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INTERVIEW: Maham Suhail presents Exile To Space

The fourth single to be released from their debut album titled 'Mitti' ('Mitti' is Urdu, for 'earth/soil'), 'Exile to Space' is a soundscape with a hybrid Ethnic-Chillout-Blues-Rock sound. 'Exile to Space' has a mystical and empowered vibe as the English and Urdu lyrics blend into each other. While the English lyric speaks of the relationship with her Beloved and the qualities of both merging into a unit; the Urdu lyrics (excerpts from his poem, titled 'Faqeer' ('Mystic')) declare an almost real sense of liberation discovered while in 'exile' ('jilawatni', in Urdu). This exile is a state of being, not a physical banishment, but an emotional/spiritual escape to a parallel universe where he found freedom and yearns for enlightenment.

Can you tell us a little about your experience? Where are you from / how did you get into music?

I am from Pakistan. I got into music professionally a few years ago, but an affinity for sounds & melodies was always within me from a young age. I was learning the Piano as a child, and singing in the school choir. Later, I was writing poems & songs and jamming with rock & pop bands as a teenager.

Also, I was fondly listening to music, and collecting CD's at a young age.

When I finally decided to do music formally, I picked the Keyboard again, and started my raaga training, as per my research and the guidance I received back then. Moving forward, I went for S. Asian vocal training to the Sangeet (Music) Research Academy, the ITC-SRA (Kolkata), this in Pakistan, by the way).

How is your sound evolving? What artists and genres do you enjoy mixing right now?

My sound keeps evolving, as I keep working from project to project, brief to brief, or on collaborations. Whereas earlier on, my personal sound was very much acoustic across tracks; lately, the influence of MIDI sounds has been dominant in my work, in addition to acoustic instrumental, vocal, and at times, digitally manipulated field samples.

I have worked with a couple of Rap & Performance art sort of artists just in the past few months, and also more open to digitised sounds now. I like doing sync music, and recently did the composition and sound design & production for an adventure documentary.

How do you feel that your music influences or impacts your listeners?

Well, from what I've been mirrored by my listeners and what I learn from reviews about the reception of my music over the years, I feel that my vision as an artist has been duly getting transferred to my listeners.

Amongst larger audiences, both western & eastern, facets of my work within Modern Folk and Sufi have been regarded as 'meditative'.

Women have found empowerment & inspiration through my work, and my persona as an artist.

Composers, including Robert Kraft (ex-president of Fox Entertainment), was awe-struck when I played my yet unreleased 'Pauna 6' track to him, proclaiming it as 'beautiful & very unique' ('Pauna 6' is also a finalist on the 'Unsigned Only 2021').

Some of my work has also been associated with peace and interfaith harmony, in Pakistan & across borders (E.g., The 'Peace Song' (various artists, myself being the solo fem vocalist)) was a winner at the PSA (Peace Song Awards), Canada 2019).

What can you tell us about your last job?

The sound of my latest is a blend of Chillout-Ethnic-Blues-Rock, more like post-genre World Music.

The concept behind this track is that of discovering freedom in escape from the confines of the limited self, and getting liberated into a parallel universe where there is connection with the inner self.

'Exile' here, is a positive connotation, as the chorus of the Urdu lyric also talks about finding her kingdom in a state of exile.

The English lyric compliments this by also talking about what is in Sufi mysticism, referred to as 'Ishq', the most eveolved stage of love where the lover, the devotee becomes one with the Beloved (the Divine).

And this stage can only be reached by liberting oneself from the confines of the always needy, the limited, material self which has not experienced love as a state of being.

Where are you and what have you been doing now?

I am physically in Lahore, Pakistan now. Existentially, I am all over the globe! ;)

I have been lately, trying to understand and research better, as to how to position myself as an artist who now has the value addition to offer, not just a performer or a recording artist, but also as a songwriter/composer, and a producer working with both sync and with other artists.

Hence, refining my image and my strategy to do so: this has been on my mind a lot, and for this, to connect with the relevant teams and/or labels.

Has that sound changed a lot in recent years? What is your musical criteria?

A lot? Perhaps, yes.

Especially when I look at my first-ever studio recording in Kolkata (India) in 2016, and my latest recorded projects being 'Exile to Space' (I did its final master just late last year) on the recording artist side: I see that I have made certain leaps only across the span of the production of my compilation album 'Mitti'.

Not only is there more sensibility to the production process, but also a verasatility of sonic elements with a lot being envisioned and executed by myself in every successive track across the album (wrt lyrical, compositional, music arrangement, & production content).

On the performance side as well, whereas I was more safe doing band lineups till a few years ago, I was even doing solo and duo rigs during & just after the lockdown. There is more participation of hybrid Western & digital sounds in this area of my practice too now, while it was more of Ethnic sounds in my live sound before.

Do you feel safe now to play a more experimental sound?

I definitely feel more safe & confident to do so as a creative. And I am sure more young people are resonating and fascinated by this aspect of my practice as well.

From the professional/business perspective though, I would still need healthy A&R feedback, to guide me as to whether I should take more experimental leaps on the commercial front, or limit such sounds to passion and at times, art gallery projects, where there is lesser business risk involved!

We all know that the digital revolution has affected sales, but has it affected creativity?

I think it has, to a certain extent for sure! Mass production is on the rise, more than ever now. There is too much focus on numbers I believe, which understandably, is the essence of any successful business. But when this rat eace mindset is applied to the creative arts, the reprecussions are slightly different, I believe.

This makes the job of niche artists more difficult as well to identify the correct target audiences; though at the same time, the digital revolution has also revolutionised business models in the digital realm. This in turn, calls for more creative marketing & branding strategies for artists, which also puts some sort of pressure on artists to also be marketers.

While this business and tech-oriented modern-day need helps add value to the average artist as an entreprenuer, this mindset also takes away some focus at least, from the creative process for such an individual, till at least the time they hit upon a good record label deal or build a durable personal team.

Can you tell us what your present and future projects are?

I am currently working on, i. Co-producing a track with a young female rapper from Islamabad, ii. A TV acting/performance project in a genre new to me, comedy i.e., iii. Getting out there as a sync songwriter/producer in the international markets, something for which I am willing to re-locate too, if need be.

In the future, I see myself having released my entire 'Mitti' album, and the goal is to get signed as an artist and hopefully also as a sync songwriter with a library, Insha Allah!

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