Natasha Baig's powerful rendition of Shikwa on the season opening episode of Coke studio season 11 has racked up over 8 million views on YouTube. Her voice is described by Coke Studio as "immediately identifiable, comprising a combination of force and subtlety." Natasha is a young Ismaili from Hunza and was once an athlete, playing under-19 cricket as an off-spin bowler in district matches. However it is the other love of her life, music, that she has made her career. Natasha is unusual among women singers in the region for her sufi-rock genre of singing, having a sound that is evocative and unique. In 2014, Baig was part of the first ensemble of Sounds of Kolachi, and contributed as a vocalist in the first album, “Elhaam” (2017), produced by Mekaal Hasan. Her original tracks include ‘Kesaria’ with Mai Dhai (2017), ‘Ya Maula’ in Burushaski language and ‘Tu Nay Deewana Banaya’ and have won critical acclaim.
Natasha started her career by participating in the singing competition “KE SARA SARA season 1”. Even though she didn’t win the show, she did find her purpose: creating music.
“KE SARA SARA helped me discover my tone and helped me to realize that I can do so much with my voice”, says Natasha.
Later, in 2013 she joined another musical show “Cornetto Music Icon”. The show helped her groom her voice and interact with other musical stars from around Pakistan. By now her voice was recognized by many and she started creating her own music.
“I had to prove myself, and I did so by performing live in different shows. Within a year I was able to create a value for myself," she declares.
Apart from her voice, what sets Natasha apart is the fact that she produces her own content. Her originality makes her stand out; she writes her own songs along with her brother, who now is an important part of her band.
“Sameer helps me with the song writing, he usually plays some melody and I try to create lyrics accordingly, so it’s team work - it needs time and feelings. One cannot rush it; you get into the mood and the lyrics just flow in,” she explains.
While talking about her music, she says she used to listen to western music when young and later she found herself listening to Abida Parveen,
“I wanted to know what else I can do with my voice, and I started listening to Abida jee - she is my idol,” she says.
When asked if she would like to collaborate with some musician, she said
“I would love to do a collaboration with Abida Parveen; I believe I would get to learn so much from her. Another musician that I had a dream of working with was Ali Azmat, and luckily I had a chance to work with him. Our music is not out yet, but I am excited for it.” She says she looks up to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen the most. “They have both produced some of the best content in the history of Pakistan. They both had their own unique style that they stuck to and made their own, and that is something I aspire to.” she enthuses.
Beside music Natasha also runs a production house, namely “Laal Series”, with her friend. Being a film graduate she enjoys film making. She has worked along with her production team on several ads and campaigns. She herself has directed several music videos.
Natasha also enjoys a big northern based fandom and she has shown her appreciation for them in the past, through her track “Ya Maula”. She has plans to work on Gilgity music in the future too, and wants to give it a little touch of her own style.
Natasha’s journey may seem like a very smooth run, but she had faced many highs and lows throughout her career. Natasha mentions how it was difficult for her to actually begin her career in music. Like any average family, her father also expected her to join the same generic fields but she knew what she wanted and she was ready to fight for it. “I always knew that I can’t just be any regular person, I knew my capabilities and I knew that I could do something big.”
But success doesn’t come easy, and Natasha knows it. Natasha relates that she had to leave her education for a while to find a job to support her family.
“My father left us, because of my desire to work in music; it was the most difficult time of our lives so I decided to step up.” Unlike many, Natasha even looks at this with a positive approach. She says that this event actually made her a stronger person and her spirit and passion is what kept her going,
“This hardship made me work harder and be responsible. I never thought about being a singer, it took me so long to discover my own talent. I believe that being a singer was destined for me. I believe that God wanted me to be a singer. He gave me the talent and I felt that if I won’t work on it then I might be dishonoring Him.”
She mentions how her mother has always been an inspiration for her.
“My mom helped me become a feminist, she has supported me, has believed in me and has always encouraged me to work and follow my passion.”
She wants to convey the same message to young musicians out there, saying
“You must always follow your passions, and never get disheartened by the mistakes that you make; learn from them and work on them.Work on yourself and try to enhance your own skills rather than trying to pull others down.All this success was not easy. I have worked very hard, thus that’s what I tell others to do too. I believe that one must go through all those hurdles that life throws at you; they help you grow and help you learn."
