Beating the odds - NATASHA BAIG

  • 03 Nov - 09 Nov, 2018
  • Attiya Abbass
  • Interview

The Shikwa crooner on her journey to fulfill her dreams of making it big and extracting herself from societal prejudices

I was en route to Espresso where Natasha and I were to meet, when I get a phone call from her manager. He told me she was unwell and we might have to reschedule. I was positive the meeting won’t pan out, but to my surprise, she showed up in the next ten minutes. “We will do this real quick since you are sick,” I assure her warily. She disagrees, “Our meeting was planned, and my sickness wasn’t. Take all the time you need.”

Dressed in a bright blue kurta, hair in a causal bun and sharp cheekbones, Natasha takes me aback momentarily with her alacrity. As she sits next to me, she exudes only warmth.

“Despite being a Karachi-born, all my childhood memories are from Gilgit,” she tells me as we share anecdotes from adolescence. “Gilgit is where I opened my eyes to the world. The memories of my childhood from the North are beautiful; big houses nestled amongst the snowy mountains, vast gardens which bore seasonal fruits and children climbing trees to nibble on fresh produce. Surreal.”

Was that a place from where things began for her, I ask?

“Music,” she pauses, as if tasting the word, “was never a planned destination for me. I sort of transitioned into this path of life. Life practically held my hand and walked me here. I rarely used to sing, in fact I started singing very late,” she shares.

In the words of my interviewee, Hunza was a place where women’s wings were only clipped and never fanned. How difficult was it for her to get acceptance?

“You won’t believe that the biggest criticism came from my own family rather than the society at large?” she blurts out and I feel her composure slipping.

“When I decided to take up music as a career, I had to turn my back on many things,” she laments. “My father threw two choices at me; to pick him or music. I grew up in a household where domestic violence was rampant. I am too familiar with instances of men administering their patriarchal values over women and oppressing them in every way. If a woman in my house raised her voice, the man would then raise his hand,” she continues, shaking her head as if to rid herself of toxic memories. “I couldn't accept that,” she declares.

“Initially, I wasn't a feminist but circumstances steered me towards it. I was the first-born followed by two boys. As a young girl, I always asked for equality, insisting I get to have an equal shot at everything like my brothers.”

Having witnessed how women’s voice and rights were chocked back at home, Natasha found a steeling reckoning in her heart to not join their numbers. “I had just began to find my footing in the career of music, when one day my father calls and threatens to leave the family. I was fearless and told him to go ahead with it,” she says. “I refused to fall prey to the same cycle of threat and abuse my mother endured. I think most women in our society submit to years of abuse because of fear of being abondoned. Yeh lachari, I never liked this lachari,” stresses Natasha, revealing her strong side.

“I let him go, I cut him loose,” she chants. “My mom was only enduring years of abuse for her children. So, I eventually took this step and made a decision to make everyone’s life better, through music. I took the responsibility of the entire household upon myself, including educating my brothers. This is how I began my journey,” she shares.

Has your father tried to establish contact with you again? Natasha shakes her head with a sphinx-like smile on her face. “He made his choice, I made mine.”

What many don’t know about their favourite Shikwa singer is that she was a thoroughbred athlete. Natasha has played Under-19 cricket as an off-spin bowler in district matches.

“Sports was like drug to me,” she smiles, as if recalling an abandoned lover. “I was a tomboy from the start and was always into sports. It has taught me a lot of discipline and ethics. But I started to get discouragement from home and eventually my performance in cricket began to falter,” she recalls.

“But when I left sports, I found music,” says the crooner, assuring a happy ending to the story. “Say, ek boy ko chohra tau dosra mil gaya!” and we laugh together.

What started off as jamming with her cousins in a lounge led to Natasha’s discovery of her biggest asset; her voice. She officially started her career in 2013 with a reality show Cornetto Music Icons where her performance on Dekha Na Tha by Alamgir swooned everyone. She then joined Sounds of Kolachi a Sufi ensemble originally started by Ahsan Bari, where she was one of the main lead singers. Then came her breakthrough with Natasha being nominated for Best Emerging Talent at the 2017 Lux Style Awards for her song Jhoom Le in the film Janaan, followed by the release of her song with Mai Dhai called Kesaria.

Natasha shares the sweetest memory of how she was approached by the producers, Zohaib Kazi and Ali Hamza for Coke Studio Season 11, that transformed her life.

Admitting to being terrified with the idea of singing Shikwa, that became everyone’s jam overnight, she knew the masses have many religious and emotional sentiments attached to the poetic verses, which she must meet.

“Coke is all about to make it or break it.

Singing Shikwa came with a huge responsibility. I honestly feared allegation of blasphemy and wondered ab tau maulvi bhi peechay pareingay. I feared threats too! I also feared delivering the song; because the lyrics were so tough and almost-impossible to learn.”

On more than one occasions, fans have articulated that Natasha’s singing prowess mirrors that of Abida Parveen’s. How does it feel to be compared to a colossal personality like the legendary Abida?

“Yes, fans have showered me with titles like the “emerging Abida Parveen” and “the female version of Ali Azmat”. Kahan mein aur kahan yeh log, koi comparison hee nahi hai! I am at loss for words. Just being compared to these legends is a huge responsibility in itself. This means my listeners have certain expectations from me, which I must meet. I hope I will be able to do so and will continue to garner love from all quarters. At the end of the day, it is all about giving my best.” •