Natasha Baig follows up the mammoth ‘Shikwa’ (Coke Studio 11) and ‘Dil Lagee’ (Paanch – The Mixtape Volume 1) with a much more comprehensive act on Zariya, her jaw-dropping debut album.
Hailing from Hunza Valley, Natasha Baig, the Sufi-esque singer-songwriter has attempted various musical prototypes before releasing her debut album.
She appeared on Cornetto Music Icons where music producer Shahi Hasan noted how big her voice was, even as the TV series lived to see just one season. Among her most prominent efforts includes working with the Ahsan Bari-led ensemble Sounds of Kolachi; collaborating with Mai Dhai for a song called ‘Kesaria’; appearing on Coke Studio with the song ‘Shikwa/Jawab-e-Shikwa’ collaborating with Fareed Ayaz and Abu Mohammad Qawwal troupe with the latter appreciating her enormous talent.
As the community-driven, interdisciplinary platform, Paanch took shape Natasha was one of the five artists to make it to Volume 1. She managed to strike gold in ‘Dil Lagee’ in an album that featured stalwarts of the industry combined in Chand Tara Orchestra (CTO), Jimmy Khan, and the miraculous yet underrated acts such as Sounds of Kolachi and the other super-group on the EP, Mughal-e-Funk. With ‘Dil Lagee’, she proved ‘Shikwa’ wasn’t a fluke. Having sung for several TV drama OSTs and for prolific films such as 7 Din Mohabbat In, she really is one of the great voices of the (millennial) generation.
However, having a beautiful, earthy, huge voice does not maketh an album. Here is where the Laal Series enters the fray.
All songs are original and so are the compositions. Lyrically, three of them – ‘Aaj Rung Hai’ by Amir Khusrau, ‘Hik Hai’ by Baba Ghulam Fareed and ‘Sheesha Banja’ by Saeen Zaheen Taaji – are kalaams with one song composed musically and lyrically by Masood Alam and six songs penned by Hassan Ali Effendi of Laal Series.
Natasha has contributed a great deal to the record besides her vocals; from the concept to creation to joining forces with the right group of collaborators who elevate the overall record, the force is with her. Mixed, mastered and produced at Laal Series, the album is akin to a spiritual journey for Natasha, where many have come together to enrich the ideas.
A ten-track album, the spiritual journey begins with ‘Ya Ali’ where the song eludes to any woman’s journey during difficult times where her struggles remain inward except The One who hears her; the song is dedicated to perseverance in women “who feel deeply, love intensely and never give up”.
Running at nearly 3 minutes and intoxicating from the start, particularly because of the strong alaaps that open the song, it never slows down with Natasha’s vocals on top of the instruments. It’s also got a beat but it complements the song and makes it more than your run-of-the-mill Sufi effort. The lyrics that are written from the perspective of a woman, who speaks of her anguish to Maula Ali, make it gripping.
Opening with an ominous beat is ‘Ya Ali Mushkil Kusha’ where the conceptual idea is of a woman who has embarked on a divine journey without thinking of the obstructions that might come her way. Through ‘Ya Ali Mushkil Kusha’, she is pleading for help as she finds it hard to maintain sanity in a world where she has faced unrest many times before. But truth is as close as “your jugular vein” and it is only realized when one finds balance within.
The 4-minute track is a flourishing number with an ominous beat, appearing alongside elemental instruments like bass, guitar but Natasha conquers the song and the piano solo is surprising and welcome.
With ‘Sheesha Banja’ she has almost broken the wall between her and truth but to achieve it fully the kalaam of Saeen Zaheen Taaji is invoked. Running over 4 minutes, this song has a mighty opening as multiple instruments come together in harmony, but Natasha takes the song to an entirely different level, a higher plane. The music complements the search for truth and the kalaam. The guitars in particular shine as they continue to stay in the background throughout. The voiceover by Natasha is unexpected and quite pleasing.
‘Tu Jaane Na’ recreates the mood after ‘Sheesha Banja’ as the slower single before it transitions into a complete Sufi-rock track and Natasha sings, ‘Dard Mera Pehchanay Na’ with deep emotion. The song is about a growing frustration as after a tryst with spirituality, she yearns for it even more.
‘Hik Hai’ and ‘Aaj Rung Hai’ featuring kalaams are recreated in a style that musically fit the album and there is no need to sojourn and wonder particularly since it feels so ubiquitous to the record. The kalaam-laden segue is so crafty that it must be applauded. The composition made around the two is the real difference. Natasha has the kind of voice that can carry these kalaams and in this album we learn as proof that it’s true. Part of the puzzle is both songs are co-composed by Natasha Baig herself, along with Hassan Ali Effendi.
Moving on, in ‘Rab Nai Mileya’ it is understood that while human beings may think this is the only existence but the truth of the matter is material goods will fade away and as it will be realized that only God will remain.
A partially pop song, this one rides on the coattails of Natasha’s vocals while the guitar solo that appears and disappears as well as the blue bass makes it one of the most approachable songs on the album.
In ‘Ranjha Ranjha’ it is understood that the answers she seeks reside within her whereas the song refers to self-realization and that her wandering journey only led to the answer that what she seeks is within her. Opening on piano notes followed by the coming together of one instrument after the each other, this is the slowest and yet most beautiful track so far on the album. It is dynamic in its subversive subtlety. The backing vocalists work here and the slight distorted guitar in the middle do not damage the track but matches the sadness that comes through the voice.
‘Rung Rasiya’, co-composed by Natasha Baig with Hassan Ali Effendi is the solace; she is finally connected to the truth and all her grievances have turned into gratitude as she is filled with love and peace. Her unease has faded and akin to the story of a lover is the trance she has entered where she wants to stay eternally. The mood picks up in ‘Rung Rasiya’ where the beautiful flute is the song’s biggest surprise and Natasha’s vocals on top of everything are emotional.
‘Jogan’ is the ultimate answer: the story of a lover becoming one with the beloved. And this is the sweetest song on this Sufi journey where each song has a concrete idea. Here, the context of the song is reflected in the music that’s light with excellent instrumentation.
Besides Masood Aslam and Hassan Ali Effendi of Laal Series, several people are featured on the album including Wajeeh Ud Din Meer, Shayar Khan, Aly Safeer Khan, Zulfiqar Ali, Sameer Baig, Ahsan Bari, Shahid Rehman, Haris Noor, Rakae Jamil, Sinnan Fazwani, Zulqarnain Haider, M. Aslam, Mursaleen, Syed Sarwaan Shah, Ghulam Murtaza Mehdi and Mohsin Raza Shah.
With Zariya, Natasha has found her voice and spirit. Now she is faced with the real test. Can she pull off another album akin to Zariya that will be just as palatable and awe-inducing? Can she find her own narrative by penning her own songs literally? Personal narratives have a unique way of telling the listener about the inner world of the artist, even as it draws inspiration from Sufi philosophy.
But there’s still time before that question needs to be answered. For now, Natasha has done a thrilling job with Zariya and, as listeners, whether Sufi is your beat or not, giving her a chance is the least you can do.