As the journey of Fanoos comes to a close, music producer Zohaib Kazi reflects on working with the iconic Pushto folk legend Zarsanga for the sixth and final single and the need to celebrate artists while they are still alive.
Music producer Zohaib Kazi, 33, has just come back from Berlin with a vinyl of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s iconic album, Must Must. He maintains that the sound is so enriched and full of nuances that it’s a listening experience we may be missing out on. Will it move Kazi enough to release a record of his own on vinyl someday? Perhaps because the future is wide open.
For now though, the music producer (who is also the creator of Ismail Ka Urdu Sheher) has his eyes on the prize, which is to push the sixth and final single from his critically acclaimed six-track EP Fanoos into the world.
Unveiled for the first time this summer, the journey of Fanoos actually began more than more than two years ago when Kazi went all over the country to collaborate with a number of beautiful regional artists in their own surroundings. Now that it is finally coming to its natural conclusion, Kazi, who partnered with music start-up Patari for this venture, is happy with the response this record has received.
An important, perhaps the most important distinction of Fanoos, is that it was an effort to capture the essence of Pakistan and celebrate the rich diversity and cultural heritage of this place by taking ownership of traditions, communities, languages and people.
As part of the record, Kazi recorded six artists, each hailing from a different region of Pakistan. The first single, ‘The Gulmit Anthem’ featured the students of the Bulbulik Heritage Centre (Hunza) and as the days turned into weeks, we heard from the likes of Riaz Qadri from Lahore (Punjab), Islam Habib from Hunza (Gilgit–Baltistan), Mai Dhai from Umerkot (Sindh) and Akhtar Channal Zahri from Kalat (Balochistan). The newest and final single from Fanoos, titled ‘Shinwari Lawangeena’ represents the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) chapter of the album and is sung by the iconic Pushto folk legend, Zarsanga. Elaborate in vision and simple in its approach, Fanoos is, as Kazi puts it, a Karachi take on music.
Our conversation begins with Zarsanga, who is known to the people of KPK but remains lesser known in other parts of the country. “That is exactly why,” begins Kazi. “I wanted to do something for the people of KPK and I don’t know how else to put this, but I wanted to make a point without putting it out like that because it might’ve endangered her (Zarsanga). I think I wanted to challenge the status quo. The idea that a woman represents KPK has value. For me it was a subconscious attempt to promote women and feminism from a region that’s dominated by the male society.”
Having heard of Zarsanga, Kazi began by doing some homework. He tried to find Zarsanga on YouTube but was unable to find anything. “When I tried to YouTube her, there wasn’t anything there. And I thought that’s one of the reasons why I should do this. Perhaps there are some videos now but when I started looking for her two or two and a half years ago, I couldn’t find anything. It’s important for her to be on a medium like YouTube so other people can discover her as well.”
Upon further exploration, Kazi was told that she, Zarsanga, is the Pushto version of Mai Dhai. And given just how big of a Mai Dhai fan Kazi is (and who is also featured on Fanoos), finding Zarsanga became even more important. A believer in karma and the universe, the music producer explains that the collaboration with Zarsanga was meant to be.
“I was looking for her contact but was unable to find it. During a trip to Lahooti Melo, I was told by the organizer that the car had to pick up another artist. I said sure and that artist turned out to be Farhan Bogra from Khumariyaan. We started talking and when I asked him about Zarsanga, he told me that he knew her and that was it. He put us in contact and also became the translator for us because she doesn’t speak in Urdu and he acted as the mediator. And that’s how it all became possible.”
Recording the song in Nowshera, Kazi notes that Zarsanga is an accomplished singer who is in complete command of the material she presents. Furthermore, she has an equally strong work ethic.
“She gave the first take, which lasted 2 and a half minutes and it was solid,” says Kazi about recording her. “When asked to do it again, she looked at me for some seconds and she is reserved as a person but then when she started singing, it was still remarkable. I think we were done in two-three hours.”
Reflecting on the larger mission of Fanoos, Kazi notes that in its own way the EP has recorded artists who should be archived but are not. “I don’t know if Zarsanga even has any CDs. When somebody dies, we will speak about them but I think we need to celebrate artists while they are still alive and document them. It is sad that we don’t. This project therefore is a way of archiving Zarsanga as well as a celebration of her being.”
Though Fanoos took Kazi to various parts of the country, when asked if he felt trepidation during this journey, Kazi notes in the affirmative. “As someone from Karachi, I felt it throughout the journey but never more so than in Quetta. It was like I’m not in my country. Everywhere, you’d see guns and the authorities. Taking pictures was frowned upon and I’m sure the rhetoric is that there are security issues. A similar feeling was at play while in KPK but that had to do more to do with it being such a strongly male-dominated space.”
Two records later, Kazi is still full of ideas. “Of course there are ideas; my agenda is to put something positive out there and when things happen around you in the city, they affect you and sometimes it’s difficult to create something positive. What I do know is that people have been genuine while responding to Fanoos and I would not want to upset them so whatever I do next, it needs to stay as genuine as possible. More than anything, it has been a learning experience. I did this project for Pakistan and wanted to communicate a very positive sentiment. The idea was to represent everyone and I’m going to say this on the record that I regret not being able to represent Kashmir. ”
As for the future, the possibilities for Kazi are endless. “I’m interested in archiving more and whatever I release next, I can say with certainty that it will be a project, and not a one-off single. It has to be a body of work. I also want to play live but the way I want to do it has to be right. I will wait for the moment where I have the resources and the right audience and the right opportunity. I have a blue print in my head but I want to do it properly.”
– All photos by Insiya Syed