Caro Meets Music Interview

Samia Malik: UK tour

By | Published on Wednesday 23 October 2019

Singer and songwriter Samia Malik begins a UK tour at London’s Rich Mix this week, bringing to the capital her bold brand of fusion music that explores contemporary issues through songs written in both Urdu and English.

I arranged to put some questions to Samia to find out more about what to expect from her upcoming shows, as well as about her body of work and career thus far.

CM: To begin with, for anyone not familiar with your work, can you explain what style, or genre, of work you perform?
SM: I write and perform original songs in Urdu and English based on traditional Ghazal – a highly refined union of poetry with music. My songs are accompanied by classical Indian but also Western instruments, including tabla, tanpura, sitar, guitar, violin, bass guitar and harmonium. I am also a visual artist: films of translations and projections of visual art support my live performances.

CM: Can you tell us about the themes and ideas covered in the songs you will be performing?
SM: My work extends and subverts the traditional forms to explore contemporary issues around identity, race and gender.

CM: What inspired you to use those themes to create your work?
SM: My work, both as a singer/songwriter and as a visual artist, is completely informed by my personal experiences of being an Asian woman from a Pakistani, Muslim background who grew up in the UK.

CM: Can you describe your creative process? What comes first, the words or the music?
SM: What an interesting question! Sometimes one, sometimes the other. Sometimes, if I am really lucky, both together. But it can take years, literally, from the first inspiration to the finished, polished final piece. I basically get myself physically, emotionally, spiritually ready, get into my studio, shut and lock the door – THAT’S the key! – and I practise and practise and practise… I wait… I listen… I try things… I fail… I make mistakes… I make more mistakes… I wait… I practise and practise and practise… etc, etc…

But you know, I am most free in my studio. I fly. And if we truly look, if we don’t try to find the polished gem, we just look for the raw feeling, the emotion, the passion, the pain, the anger, the joy…then it comes. When I deliver songwriting workshops, that’s my aim – to get people to be really free. That’s when the magic comes!

CM: Can you tell us about your fellow creatives, the ones appearing on this tour with you?
SM: For this tour I have the utter and immense privilege of working with some of the best artists in the world. I am accompanied by internationally respected Italian guitarist Giuliano Modarelli, and my extraordinary long time collaborators: exceptional and versatile multi instrumentalist Sianed Jones on violin, keyboards and bass guitar; and renowned tabla maestro Sukhdeep Dhanjal. It’s very much a Supergroup!

Supported by the Arts Council, our remaining tour dates include – as well as the upcoming date at Rich Mix in London – 9 Nov at Bank Arts Eye in Suffolk, 16 Nov at World Unlimited in Newton Abbot, 28 Nov at Kalasangam in Bradford and 29 Nov at MAC in Birmingham.

CM: Can you tell us what to expect from the Q&A sessions accompanying your performances?
SM: The Q&A is a really important part of the performance – where I hand over to the audience. It is amazing what people want to discuss, to ask, and it is very interesting to me how very diverse audiences have identified with the themes I explore.

These open Q&A sessions have thrown up such interesting issues, from these songs reminding people that this is indeed ‘one world’ to discussions about race, culture, belonging, history, connections, the past, our turbulent present and uncertain future.

I am particularly excited to be having some Q&A sessions facilitated by DESIblitz, the UK’s leading award winning online Asian magazine as well as one of my all-time heroines, the activist and writer Amrit Wilson. I think that will be thrilling part of the evening.

CM: Can we go back a bit now? Can you tell us how your work began and what attracted you to this career?
SM: I grew up in the UK listening to Bollywood film songs and Urdu Ghazals so it’s always been a deep connection, though my family were not particularly musical.

I was greatly influenced by the legendary Indian director Guru Dutt whose films explored themes such as love, integrity, art, class, hypocrisy and politics. I loved the voices of both Geeta Dutt and Begum Akhter, and the incredible poetry of Faiz. When I was fifteen I discovered classical Indian music in the film ‘Baiju Bawra’, and was inspired to learn about this traditional music. But women from my background are not allowed to sing, especially not in public, so there was no chance then of any training or learning. I just continued to listen and enjoy the songs.

Many years later, in my late twenties and as a single parent, I finally followed my dream and I was lucky enough to be taught in London by the great Baluji Shrivastav OBE. For a number of years I trained in classical vocal techniques and then began using this knowledge of raag and taal to create my first compositions for poems published in ‘We Sinful Women – Contemporary Feminist Urdu Poetry’ in 1991.

Feeling that these poems, through thrillingly powerful and inspiring, did not explore my own experiences of being an Asian woman from a Pakistani, Muslim background who grew up in the UK, I began to write my own songs, focusing on issues of race, gender and identity. Much later, I did a visual arts degree. Films of translations and projections of visual art now support my live performances.

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far?
SM: ‘Azaadi: Freedom’, my last UK touring show, was in fact the last thirty years of my life as a creative artist – both as a songwriter and as a visual artist – condensed into an hour! It was a mainly autobiographical narrative show. And although first, and sometimes now, it is a solo show, I was lucky enough to perform a UK tour with my teacher, the great Baluji Shrivastav OBE accompanying me, which such an incredible privilege. So of course ‘Azaadi: Freedom’ is very close to my heart, and I will be continuing to develop it in the future.

I have toured across India and the USA with the celebrated activist and dancer Mallika Sarabhai, in ‘Colours’, a multimedia show based on my songs. Wherever we went we had standing ovations and sold out shows. That was pretty special.

And of course I am incredibly proud of my current touring show, ‘Samia Malik UK Tour and Album Launch’ which is a continuation of ‘Azaadi: Freedom’: a development, an opening into a wider musical language – more of a concert than a narrative show, and I think it appeals to a wider audience.

Even more then these successful shows however, I am most proud of my work in women’s organisations such as Southall Black Sisters, The Angelou Centre in Newcastle and Humraaz in Blackburn where I deliver solo performances and songwriting workshops. The response has been incredible – women have told me that I have put their own stories into words and images: my work makes them feel understood and empowered. They too have created powerful new work out of their own experiences. I am equally amazed, gratified and humbled by this response.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
SM: I have many plans hatching. I would like to continue to work with the incredible artists I have already collaborated with. More workshops in women’s organisations, definitely. More touring, for sure.

In addition – because I am in my ideal world and I shall dream – with music, I would love to work with Coke Studios in Pakistan.

And for film, I would love to work with a director, such as the amazing Gurinder Chadha or Mira Nair, who explores similar themes to me in their work, to develop Azaadi: Freedom.

More than all of these – I just want to keep singing!

Samia Malik performs at Rich Mix on 27 Oct, see the venue website here for all the info.

LINKS: | |