To sing an iconic song like ‘Zindagi Tamasha’ is no small feat. But songwriter-singer Nimra Gilani delivered such a strong performance that it is hard to think of anyone else doing a more beautiful job.
She not only performed the song but also composed it, with Saakin taking care of arrangements and other musical details including playing the instruments and mixing and mastering the track by the hugely talented Ibrahim Akram, aka, Ibba who is also the drummer in the band.
But Nimra is as humble as she is surprising. On a quiet Friday morning, she spoke to Instep about how she ended up singing the song and a lot more. Excerpts from the conversation…
Forthcoming and honest, she admits that she has no formal training besides what she has learnt herself. “I wish I had,” she says. She’s learnt through the internet and by listening to different kinds of music and individual practice.
Married to Ali Hamdani, a member of Saakin, Nimra recounts how the song fell into her lap because she had envisioned another singer singing it.
“I’m not a part of Saakin; they do indie/contemporary/Sufi music and that’s their genre. Firstly, I would call myself a songwriter and then a vocalist. To be a vocalist, I feel, there is a long way to go for me where I actually learn to be a good vocalist. I’ve helped them write lyrics with a song that will come out once the music video is done. A part of that song, I’ve written for them. That was the kind of help I sort of provided to them and when ‘Saaki-E-Bawafa’ came out, we were excited because it became like a viral thing.”
As Nimra recounts, Sarmad Khoosat had shared it on his public page and Nimra notes that she did a “tacky thing and took a snapshot of it and shared it on my Twitter and tagged Sarmad Khoosat and said a proud moment when Sarmad Khoosat shares husband’s work.”
Sarmad Khoosat, who was looking for Saakin back then, sent a direct message to Nimra and said he’d been looking for the band all over the place and how nature had planned it that she (Nimra) shared it who is the wife of one of the band’s members (Ali Hamdani).
“Sarmad Khoosat got Ali’s contact and that’s how he roped in Saakin for this project (Zindagi Tamasha) and he had no idea at that time that I was into music. He told us about these two songs and because of the music Saakin was doing at that time – they’re very good with Sufi music –they immediately said this naat (‘Sik Mitraan’) is ours to do.”
The second came to Nimra, who was asked to think of a composition for it. And she was skeptical at first because the song is a golden hit. “I thought I would never be able to do justice to this original hit.”
Nimra tried and when Sarmad Khoosat was over a few days later, she told him she had done something and he was game about listening to it. After making the composition, Nimra thought her personal favourite singer, a seasoned artist, should sing it, a thought she expressed to Sarmad and Saakin. “I think you should sing it,” was Sarmad’s reaction upon hearing Nimra’s version, “Sarmad bhai said no, it’s your work, you should sing it. And then I just sang the song and that’s how this all happened.”
When Nimra’s voice was heard in a teaser of Zindagi Tamasha that featured two lines, she was offered a campaign by fashion brand Elan. “They wanted me to design a track for their winter collection.”
It released before ‘Zindagi Tamasha’ – the song.
More than anything, more than being known as a vocalist, Nimra wants to be known as a songwriter who can write for other people. As she notes, the way Sabir Zafar writes for Pakistani rockstars, for example, she would like to do the same. And as she notes, there are no female songwriters writing for other acts. Nimra just might change that ratio.
She is also part of a venture that features six vocalists including her. “We go by the name of Gintara and we’re practising these days. We are producing our own stuff. We will perform live very soon in Islamabad followed by a project. Everybody has equal input and we have a beautiful working dynamic. It’s 90 per cent acapella with minimal music. We’re working on the marketing campaign for it and you’ll see it on the internet in the coming months. Things are in the pipeline.”
As for her input in the upcoming Saakin song, the band is breaking the mould of having a Sufi reputation. “It’s socio-political and maybe Saakin fans are not expecting it. But a part of the song is written by me; I’m the co-writer and the rest is written by my husband, Ali Hamdani. We’ve written the song together and Saakin has arranged it.”
The age of Nimra Gilani is just beginning. Zindagi Tamasha title track won’t be the last because she is singing a track on the soundtrack of Sarmad Khoosat’s other release of 2020, Kamli, but this time she has nothing to do with the composition or production. “The music for it is done by Saad Sultan, a very talented producer from Lahore and Sarmad bhai called me and said, ‘would you be interested in singing a song; it’s composed but I want you to sing to it’. I heard the song first and then said yes. It’s a beautiful song, called ‘Paani’.”