On a lighter note we asked her about any crazy fan moment that she had experience, to which she replied,
“There have been many crazy fan moments and the most recent one was right after the coke studio episode, when I went to my friend’s wedding. I went in just like any other person and suddenly there were people shouting my name. I felt a little scared but also felt so happy to see such positive reaction from all these people. It’s such a wonderful feeling to see people love and appreciate your work. It makes all the hard work and struggle worthwhile. “
Bayaan won the Pepsi Battle of the Bands this year in a competition that captured the hearts of the nation. We had an opportunity to talk to Asfar Hussain, the lead vocalist for the band and learn about their journey and their story of success.
Bayyan first came togethter thanks to Nescafé Basement , a show that was instrumental in developing the music scene in Pakistan in recent years. It gathered university students from all around Pakistan and gave them an opportunity to showcase their talent. The show has been a huge success and for many it was the launching pad they needed to form their own paths.
Bayaan was one of those bands that the show bought together, a group of individuals who shared the same dream of creating music of their own and in their own unique style.
“Nescafé Basement has been the foundation for my career; it helped me step into the music industry. Since it was a very diverse group, I was exposed to many different forms of music. I met my band mates there, and together we decided to produce some music of our own.” This was when the band wrote their first song “Nahein Milta”, which they later performed on the finale of Pepsi battle of band.
“We were hesitant at first to join Pepsi Battle of Bands as we already had a name because of Nescafé Basement. We already had a fan base and had produced music of our own in the past, so we knew that if we lost we might be risking our band’s name and reputation. Nevertheless we had a dream and we knew that you must risk something in order to get something. So this year we thought we were ready for it, took a deep breath and entered.”
One thing which made Bayaan stand apart from the rest of the bands was the fact that they produced original music; it was their original songs that kept them going strong in the show too. Talking about their music making, Asfar says that since they had different preferences in music in the past, it actually helped them all come up with new ideas and tones; it helped them form a unique blend and identity for themselves. “We still think we don’t know anything about music, there is still so much to learn and explore. Our music album is our target and we are working hard towards it.”
When asked if they plan to collaborate with other musicians out there Asfar says “we are first targeting on making ourselves better. We have so much to do; we have to produce an album, and maybe once we are done with that we might think about collaborating with other artists too. We have so much talent in Pakistan and we would love to work with some of the many great musicians out there.”
Asfar is also a teacher - he teaches performing art and music at a private school. His band mates also work in different fields. “We all have day jobs and beside that we just enjoy making music. Music itself is so time consuming that we hardly get any time to do something else.”
Similar to Natasha, Asfar also enjoys a very strong northern fan base. When asked if he would like to work on Chitrali music he said, “Chitrali music has a very different temper scale, thus it has very different flavor. I myself was always drawn towards Urdu, thus my style and accent is developed for the Urdu language, and I am more comfortable in it. But, I would, maybe in the future, work on Chitrali music too - only if I feel I am ready for it.”
When asked about what kept their band going and how they have stayed together for so long Asfar said, “The main reason why we see many bands fall apart is that, usually, the lead vocalist is considered the main element, which is not true since creating music is team work. We realized this and decided that we will always treat each other as equals.” He further added, “Communication is the key for any band. We had some trouble in the past when we all almost broke up, but Haider, our band mate kept us together. We decided to talk and resolve our situation. Ever since, we always communicate our thoughts and ideas so that we all stay on the same page.”
When asked about their fan interactions Asfar tells us that they do get recognized everywhere they go, “We have a really great fan base, many of whom have been with us since Nescafé Basement, and it always feels so good to see them and interact with them. Sometimes people are so nervous and excited that they start shaking and even we get a little scared. But it’s all fun and it makes us love our work a little more.”
There is much that we can learn from the journeys of Natasha and Asfar; they both have worked hard and passionately towards something they believed in. They both had their ups and downs but their love for music is what kept them going, and that’s what they want young aspiring musicians to know too. Hard work always pays off, sometimes it takes a long time but it’s worth it in the end.