Charting the Rise of Maham Suhail

LAHORE-Combining the rhythms and traditions of Sufi-folk tunes with her deep and textured vocal tones, Maham has been closely in contact with music for many years. Her mellifluous renditions have rightly earned her the credit for placing the folk music on the country’s cultural radar.

Maham has worked assiduously to promote folk music through her efforts both national and international. Through her powerful performance, she manages to convey the realms of musical fantasia into the audience. Her work helps the younger generation understand, appreciate and respect the rich traditions of folk music. In an exclusive interview with The Nation she talks about her career and success. Following are the excerpts:


“Can you tell us about your training in music and how did you decide to choose singing as a profession?”
“My training in music started since my childhood, by studying the Western theory and classics in school both in Piano-playing and Choral singing practices. Since 2011, I formally started my Eastern/sub continental classical vocal training with Ustads (teachers). My longest attachment was with the late Bhai Ghulam Mohammed Chand, and my current teacher is Naseer-ud-Din Saami sahab. As a teenager, I am jamming and writing lyrics with underground rock bands. I chose Music as a profession in 2013; nothing else made clear sense to me and captured my imagination the way singing did. And so, I dropped all other fields of work.”


“You have the honour of being selected at Goethe talents scholarship programme as a musician from Pakistan among other global artists, share your experience?”

“My experience of the Pop Kultur Nachwuchs, as part of the Goethe Talents’ Scholarship programme was an eye-opener in some ways, as to how the global music industry thrives. I attended workshops at the Pop Kultur Festival (where I also performed), collaborated with international artistes and experimented new ideas some of them inspired by the trending electronic influenced in the general Berlin music scene. I got to meet some lovely people from the metropolitan mix of the Berlin scene, explored some experimental sound art and in the process helped some folks see a Pakistani woman musician in a new light.”


“What are you performing this year with at Mystic Sufi festival?”

“I shall be doing a debut live performance of my special piece titled ‘Dhol Tarana’, the studio production of what is going on these days. This song, a musical experiment of a unique 5.75-bt cycle (invented by Mithu Saaein on Dhol), with its vocal melody composed by me; a Tarana (Classical form of song), sitar, flute, electric and bass guitar will be accompanied by my vocals.”


“Actors nowadays are trying to put their hands on singing, do you feel it’s giving lesser opportunities to professional singers?”

“I believe, whoever is true to music, should be allowed to be a part of it. If professional singers are sincere and dedicated in their work, they don’t need to be afraid of any additional competition. In fact, all performing artistes should work together in harmony.”


“There aren’t too many female music directors in Pakistan, why do you think this is so? Do you think there is lack of music education in Pakistan?”

“Yes, there are lesser of female professionals in the music direction and production departments. That is not due to lack of music education in our system though, I believe, but mainly due to lack of initiative in society to see women in leadership roles in music. A change of mindset about gender roles in music, plus the right kind of healthy working environments where serious female artists may do internships at music studios (without feeling harassed) and take the lead if they have the potential, this will change the state of affairs for sure.”


“How is folk music relevant to us today and how can we include it in our modern lives?”

“Folk music traditions are very important part of our identity. These are the roots linked directly with our culture, land and value system. If we disconnect our organic and authentic music with its strong elements of language, instrumental sound and beat, then we will lose a basic sense of self-identity. This actually, is a big reason for intolerance in our society, when we move away from our real essence. We can include more of folk music in our lives by exploring it more as artistes and listeners by helping our younger generations learn more about our own language and tradition.”


“Since you have a passion for Sufi music, tell us who is your favourite Sufi poet?”

“I love Sufi poetry and spirituality is a recurring theme in my own poetry too. But I have no one particular favourite as such, because I deeply respect, love and sing kalams by various poets in different languages, including Hafez, Ameer Khusrow, Baba Farid, Kabir, Guru Nanak, etc.”


“Tell us a little about your E.P. (mini-album), Pari Sufna?”

“Pari Sufna (Dreaming of a Fairy), is my first E.P. which I produced last year. This project was initiated by some songs which I directed an ensemble of 15 folk/3 electric musicians and 6 vocalists in a 9-day rehearsal period, for the Fusion Festival, Punjab-Gilgit-Baltistan. The main idea for this first-time musical fusion between the Punjabi and Gilgit-Baltistani instruments/folk traditions was mine, so are some of the compositions and all music arrangements in this E.P. of 5 songs (7 languages).”


“What’s next for Maham Suhail?”

“For now, I can only tell you that I have the video pre-production of my single ‘Sajjan Yaar’ going on. Plus, I look forward to the releases of my E.P. ‘Pari Sufna’.” – The Nation

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