“Kolkata Musicians are Underpaid: Maham Suhail”

CT talks to Lahore-based singer Maham Suhail about music, life in Pakistan and Kolkata’s music scene during her recent visit to the city.
Is this your first visit to Kolkata?
This is my second time in Kolkata. The first time was back in March 2015. I was in touch with ITC Sangeet Research Academy over emails and sent them a recording of a raag that I sang.They showed interest and based on their invitation letter, I applied for a visa and came down to Kolkata. I attended their three-day annual sammelan, following which I auditioned and got selected. It is difficult to get a visa that allows unhindered entry across India because of the tension between the two countries. I do hope things change for the better soon. I love Kolkata. Unlike other big metros, this city has a soul. The only problem is that artistes are really underpaid here.
Tell us about your kind of music.
For a few years now, I’m performing Sufi and Sufi fusion. I know, when it comes to Pakistani singers, people only think of Sufi music, but honestly , I do not follow trends. Personally , I relate to the Sufi journey . I have been trained in classical music by my late guru, Bhai Ghulam Mohammed Chand, whose forefathers traced their lineage to the family of Bhai Mardana. Rabindranath Tagore, too, is an inspiration for me because, apart from music, I write poetry too. My favourite Rabindrasangeet is Jodi prem dile na prane. I’m looking forward to visit Santiniketan in September to hobnob with the bauls there and learn their fascinating music. I love Parvathy baul of Bengal.
Did you always want to be a singer?

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I believe it’s not something you want.It’s something you are responsive to.I was doing BBA in finance and soon realized this is not what I want to do.Both my parents have very good taste in music and I was exposed to that from a very early age. From Kishore Kumar to Lata Mangeshkar to Bonny M and Abba and opera, I listened to everything. My first formal training was in western theory , as I started playing the piano when I was 12. I was also a part of the school choir where I played the melodica. During my teenage, I saved money and bought a guitar and started jamming with underground rock bands while writing lyrics for them. My eastern classical music training started only a few years ago in 2011, when I was finally convinced that I wanted to pursue music as a career. Apart from Sufi and classical, I also enjoy deep house, psychedelic, blues and jazz. I have jammed with folk musicians in the deserts of Cholistan, have performed with rock artistes from both mainstream and underground bands and have also practiced Rababi Kirtan. I guess that makes me versatile (smiles).
Is Lahore a conservative city when it comes to women performing artistes?
What are the challenges you faced during your journey? Anywhere in the world, certain schools of thought prevail. The other day , I met a really cool girl at a club in Kolkata. She comes from a well-known musical family and has been residing in England for a long time, but to my surprise, she told me, women in her family weren’t allowed to sing publicly . Back in Lahore too, educated families are very conservative and have regressive thoughts. I have been blessed to have parents who have been immensely supportive of my musical career. It was a homely atmosphere at my Guru’s place too.Women and men would sit together and practise music. Publicly , however, these women are not allowed to perform. A woman who is an artiste cannot say she’s one without the fear of being judged. She can never be sure of the kind of reaction she might get frommen. When it comes to women, society’s perception of a performing artiste is rather different. Some people will respect you for your art, some will judge you. It depends on the kind of background one comes from. But with bands popularizing contemporary music, things are progressing at a brisk pace.
Do you listen to Bollywood music?
Honestly , not much. In Lahore, people love Bollywood music as much as people here love Pakistani dramas! I love music that has a certain melody to it. Bollywood item songs are just noise to me. I love Sonu Nigam, Lucky Ali, AR Rahman and Shreya Ghoshal. In recent times, I loved the soundtrack of PK. – Times of India, Kolkata

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