Natasha Humera Ejaz is in a different time zone and she politely asks if she could have a few minutes to make dinner.
Accommodating, polite, thoughtful and forthcoming, she is an artist who can’t be boxed into one specific role in performing arts.
She has dabbled in everything from acting to theatre to music to producing, audio engineering and participating in festivals. But, at the moment, her excellent LP, Ordinary Miracle, is on her mind, more so than any of the other areas of her expertise.
During our conversation which veers in different directions including personal stories, what is palpable is how sincere she is. She takes time as she answers questions and does her best to provide context to stories from the past to the present.
Sitting before Zoom, she greets me with the warmest smile and shows gratitude for conducting this interview and what it means to her before jumping into questions that help in an understanding of who she is, as a person, as well as a multi-faceted artist.
Her new album is called Ordinary Miracle. It contains collaborations with Maho Azuma, Maria Farjardo, Slowspin, Yun Chen Tsai, Nimra Gilani, Zeeshan Ali, Samuel Sjostedt, Haniya Aslam, Mirande Shah, Moa Edmunds Guevara, Danish Khwaja as well as Rishabh Rajan as co-producer and chief collaborator.
Why is it call an Ordinary Miracle?
She laughs wholeheartedly and says nobody’s asked her this question yet.
“As this album was finishing, I began to realize that it’s a world music album. Even with limited time, multiple collaborations and even during production, it occurred to me to give the album an English name…”
Settling on the name Ordinary Miracle meant opening it up to a larger audience and giving it an accessibility factor to listeners beyond Pakistan. There is also a song called ‘Ordinary Miracle’ on the LP so it made perfect sense. Ejaz, when she talks about songs or credits, is very vocal about who is involved in the album instead of taking solo credit. It is refreshing to hear someone speak about their co-collaborators with such love and describing how each artist who is featured on the record brought some special to the LP. But to understand her words, you have to invest time and listen to this LP first. Only then, the context of her words can be fully understood.
There were other names, she admits, that made some sense to her before she settled on the final one. Ejaz notes it also has to do with her identity as a Pakistani artist. “Every one of us is a miracle, whatever our personal story may be,” she says, leaning away from the computer before leaning into the computer screen again.
To Natasha, an ordinary miracle doesn’t mean a successful person in a chosen field. “If they’re successful, it might mean that they are a miracle and visible but I have never met a person who isn’t an ordinary miracle in one way or another. We all deserve to be seen and heard.”
“I truly believe in everyone’s purpose in the world and the album became this datapoint with pockets of emotions,” with each song being one of those datapoints (a word she finds delightful). The record also taught her how to let go after a certain point instead of sitting on a song forever and tweaking it. She admits this record has taught her that after a certain point you have to let it go and what it feels like when you do.
What we can hear in the album are songs that are instinctive, original, vulnerable and featuring a mix of collaborations and solo efforts as well. Upon listening, Ejaz’s astonishing range, musically, lyrically and as a performer and producer, is palpable. She had to make sure that the album had the right songs, and to that end it meant going with songs that her collaborators instantly gravitated towards. Ejaz is someone who respects other artists.
“All these songs felt right together for different reasons,” says Ejaz.
By virtue of being the chief songwriter and singer, she admits that for this album, she became the music director and could see the narrative. But if there was something she knew she couldn’t do, she was and is honest enough to admit it.
Ergo, the collaborators step in, who, she says, were better equipped to deliver on what she envisioned.
If someone could do a better job, she roped them in rather than doing a hatchet job herself. The credits on this album clearly outline that thought process.
As I tell Natasha that I remember her from Uth Records which took place almost a decade ago, she laughs because she knew it opened the door to being a performer as well as an audio geek. She gives credit to Omran Shafique, Gumby, and Zeeshan Parwez as they were open to the idea of her being in the audio production and engineering zone and provided immense guidance. She also credits the indie cool cats from Lussun TV to the likes of Ali Suhail, Haniya Aslam and Saad Hayat who were just as important in her emerging beyond the indie to the present.
Between talking about the album, plans for touring Pakistan, she credits the aforementioned for accepting her in roles we don’t often associate with women artists like audio engineer and music producer or music director. She also studied in Malaysia within this musical realm and that gave her further confidence in what she does. Natasha Humera Ejaz is also well aware that the world we live in can be bizarre and brutal.
From trolling to hateful commentary to fake news, it is all on her radar and she admits that she finds it inexplicable in some ways. “Is this why I have a hard time with my mental health? Is this why I have cognitive disability?
There are things that are not coming out of empathy. But the beautiful thing is how social media has changed the game.
At one point, I switched it all off such as watching broadcast or primetime news. I began started following people on Instagram.
For instance, with Kashmir, I began following individuals who were living there and that allowed me to get a sense of the ground reality there.”
Coming back to our reality, Ejaz, 35, is excited because the album is also one where her vulnerabilities are not something she has dismissed but let them stand tall.
Can music be a vessel for emotional chaos?
Ejaz agrees with and adds how each of us has a frequency. She is proud to be a part of the burgeoning South Asian music scene as well and in some ways, she too, has contributed to this rise and will continue to do so. But Ejaz has no airs about it.
Being a part of it makes her happy. Our time for the interview is concluding but rest assured, Ejaz is far from done. Residencies, tours, dabbling in different ideas in music and the performing arts, repping Pakistan beyond borders are things she has done. But she is just as excited to do more and concludes on a positive note that she is: “brown and proud!”
To Natasha, an ordinary miracle doesn’t mean a successful person in a chosen field. “If they’re successful, it might mean that they are a miracle and visible but I have never met a person who isn’t an ordinary miracle in one way or another.
We all deserve to be seen and heard.”