Pakistani artiste, Natasha Humera Ejaz, epitomizes consistent reinvention when it comes to her craft. There’s very little the 35-year-old hasn’t done. From standing as Spotify’s Equal Ambassador for Pakistan (earlier this year), acting on-screen and in theatre productions, performing live with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra in Kuala Lumpur, twice at the Telenor Cultural Prize Ceremony in Oslo, at SXSW in Austin, spearheading music festivals on home turf through her independent label and platform, Tiny Dancer Live, teaching at Nepal’s Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory as a visiting faculty member and much more, Ejaz persistently – and brazenly – pushes the envelope.
A constant learner, her spirit is larger than life, but most of all, the artiste deeply enjoys what she does; be it within the confines of a studio, in front of a jam-packed, buzzing audience or in a small, intimate setting – Ejaz gives each performance and project her one hundred percent.
“Nurturing any and all culture is the thing to do right now because there is a need for expression, love and release,” she says, during the course of the interview.
Having released her debut album, Ordinary Miracle, with peer, Rishabh Rajan, and other like-minded artistes, this year, Ejaz is already knee-deep in preparing for an upcoming music tour, co-curating a festival for the British Council with well-known Pakistani artiste, Mekaal Hassan and more.
Her ‘to do’ list is full, but that’s how it has always been for Ejaz – ever since the outlier first picked up a guitar at the age of 15, embarking on a music journey of solo, self-teaching…
SR: Your debut album, Ordinary Miracle, was released this August. What was the inspiration behind it?
NHE: Between wanting to show up for myself as an artist and wanting to share what I’ve been calling a ‘personal thesis’ of what I have learnt as a musician to date, I guess the most accurate thing to say is that this album is inspired by life experiences and the brilliance of the artists featured on the tracks. We all got to explore love, loss, friendship and just outright silliness. I really wanted to just throw a ‘feelings party’ so we made a world, pop, dance, folk adventure out of it. I also get to use my own samples to build on a DJ set which is probably what I am most excited about.
SR: You’re not only a musician but you’ve also worn a number of hats as an actor, dancer, educator, and entrepreneur. How have these roles complemented each other throughout your career?
NHE: Before I played any of those roles, I was an incredibly curious child and some part of me is still in this for the play of it. In the bigger picture, all these roles are intertwined and inform one another. If there’s a need for me to perform in a song, play or film, I’ll lean in and follow that curiosity to the best of my ability and oftentimes, being an entrepreneur is the necessary part of the puzzle to ensure my creative rights (and those of my collaborators) are being safeguarded.
SR: As a music educator, what do you enjoy most about teaching at the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory (KJC), and how has it contributed to your inner growth as an artiste?
NHE: I’ve been consulting with the academics at KJC – as well as volunteering my time as a vocal teacher – and it’s been like getting the best cultural and mental massage ever. Everyone’s curious, everyone’s collaborative, everyone’s got a common goal. I’ve been learning from my colleagues, mentoring the students and being asked questions I don’t know the answers to yet. It’s given me an opportunity to be a part of young peoples’ journeys in music and performance, which is a huge privilege. When students come into themselves onstage and in the studio, there’s a lightbulb moment on their faces. I love that expression.
SR: Your talent also extends to voice acting in film projects. How do you approach voice acting differently from singing?
NHE: As art forms, the two are similar enough because it’s all behind the mic in the studio and it’s about capturing a moment. It all boils down to how I need to emote for the task at hand. Usually with music, I tend to be less animated and more ‘soul-serving’ whereas in voice over work, there’s another person I need to become to do the script justice and even though I am usually standing alone in a booth, I end up seeing the universe of the script come to life around me. It’s magical.
SR: Your independent label, Tiny Dancer Live, is an interesting venture. What inspired you to spearhead it?
NHE: Tiny Dancer Live was inspired by the Pakistani subculture. I wanted to create space for music I loved. Our roster is limited by design. We’re focusing more on putting energy, time and money into creating a healthy infrastructure for live music, creating awareness around copyright standards in the local market and building trust with an audience that invests in the careers of the artists we are lucky enough to curate and manage on a case-to-case basis.
SR: You have a Certificate in Audio Production. How has this technical knowledge influenced your music production process, and what advice do you have for aspiring producers?
NHE: Training as a producer and engineer is far more accessible today than it was when I went to ICOM. I always wanted to self-produce so the certificate gave me technical independence at a time I found it hard to explain to others what I wanted to create. To aspiring producers I’ll say; lean in to what excites you and explore spaces you can gain insight with other mentors and peers. We’ve got something to learn from everyone. Every artist has a voice so just make sure you’re aware of your own creative vision while also keeping an open mind to things you don’t know yet.
SR: Are there any emerging trends or genres in Pakistani music that you find particularly exciting or promising?
NHE: Eva B is super exciting to me. All the hip hop and rap taking on its own Pakistani shape is so humbling to witness and experience. Fusion, dance music and pop are also entering a new era in the Pakistani scene that has changed what commercial music sounds like going forward. It’s really exciting to see and be part of that shift.
SR: How do you see technology and digital platforms impacting the distribution and consumption of Pakistani music?
NHE: There is so much music that would have never seen the light of day if not for this digital revolution. Having seen the impact in my own career and that of my peers, the thing to note is that artistes have more awareness of what it means to own their creative work and are learning how to build on that. Here’s hoping in about 5-10 years, the business of music will look very different in Pakistan.