Khan, popularly known as Poppy, who gave Insolent Knights a platform at her cafÃ© Kuch Khaas. And it was Poppy who gave Natasha a grant to attend university in Malaysia for the first year. When Natasha tried to pay her back, she says, Poppy insisted she donate the money instead to The Second Floor (T2F).
“I don’t want to do what’s easy to do; also these are the years I’ll be able to explore other things. I never wanted to do something just to pay the bills and it means I wake up really happy,” she says. “Chasing money has gone on the backburner for me now.”
In December 2015, Natasha launched her new four-song EP (extended play), Till the End of Time. A mixture of both Urdu and English songs — something Natasha says she plans on continuing to do in the future — the launch was an immersive experience, with art installations complementing the music. One room was set up to resemble Natasha’s college dorm room and headphones were provided to allow the listener to experience the music as she intended it to be heard.
Explaining the thinking behind the launch, Natasha says, “I always liked the idea of engaging an audience physically in a setting where they are being introduced to the music for the first time. I personally don’t believe in inviting a bunch of people to a concert and not providing any context to music they have never heard before.”
The first two songs of the EP, Khwab and Raqeeb, are among her most emotionally resonant songs, adding pathos and maturity to her undeniable indie cred. She says, “I keep experimenting with genres. It’s like putting a puzzle together.” Natasha’s music is impossible to define, combining as it does elements of jazz, electronic and eastern classical. This versatility keeps her music both unpredictable and exciting, with a sense of never knowing what’s coming next.
“Everything I’m doing is very independent,” says Natasha. “We don’t live in a country where the work we are doing has an established infrastructure. People keep telling me to do a cover and make it go viral, but that never resonated with me.” It is precisely this independence that promises to make Natasha one of the most interesting artists, not just today, but for many years to come.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s Annual 2016 issue.
Nadir Hassan is a Pakistan-based journalist and assistant editor at Newsline.