Zohaib Kazi, who introduced Coke Studio Explorer during his tenure as producer with Ali Hamza, author of Ismail Ka Urdu Sheher, and its corresponding album, creator of 5-track EP, Fanoos, speaks to Instep about his work making a giant leap.
This is Major Tom to Ground Control/I’m stepping through the door/And I’m floating in a most peculiar way/And the stars look very different today.” – ’Space Oddity’ by David Bowie
Is Zohaib Kazi the very first artist from Pakistan whose work has quite literally gone to space? Our limited research suggests in the affirmative. But whether he is the first or the most recent cannot take away the accomplishment.
His fascination with space is not entirely new.
Ismail Ka Urdu Sheher is a sci-fi novel and during his run as co-producer of Coke Studio 11, the set had tesseractesque ideas and path. To sci-fi enthusiasts, a tesseract is more than just an ode to Marvel films. Perched firmly on his bookcase at his home studio, are books on subjects ranging from Tesla to Elon Musk and beyond.
And as Zohaib talks about space and the universe and technology, it may feel like you’re talking to a character from an H.G. Wells novel.
You’re not. You’re talking to one of the most accomplished musicians in the country given he is just in his mid-thirties.
Talking to Instep about his excursion to space via his art, Zohaib Kazi notes, “In late April, I was approached by an upcoming metaverse company called Metavisionaries. They are creating virtual reality solutions for education. In early June, we had a virtual reality conference launch with the likes of Lazarus (rapper), Dr. Tara Ruttley (NASA chief engineer), a bunch of Egyptian artists in attendance. It was an international initiative.”
Among those who attended was also Lennox Claudius Lewis, a former heavyweight professional boxing champion. “I was asked to be a part of the VR launch event and it was a virtual conference in a sense that it included 30-40 people. I’m a part of this and there’s a bigger initiative.”
While Metavisionaries is working in myriad branches and ideas, Zohaib Kazi’s role in the initiative is a callback to Ismail Ka Urdu Sheher while future ideas are worked upon.
“In the book, when world is ending, one character, Dawood, feels he has no choice and he says ‘this world is ending and before it does I’ll send a radio signal in space and either someone will come and save us (and it doesn’t allude to the cliche of little green men but anyone) or someone will realize that we messed up by creating nuclear plants that were unattended among other things’.”
Zohaib explains how it wasn’t about being unattended nuclear plants necessarily but also about their creation in the first place, how we had a deeper greed, the strong possibility of food and water shortage, hunger and more on the way. “I take these things very personally; it may not seem like that, but I do. So, in the book-music, the character sends a song in the shape of a radio wave into space.”
Zohaib observes: “I got an opportunity to send my song in space. It has reached The International Space Station (ISS).”
“Growing in numbers/ Growing in speed/I can’t fight the future/Can’t fight what I see.” – ‘We Are All Made of Stars’ by Moby
ISS is described as the largest modular space station currently in low Earth orbit. But Zohaib’s artistic, sci-fi ideas that has allowed his music to space, it is, as the artist describes, meant to go to Voyager 1, the space probe by NASA. “I’m a huge fan of Voyager 1; it is the furthest human race has ever gone.”
Whether it ultimately reaches Voyager 1 remains to be seen but if you listen to ‘Awaz/The Last Radiowave’, you will automatically realize why this song over so many other Pakistani songs made the cut.
“The song I selected is ‘Awaz/The Last Radiowave ft. Jaffer Zaidi and Samra Khan’. In addition, the song features the (late) Stephen Hawkins and is culturally infused but ahead of its time.”
Zohaib Kazi confesses that when it was first released, the book-release was not getting much attention but just a few years later, a song from the same book-release is already in space and could reach the furthest mankind has gone. “‘Awaz/The Last Radiowave’ was going to be launched perhaps in early May so I was thinking of going myself to watch it. But they told me - Waseem - one of the co-founders - it is being backed by certain people at Oxford as well as Qatar University. They approached me and needed art that had spacial as well as cultural elements and I was super excited because going to space is special.
“To be honest, I got a little emotional because it felt as if it was my destiny. I had a music video from the same album called ‘Wake Up/Jaago’ ft. Zoe Viccaji, so if you watch the music video, my character sends a radio signal to space and gets killed. But that radio message was a tune, and the tune was ‘Awaz/The Last Radiowave’.”
Why this song?
“In the song, I had used newsclips that were about how the world is troubled in terms of resources, and as people, we’re too stuck in politics to see the imminent warfare. There are nights when I can’t sleep. I had access to artificially generated artwork and it was insane because A.I. can replace us very soon. Musicians are suffering already because there are guitar softwares, drum softwares - and this is evolution, and it will happen. I’m not against evolution.
“We don’t better ourselves to be at a higher pedestal in the world because we have stopped innovating and evolving as a species and people. It’s important for us to go to space but our evolution will be A.I. and robots doing things in place of us.
“From a singular organism, we’ve given birth to something better than us and I think every creation leads to better and in this I find God’s hand (it’s a longer conversation) but now there is a match of software and hardware and we have evolved but the amount of money spent on certain narrative building can go towards better farming methods, organic instead of G.M.O within food, and if more and more people get educated, they will be able to make better decisions.
“I have to think about whether I can or cannot have another child based on my wife and her illness, what our financial position is, etc. An educated person will think. As a people we never focused on the important things so today we’re standing at this chasm where we are on the brink of destroying everything. I feel we never did educate the way we should have. Having said that, resources like water and food shortage will run out in a few years - all of this is being discussed in the song ‘Awaz/The Last Radiowave’ because it is a distress signal. I’m an average man. What is interesting is that what if a comet comes, we will have nothing left. We’re vulnerable.”
Vulnerable as a species is hitting the right mark. But as musical accomplishments go, Zohaib Kazi is reaching new heights.
More on this artist-producer as the story develops.
– Zohaib Kazi photo by Kohi Marri