Hilal For Her

Amna Nizami – The Voice of Kaghaz

Pepsi Battle of the Bands, Season 3, became the launchpad for Kaghaz, a band that up until then only played underground. Kaghaz came together in Rawalpindi, with Amna Nizami on vocals, Mubbashir Sheikh Mashoo on guitars, Salman Khattak (BonZi) on drums and Hassaan Ahmed on synths. This is a band that represents passion in the field of arts and music and all things experimental. Despite their major liking for progressive rock, they don’t define their genre or limit themselves to a certain type of genre but what they do is explore what the cosmos has to offer: a blank page to be filled with stories and translated through music is what defines Kaghaz.

Amna Nizami also known as the Rockstar Dulhan came into the limelight after she hopped on a plane to audition for the Pepsi Battle of the Bands, a day after her walima. We had a chance to sit down with this #girlboss, as pontified in Season 3, after Kaghaz’s soulful performance.

How would you like to define Amna Nizami?
I am an introvert by nature and an Architect by profession. On one hand, I am known to be pushy as I believe in breaking boundaries of creative ideas and translating them in my music, and on the other, I am fond of quiet places, have a strong love for the serenity of nature and love winters.

What was the inspiration behind the band name, Kaghaz?
All members of Kaghaz are from diverse musical backgrounds with different inspirations. Every member has a unique idea and perspective on what should be brought to the table. All these elements mixed together, have created an extraordinary and an unbreakable bond. We strongly believe in creating with no limitations and boundaries or prejudices and are open to new and innovative ideas to experiment, no matter how ‘out of the box’ it is — we believe this is the key to grow not only as an individual but as a musician as well. We are metaphorically like an blank piece of paper, ready to be scribbled upon. Paper has been used as a medium for the spread of knowledge and wisdom for centuries and that is why we chose to name our band Kaghaz. Our idea is to reach out to the masses with something relatable and create something new out of it.

What were your inspirations which drew you to music?
Throughout our lives we experience many things and often fall short of words to express our sentiments. Art and music, however, do not entail words; it is a universal language in its own right. Good music on its own can say it all, it can make one cry or smile without uttering a single word. That is the magic of music — connecting with people from all around the globe without the language barrier. As Hans Christian Andersen, a famous Danish author said: “Where words fail, music speaks.”

What makes for a good jam session?
When there are five great minds jamming in a room with different inspirations and ideas, there are a lot of emotions involved because we need to incorporate five different souls in one composition. Good jam sessions are always the ones, where the fantastic five come up with a composition, which has a little bit of us all.

Which famous musicians do you admire and why?
There’s a long, long and a never ending list of my favorite musicians/inspirations, to name a few: Faraz Anwar, Amir Zaki, Entity Paradigm, and from the west I am very fond of Pink Floyd, Tool, Porcupine Tree and Opeth. I like them because I find their music meaningful and I find myself taking inspiration from their style of music. Their music has helped me grow and helped me through difficult phases. These artists have stayed true to the vision they stood for and I want to see myself do the same one day.

What is your creative process?
So, I’m not the person with a lot of words and I’m hardly good when it comes to voicing myself with words but I feel and I like to think I can translate my feeling in a melody, therefore I often work closely with a very close friend of mine and an amazing writer, Aiman Rathore, who writes the lyrics for Kaghaz. However, every song has its own unique process. All in all, good compositions have always birthed from a place of pain and creating something new — that touches the heart — mostly requires visiting an emotion where we feel vulnerable. 

How do you balance your professional and private life?
I think this is something every artist struggles with. It is very difficult to find that perfect balance since professional life can be very demanding and time consuming but it is really important to make time for our family and loved ones, even if it’s for a little while and give them the time and attention they require and deserve. In fact, I’m very lucky that I have loved ones around me who understand and support me by giving me the space that I need professionally not only as an architect but as a musician as well. At the end of the day, it is really up to me, as an individual, to strike a balance and give back to my family and friends because their support has certainly made life so much easier for me.
What are your fondest music memories?
The fondest memories would be in the process of creating music and the journey of me becoming a musician. I remember there were days when we had no car but we still made it to jamming sessions. I remember the time when we had no instruments of our own and I had to borrow from friends to practice and learn. I remember, when for our small gigs, we would hop into a cab, all of us packed and overloaded with equipment, and come back home the same way. It’s remembering these little moments during this journey that I have realized that the journey is what makes an individual and not the destination; and the journey of Kaghaz is worth remembering.

How would you sum up your experience in Pepsi Battle of the Bands?
Every artist has a comfort zone — an area where they know they can produce their best. For musicians there’s mostly a musical style or genre that brings out their best. However, during Pepsi Battle of the Bands we were pushed to try everything that was beyond our comfort zone. I was pushed to experiment with different sounds and different genres, normally I would not experiment myself and the whole experience of continuously jamming every single day with the band, continuously creating music and putting my voice under the strain and stress to improve, to push my own boundaries as an artist was both exhilarating and challenging. I am thankful for each and every moment throughout this experience.

What is your favorite part of being a musician and why?
As a musician, going through a creative process and being able to translate your feelings in a composition is the best feeling ever. Especially as an introvert, I have realized that music has given me a voice – in fact music is my voice!

What challenges do musicians face (culturally and socially)?
As a nation, I believe we need to be more culturally aware of our roots. Our values as a nation are so intertwined yet so contradictory. I think we all need to reflect about this. 
An amazing, well known Pakistani musician and Coke Studio sensation, Arieb Azhar once published an article where he explained the word Miraasi and its meaning, where he writes that the word is derived from the word Miraas, literally meaning “culture/heritage” hence, Miraasis, initially were the people who were the carriers of our culture, heritage and history through stories, poems and music. And today without any knowledge we use the word Miraasi as a derogatory and offensive term to discourage someone from pursuing the field of music.

In your opinion, what steps need to be taken to improve Pakistan’s music industry?
Pakistan’s music industry is at an infant stage, in its formative years. The internet and technological access available to the youth today has made life much easier. Everything is a single click away, the ever-increasing melodies, rhythms and remixes are available at our fingertips. This overflow of data has allowed the youth to learn and educate themselves. Many of us are in the learning phase and are trying to find our place globally where we can have a strong identity. I believe the best way for us to go about this phase would be to support whatever our artists are striving for; we as musicians should not be afraid of experimenting. Pakistan’s music industry has a long road ahead of it but we are surely on the right path. What all musicians need to remind themselves is that melodies are able to touch the hearts of the listeners and it is important to make good music rather than just making hits. 

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