For many, art in any form is an expression of one’s sentiments, thoughts and inhibitions. Whether it is the spoken word or a dance performance, artists have different ways of expressing themselves.
Similarly, a boy from Multan found a way to express his thoughts in a land far away from his hometown. Umer Piracha left Pakistan in 2003 to go to Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania, where his journey through the liberal arts school allowed him to explore his love for music.
“When I started off, I was into acoustic covers,” says the artist, who is in his late 20s. “I started to really enjoy singing and found it therapeutic.” College years are formative years that mold ones perceptions and outlooks on life. With an inclination towards philosophy and an undying need to be practical, Piracha found himself majoring in business. “I came to the conclusion that, Pakistan was not the place for me,” continues Piracha, “My philosophical composition was not conducive to the Pakistani mind set and hence I found a job so I could work in the United States.”
After he was laid off from his first job, Piracha found his calling and realised that it was the right time for him to start working on his music. Based in Philadelphia, Piracha has had access to the hubs of art and culture on the East Coast. “I started writing my own stuff and all of my reflections were being processed,” he says. “Sufi influences and western philosophy tussled in my head and somehow my world was connecting together,” he adds. “Music for me is a way to connect. I understood that, you don’t have to give up an identity to accept another one.”
Having started off with acoustic music, exploring how to layer sounds, the nature of his work morphed into not just a sonorous experience but also a visual one. In order to express himself, Piracha started using projections and live performances to accompany him. “Artists like Radiohead, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen have really mastered the art of layering acoustics,” he says. “Even though my vocal inspirations come from Sufi tunes, I want to introduce electronic music to Urdu songs. I want to use electronic and acoustic together to convey my thoughts.”
With this idea in mind, Piracha became involved in not only the underground music scene in Philadelphia but also started cross platform collaborations.
“I have been living a double life,” says Piracha, “I have not returned to Pakistan in over seven years and am juggling between two careers, my day job at the Philadelphia Energy Company (Peco) and my music,” he continues, “Life is too short and I want to convey that you make the meaning of your life yourself. Do what you want to because no matter what you do as long as it is important to you, it is meaningful.”
Piracha now creates this juxtaposition between the suave electronic genre and ethnic poetry dispensing modernity. Currently working on an album comprising of five songs in acoustic English and five songs of electronic Urdu, he wants to create an overview of music from around the world. “My music isn’t world music; it is soulful and is about the moment and what you experience in that moment.”
In the hopes of keeping his work organic and inspiring, Umer Piracha keeps his dream alive and is happy living a dual life in the corporate world and in the world of the arts. “My next gig is on March 14 at Philadelphia Sculpture Gym, an artist collective for sculptors, and I’m representing a collective of recording artists called Working while Playing.”
His work can be found on youtube.com/UmersMusic.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 13th, 2013.
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