Known for her artistic talent and exquisite voice, Maha Ali Kazmi burst on to the Pakistani music scene with her debut song Nazar in 2013. The subtle melancholic ballad was produced by OVERLOAD Band’s Fahad Humayun and Sheraz Siddiq, turned into an overnight sensation and since then there’s no looking back!
Maha brings her own distinctive whirl to a song with an attention-grabbing blend of composition and lyrics. If you dig deep into her journey as a person and consequently, as a singer-songwriter, you begin to comprehend how and why she became a self-taught professional musician.
She grew up with a love for music and wanted to become a ballerina. However, upon realizing that ballet-dancing is beyond her reach; since no tutelage available in Pakistan, 11-years-old Maha got fascinated by Audrey Hepburn’s classic performance of Moon River in Breakfast at Tiffany.
“As a kid; I used to get goose bumps listening to Vangelis’ Conquest of Paradise on vinyl CD and yearned to be a singer.” she reminisces.
Born and raised in Karachi, Maha ended up spending few years in Australia to get a degree in finance before returning home. Luckily, her parents endorsed her music career. “They were extremely supportive, when I informed them I’d rather sing than spend my days in some office despite the fact, I have a degree in finance.” she related.
She has been singing since the age of 16 in local underground bands and was a part of Choral Society at Monash University. The rich influences of church choirs and her admiration for immortal jazz masters, for instance, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Billy Holiday, inspired her to start songwriting.
“I think as a songwriter it comes to me naturally and of course you learn an art when you’re inspired and passionate.” she muses.
In 2014, her second single Jana Nahin written and composed by Maha herself, pushed her into mainstream limelight. It’s her first Urdu composition produced by Shahi Hasan – member of the former band Vital Signs.
“Working with Shahi Hasan was a humbling experience. I love Vital Signs and Jana Nahin needed a more 80’s touch which is why I asked him to produce it,” she said.
Jana Nahin is an astounding ballad depicting relationship and separation. The concept is all about illusions. “Sometimes we see the world the way we would like it to be, and not for what it really is.” she elaborates.
Its video illustrates a woman in quest of love. “Well, she’s someone who has seen both sides of love, the good and the bad; one side makes you happy and other hurts you; but then she wonders if it was even love at all.” she added.
The songwriting is her favorite part of being a musician. Her song-lyrics revolve around some story, either be about in love or parting. “My songs are about me. Most of my works I’ve yet to release are nostalgic soft numbers about past relationships and growing up.”
“When you’re working on a song you’ve written and are attached to it’s a very different feeling.” Maha said. “I recently wrote a song and I’m still working on – it’s apolitical song inspired by my visits to Kashmir.” The motivations and emotions behind lyrics are directly related to her paternal background of Kashmir.
When it comes to foremost obstacles she faced as a female musician, Maha categorically admitted, “Pakistan is a sad place for music; not the easiest of careers to be honest.” Was it a turbulent journey? “Not having any real record label around means everyone depends on corporate firms to sponsor music. Corporate-firms generally like to play it safe wanting mass market stars to endorse their brands.” she remarked.
“The ban on YouTube makes it worse for new artists. How do you get your music across? I believe I’m lucky I got selected by Shahi for the Cornetto Music Icons as a backup-vocalist. I imagine it is much more difficult for other aspiring artists.” she stresses.
Apart from obvious impediments stand in path of women pursuing any career, let alone singing, Maha believes there’s a massive potential for growth in Pakistan’s music industry; “In the final analysis we often succeed not in spite of obstacles and difficulties, but because of them.”
In future, Maha likes to explore other realms of performing arts. She’s been learning Kathak and other classical dance forms under tutelage of Sheema Kirmani, “I’d love to act in movies; should the opportunity arises, I’ll definitely explore it.”
Maha also revealed her reverence for Bollywood music maestro A.R Rehman and expressed her desire to cross the border to sing for Indian cinema, “I am an admirer of music and dance; hence, I’d love to sing for a Bollywood movie.”
Talking about her next venture, Maha exclaimed, “I’m extremely excited about the next single. I can’t give out details at this stage however all I can say for now is that it’s a cover song from one of my childhood favorite Pakistani bands.”
So, where she sees herself in next five years? “I always look up at the canvas of the night sky to spot the brightest star. That’s what I want to be in the next five years or so…” Maha reflects.