By Sonya Rehman
Singer and music producer, Zahra Paracha, found her refuge in music from a young age. Having endured a personal setback which affected her deeply for years, the artiste sought an outlet where she’d be able to express herself without fear and judgment.
Words felt pointless, almost trivializing her pain, but it was music which held both the strength and the space for Paracha to feel understood.
Music felt like an infinite, open arena, where the artiste could play her guitar and allow her thoughts to unravel and where, most importantly, each chord was just one step closer to a reconciliation if you will, of the artiste’s past and her current place in the world.
A talented guitarist, who nurtures a true love for the technicalities of music production, Paracha is no stranger to Pakistan’s varied Indie music scene. Having both performed with, and produced music for bands and artistes such as; Sikandar ka Mandar, Risham Faiz Bhutta, Towers, Takatak and Biryani Brothers (her own band with fellow band member, Natasha Noorani) to name a few, Paracha is also the co-founder behind Pakistan’s first music festival, the annual Lahore Music Meet (LMM).
“We had an old computer that I would use to listen to a lot of music on. I used to think, what is it about this song that I like so much? I would then try to recreate those beats from scratch,” Paracha states, “I’d think, this is something which is in my control – I have a guitar in my hands and I can make something from this.”
Inspired by bands such as Call, Entity Paradigm (EP) and Jal, Paracha would be awestruck with the way they’d play music.
“I thought it was so cool, but I didn’t want to just admire these people, I wanted to be them,” Paracha chuckles, “I used to constantly listen to Jal’s songs and learned every part of Aadat – from the rhythm chords to the lead chords. I couldn’t talk to people, but when I played the guitar, it was like they felt connected to me. Music seemed like such a perfect segway into having social relationships.”
Currently working as an Audio Post Production Engineer for Citrus Studio, Paracha’s first and formal foray into the Indie music scene began in 2016 when she reached out to the band, Sikandar ka Mandar.
Shy and filled with trepidation, the artiste knew she had to put her knowledge to use and the only way she’d be able to progress as a musician, was to dive into the deep end: by joining a band. Working with Sikandar ka Mandar and subsequently releasing an album with them, Paracha knew she was in the right place.
“Producing an album with [them] was a big moment for me because it started to pave the way for me as a musician,” she says, before continuing, “What I really appreciated about the Indie scene in Pakistan was that everyone was making music without the desire for instant gratification. I mean, Ali Suhail [a musician and Sikandar ka Mandar band member] was playing jazz chords in a place like Pakistan and I thought that was insane! This guy was doing it purely for the love of music. They were hustling their hardest and just wanted a lot more music to be made. You know, many of the artistes trending on Spotfiy these days looked to this generation of Indie musicians for inspiration.”
Currently working on a few projects with local artistes, including a few of her own songs that she’s hoping to release this year, Paracha reveals that it took a long time for her to be taken seriously as both a musician and a music producer.
From being on the receiving end of mansplaining, “unsolicited advice,” and to being overlooked in a largely, male-centric industry simply because she was a woman, it was only until Paracha began releasing her own solo songs that the disregard and criticism slowly petered out.
“I remember when I started doing things where I was the sole producer, people were like, hey, she might be onto something. But prior to that, I was just screaming into the void! I realized male artistes have their own little club – ‘hey bro check this out, hey bro give this a listen’ – I didn’t have that with anyone. But when I started working with Haniya Aslam [of Citrus Studio], that’s when I realized it wasn’t in my head and that this seems to be a shared experience…something rooted in gender somewhere! It’s insane how gender really does inform a lot of the stereotypes that some people have…the misconceptions that they would choose to have,” Paracha says. “But when I joined the Citrus audio team and [Aslam] became my mentor, it was one of the best moments in my life to have someone guiding me in this otherwise sausagefest scene. When you’re a woman, you have to be twice as good to prove that you’re just as good as a man.”
For now, Paracha is taking it a step at a time. She enjoys being behind the scenes, in her own soft, intuitive world, making music that speaks to her soul.
“Music has always been something I did for myself to heal and feel whole again. And I think it has done a really good job in helping me so far.”