There comes a time when every entertainment industry gets stuck in the waltz. Monotony engulfs it and the industry comes at a crossroads where it needs to break out and introduce new elements or remain stagnant. Pakistani music is suffering from the same tedium where everything needs to sound familiar and look pretty to become popular.
Enter Urvah Khan, a Pakistani-Canadian punk rocker who aims to break that monotony with her music. Khan defies convention with her blonde Mohawk, piercings and tattoos – not exactly what a standard South Asian girl looks like. Needless to say, she offers fresh sounds inspired from the East and the West.
“It’s difficult to classify my music,” she tells Express Tribune. “For society, it is punk rock, but I call it scrap rock because it’s the music from scraps of East and West.”
Whatever the label, Khan embodies the quintessential punk rock soul as the genre is all about catering to the misfits and outcasts of society.
“It is all about being yourself. We are told to be a certain way and behave a certain way to fit in but I am not that. I was never good at making friends and I never fit in. So, this kind of music made me realise that I don’t need to. I can be free.”
Back in 2009, Khan started her journey as a rapper in Toronto, Canada, where she lives. It was in 2013 when she felt the urge to rediscover her Pakistani roots and understand them better. “I moved to Canada at a young age, so I was not in touch with my Pakistani-ness. Since 2013, I started getting back into it. I have even started taking classical singing classes from Sohail Rana.”
She visited Pakistan for the first time in 2015 and then again in September 2016. “I have been here since September and have gathered musicians, Syed Sarwaan Shah, Shehwal Hassan and Zeeshan Ather to form Urvah Khan and The Scrap Army.” Khan will perform live for the first time in Pakistan at Base Rock Café, Karachi on January 14.
It’s common to see people marveling at something unusual and Khan says it’s been the same for her in Pakistan. “I simply attract attention wherever I go because of the way I look. I don’t even have to do anything. People just stare at me.”
On the other hand, she notices how everyone has to fit in a certain mold in Pakistan. “I find that everything has to look pretty in the Pakistani industry. All music has to sound like pop and be in Urdu to become popular. I don’t look anything like what they want. But I’m pretty in my own way. Diversity is beautiful. I sing in English but then, I find the notion that I have to sing in Urdu to make it big in Pakistan wrong.”
She wants to make people feel that they can be free, create whatever music they want and still make it.
Khan has released 2 LPs and 2 EPs online, all of which are available on Patari. When asked what kind of response she has recieved in Pakistan so far, she responds, “It’s been polarising. A lot of people love my music. A lot of girls tell me they find me inspiring. But then, a lot of people hate it too. They tell me I’ll go to hell.”
Khan cites Junoon, AR Rahman and Sohail Rana as her favourites from the subcontinent while she is also influenced by Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi. “The guy lost the tip of two of his fingers and still became one of the best guitarists in the world. What can be more inspiring than that?”
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