She always thought composing music for an entire film in Bollywood would mean extremely high pressure and working in a somewhat corporate structure. However, Zeb Bangash, the first Pakistani artist to serve as music director of a Bollywood film – ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ – recalls it felt more like “coming home”.
Stressing that the movie was very special as there was a real sense of creating something new, and carving out a space that was absent before, she recalls: “Alankrita Anvita, Ankur Mukherjee, Amrit Mahajan and I shared and carried that sentiment with us. It really was like finding a community.Meetings were held, not in production houses but in homes over food and music, jokes, and poetry.”
Lamenting the current non-exchange of artists between India and Pakistan, she says for her, it is not about opportunities lost vis-a-vis audiences and markets, but the fact that it shrinks an artistic community.
“The movie we created was not supposed to be a bazillion crore hit. It was just special and important for a special and important artist who we all believed in, and who believed in us.That kind of camaraderie between neighbours is so enriching — and I say that from experience,” says the artist whose first outing in India was with the film ‘Madras Cafe’.
All set to perform live at Times Square in New York in collaboration with renowned 2023 Pollack Prize winner artist Shahzia Sikander, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Du Yun, and interdisciplinary artist Eddy Kwon on September 30, she says: “To be right there in Times Square and perform live, while the square is immersed in Shahzias work, just thinking about it feels like a dream. It is exhilarating and surreal.
Collaborating with Du Yun, and Eddy Kwon for ‘Reckoning’ has been an enchanting journey. To be a part of this synergy of art and music, coming together in this historic public celebration is one of the best things that could happen.”
For someone who sings in multiple languages, she laughs when asked which one is closest to her. “Pashto makes me think of home, Urdu and Hindi open up my imagination, Persian feels like a warm hug, Kashmiri feels like being transported to a magical land, Turkish is nostalgia and Punjabi is the closest friend — like a yaarana.”
Co-founder of the band ‘Sandaraa’ (with Michael Winograd), a project she calls closest to her heart, Bangash, ended up playing with him entirely by chance in the US, and on that gig, they decided to play together again. Soon after, the band came together.
“We shared the same vision of the band as co-founders but really Michael is the captain of the ship. He got a stellar group of Brooklyn-based musicians from Klezmer, European, Jewish music, heavy metal, Jazz, Turkish and Arabic styles. I learned so much about musical aesthetics and diversity working with them. The vision is to build bridges between cultures and tell stories with music that blur the lines between the past, present, and future.”
She feels being in Sandaraa validated much of her “weirdness”. “All that home could not understand about me… I found space to sing Sabzal Samagi’s Balochi classics and Haji Saifoos comic Persian ghazals to audiences all over North America.”
For someone who believes collaborations are the best way to learn and grow as one gets ‘barkat’ associated with sharing, she asserts that the same ascertains that one truly gets to experience other worlds musically. “But most importantly your relationships and your community expands and you feel a part of something big and universal.”
Ask her about the secret of the extremely interesting music scene in Pakistan, she admits it sometimes surprises her considering how tough it can get for artists there. “But then I wonder whether the output is exciting for precisely the same reason that it is challenging, which is the lack of a structured industry and a hyper-responsive market. In some ways that allows us to work in our silos and stay focused on our own expression without the burden of imagining success. Creating without a keen focus on the audience is freedom.”
With diverse influences including Popular music from the West starting from the ’50s, South Asian folk and films, ghazals and Semi- classical music, Pop music from the ’60s till the ’90s from Turkey besides a whole range of music from Afghanistan and the Middle East, the singer who is also learning from Ustad Naseeruddin Saami says the training in classical has completely changed her life and musical expression.
“The most obvious change is in my voice itself. What it can do and where it can go has expanded. Learning Khayal has transformed my relationship with myself, it’s really brought a sense of quiet self-assurance and helped me integrate all of my musical influences into one perspective,” she says.
During the Pandemic, Bangash recorded her solo album, with a crew of musicians and producers based out of L.A. Though that one is yet to release, she recording another one. “There is also a collection of regional songs that I am recording based out of Dubai,” she concludes.