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Slowspin

Slowspin

Meet Pakistani sound artist, experimental musician, and curator, Zeerak Ahmed aka Slowspin.

 

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a sound artist, experimental musician, and curator from Karachi, Pakistan. As a singer-songwriter and producer of experimental (mostly ambient-electronic) music, I release under the moniker, Slowspin. I arrived at my independent music practice as Slowspin in 2012, during my time at Hiram College in Ohio. Since then I have released an album every year and have been an active member of Karachi’s underground music scene as well as the art community. In 2017 I was an Assistant curator for the Inaugural Karachi Biennale, which was Pakistan’s largest contemporary art event. I have also collaborated and performed with other artists and musicians in the U.S and Germany, where I was pursuing my Masters in Creative Practice (focusing on sound installations and sound performance works). I am currently teaching undergraduate students at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi, and continue to move between the three continents.

 

Describe the city you’re living in and what it’s like to live there.

With a population of roughly 20 million people, the metropolitan city of Karachi is big, busy and vibrant, it is ever-growing and generous, the sun is hot but the strong sea breeze is cool, it hosts various ethnicities and languages, it is troubled but also loving, it is complex and it is LOUD. As I have grown up near one of the busier roads, I hear a lot of traffic through my window. It has drastically increased over the years, and perhaps this is why I stay awake until the city sleeps- or at least enough to hear myself.

 

The best thing about Karachi is its diversity and its rich culture

What is the best and worst thing about living in your city?

The best thing about Karachi is its diversity and its rich culture, but the worst part is the political instability and the resulting safety issues that have persisted through most of my life here.

 

Give us 3 words that describe what it’s like to be a creative in your city.

Solitary, Emotional, Spiritual

 

How did you start your career in art?

When I was 15, I was really fascinated by electronic music, specifically the power of digital technologies. The new style and genre was creating waves in Karachi’s underground music scene, and young bands were showing up with synths and playing “computer music”, which was quite rad. These sounds and the idea of bedroom production definitely inspired my cousin ALAK (Danish Faruqi) and I to make our own music. Danish was playing with fruity loops at that time, and I was making melodies on the piano, and while Karachi wasn’t the safest city at that point, playing music at home was. This was also a really important time for me because his mother (my maternal aunt) and I had started our vocal training with the Ustaads of the Delhi Gharana (Ustaad Naseeruddin Sami, his son Rauf Sami). These sounds opened another world of physical and emotional possibilities, for which I am eternally grateful. However, as this is a male-dominated tradition of Eastern Classical training, I found myself questioning and searching for my own voice. Years later, in the quiet winter at Hiram, I started singing for myself; I started recording first takes of melodies on guitar onto Garageband and kept layering it as a collage of all that I felt. In the silence and stillness of the snow, I arrived at my first EP, Nightfalls Reverie. In 2013, I released this one-track EP with Mooshymoo (Pakistan’s first indie label for underground experimental electronic music) and have since released a collection every year. I was stoked to be the first female on the label, and a few years later, the first indie musician to receive the prestigious Lux Style Award for Best Emerging Artist of Pakistan. I find that all 7 of my EP’s are collections of moments that address what was otherwise difficult to articulate or express. I am deeply touched by the fact that others also experience it this way.

 

These sounds opened another world of physical and emotional possibilities, for which I am eternally grateful.

Were the people around you supportive of your decision on working as a creative?

My family has greatly influenced my relationship with music and art. Both my grandmothers read a lot of poetry and sang to me, and I know this really affected how I learnt and expressed emotions. For all the moments that were too large or too small to hold in conversations, were communicated in song. A fun fact is that I actually recorded my first album at age 4, for my grandmother’s book, “Nanhee Nazmain” (“little poems”). My grandmother, Zara Mumtaz, who is a renown author for children’s Urdu books, wanted all 4 of her grandchildren to sing for the cassette that came with the book, so we spent a summer in Lahore singing the songs that we grew up with and I recently had the pleasure of producing and singing for the latest release, “Nanhay Geet aur Nazmein” (co-produced with Danish Khawaja). I am so grateful for the fact that I come from a family that nurtures and supports the arts for their sons and daughters, and this is a huge part of why I am able to do what I do. I must say I don’t think my parents always understand or relate to my work, but they do always encourage me to learn, explore, and pursue what I feel compelled to do. Lol I find it equally beautiful as well as uncomfortable when I hear them listening to my music or analysing my visual art as it is an extremely vulnerable place, but I deeply appreciate their support and our relationship.

 

How would you describe the women around you?

The women in my life are sensitive and passionate. They are also brave and resilient. The creative and expressive nature of the women in my family as well as my circle of friends in Pakistan and elsewhere, inspire me and give me strength.

 

The women in my life are sensitive and passionate. They are also brave and resilient.

Were there any local female creatives that you looked up to when you were growing up?

Growing up I looked up to all the women in my family, particularly on my maternal side. My mother’s sister was a theatre actor, my grandmother an author and dancer, her mother an artist, and almost all her sisters were important literary figures (pre and post-partition of India in 1947), from whom i learnt emotions and creative process. There weren’t any female experimental sound artists or musicians at that time, but I certainly found inspiration from the practice of the women in the family and felt confident in pursuing something that was true to me.

 

Are there any challenging aspects of being a female in your industry?
It’s a male-dominated scene here in Karachi, so yes it gets tough sometimes, but I’m fortunate to have been supported by my male peers. I remember when I started playing gigs there was a very small group of indie electronic musicians/producers and they were really encouraging but I certainly did face challenges because my music wasn’t exactly like theirs and was holding space for a different vibe. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy and value it all, but it takes time and effort to understand what does and does not work for your practice and your audience…and this is true for females as well as male experimental artists! The most important thing to do is to listen to yourself.
The most important thing to do is to listen to yourself.
Do you have any advice to young women who are aspiring to work in your field?

feel your feelings,

find your cause,

do it at your own pace.

feed the opening,

feed the spiral sound that you so crave.

 

 

Photos courtesy of Zeerak Ahmed, Danish Faruqi, Pakarazzii, Samya Arif, and Humayun Memon.

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