‘RAG (Recording Artists’ Guild) Talent’ (USA): ‘Spotlight Interview with Maham Suhail’

Maham Suhail has been creating beautiful music for a whole now and the latest from her is a masterpiece of an EP called Pari Sufna.

The record takes you on an astoundingly colorful musical journey and engulfs you in her world almost immediately and doesn’t let up throughout it’s 5 song course.A traditional and worldly style, Suhail evokes lush and passionate pieces of music performed with soul and precision.With such a wonderful EP, we had to sit down with the songstress and find out where it all comes from.

RAG: Let’s start with Pari Sufna. The EP is rich with sound and texture and has an incredibly cinematic feel. Where did this come from?

Maham: The studio production of my debut E.P. ‘Pari Sufna’ (Punjabi for, ‘Dream about a Fairy’) happened after a live festival performance of 6 songs, directed/co-composed and arranged by myself with my 24-piece ensemble during a pre-festival 5-day rehearsal. The idea to bring together the rich folk forms, indigenous languages and instruments from the mountains (Gilgit-Baltistan province) & the plains (Punjab province) of Pakistan, originated for me while living in the Hunza valley as part of an artists’ residency. I stayed on longer after the others had left upon finishing the community work: And hence, my research started. I believe it is the result of

i. having lived within these culturally-rooted communities in both regions,

ii. studying the tones, textures of each of the instruments in my ensemble,

iii. Having an ongoing interest in ancient music and regional folkloric traditions, globally, and,

iv. paying close attention to both the time-based and frequency-based arrangements within a Modern Folk context, in all the live and studio production stages; that eventually helped me to achieve this extent of color and texture in the final project, as a producer, composer and vocalist.

RAG: How long have you been doing this? How did it all start for you?

Maham: I have been working as a performing and sonic artist officially since 2014, and as a recording artist and producer since 2017. It all started for me at quite a young age, with singing Western Classics & doing Piano classes in school, to Pop, to my involvement with the local Rock ‘n Roll & Blues underground scene through teenage, to Classical, Jazz and South Asian Folk music later. My senses opened up to Avant-garde & Experimental sounds too, in 2013. This was also the year when I gave up an arts scholarship and a film production job, to focus full time on music.

RAG: Did this EP take a long time to complete?

Maham: My E.P. ‘Pari Sufna’, which carries my credits as producer/arranger/co-composer, apart from being the lead and supporting female vocalist across the 5 songs, initiated with my proposal to the Walled City Lahore Authority & Alhamra Arts Council (Lahore). The idea was to first hold a live performance of this fusion segment (within the larger Music programming), followed by its studio recording. I was the Producer for the entire live Music production of this big cultural festival, and my Fusion ensemble was the main recurring act. From the time of its first inception, to research, to working out the proposal, to struggling alone through months to get the production teams and the budget together (the eventual budget received for studio production was zero, in contrast to the earlier promise from the 2 government bodies named above), to designing the ensemble, to rehearsing and composing for live; to self-funding and budgeting the studio project with some reformed music arrangements and a few substituted players, then recording 6 songs and mixing the final 5, across 3 cities…the ‘Pari Sufna’ fusion project took 13 months to finish.

RAG: I hear so much heart in the record. Who are some of your biggest musical influences?

Maham: Thank you so much! Yes I have put all my heart, body and soul into my work over the years.My musical influences are quite a few, but top of the list range from Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chand, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Anoushka Shankar, A.R. Rahman, Abidah Parveen, Patti Smith, Nina Simone (as composers/performers), to projects like The Silk Road Ensemble, Shakti the band, to production inspirations from the likes of Nico Muhli, Hans Zimmer, Peter Gabriel, etc.

RAG: Have you played live shows before? Do you think you’ll be performing live when the time comes?

Maham: Yes, I’ve been playing live shows properly since 2015, in Pakistan, India and Europe. And yes, I definitely look forward to performing more (‘Insha Allah’ = God-willing, as we say), as things get smoother around the COVID crisis.

RAG: What’s next for you as an artist?

Maham: To the stars! (kidding!)…I am working on finishing the edit on my next music video (to be released around New Year’s; date to be announced soon). This song which I produced while in Spain (titled ‘Dil Mi Ravad’) is one of the singles on my upcoming debut album.

RAG: What are you doing when you’re NOT working on music?

Maham: Spending time with family or friends, watching a movie/series/web channel, cooking, writing (poetry), traveling.

RAG: Before we go, what would you like to say to fans of the music?

Maham: I’d like to tell my fans that nothing is easy, but with an attitude of gratitude, compassion, synergy, discipline and faith, we can bring our best potential to shine. We just need to stay true to whatever we do, which means staying brutally true to one’s own self-awareness and growth as an individual.

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