When a group of talented female musicians came together in Pakistan to play in the Nescafe Basement Series, Season 4, their performance was unlike anything an audience in Pakistan–or globally–had ever seen. Covering John Newman’s ‘Love Me Again’, this talented ensemble included a violinist, pianist, and guitarists perfectly complemented by musicians on the sitar, tabla and drums–not to mention a profusion of stunning vocalists. We speak to Janat Sohail Aziz (who plays the ukulele), about the challenges and rewards facing this trailblazing group.
What is your age and full name?
My name is Janat Sohail Aziz and I’m 22 years old.
How did you become interested in a career as a musician?
Expressing myself through varying mediums of art has been of paramount importance to me and this urge connected me to my love for music. I’ve always experienced a calm in it and especially being socially inexpressive, music has always delicately acted as a tool for me to communicate.
What, if any, formal training do you have and how long have you been performing?
I have not taken any formal training, which I believe was something that encouraged me to explore [learning to play] instruments myself. Being the sort of person I am, professional training would have made it feel like a responsibility, and I would have lost interest. Getting to know the instruments myself, layer by layer, created a very personal bond for me.
I did my first performance [when I was studying] A levels and have been performing since.
How did you find the other members of your group?
Being a part of Nescafe Basement, Season 4, not only acted as a positive platform to begin my journey [from], but also brought together [our] all- female ensemble.
How do the members of the band make creative decisions? Have you ever encountered any creative conflict?
We’re all a team and every decision comes as a result of everyone’s opinion. We occasionally sit, jam and improvise as the ideas come to us. There’s hardly ever a conflict as we all share a similar sense of music.
What are some of the highlights of your career? What’s the best/worst feedback you’ve received on the Basement series performance?
It’s been a brilliant journey, over all! We’ve received messages from people all across the globe and it’s been an honor having made a difference in people’s lives, even in the slightest manner! A mother called us from Peshawar, letting us know that she will now allow her daughter to pursue music as a career after she saw the diversity in our band, along with the motivation to [encourage women’s] equality!
How has your music been received in Pakistan? Have you faced any obstacles or setbacks? Is there a push-back against your music from men? Or from orthodox religious groups?
In a [patriarchal society] one would think that Pakistan’s first all-girls ensemble would have faced numerous obstacles, but it was quite the opposite. There was an outburst of love from society, with people who were nothing but incredibly proud of us! Some of the most notable men of our music industry such as Ali Azmat, Ali Zafar and Junaid Khan also showed immense support! As for the orthodox religious groups, it is about time that they begin to accept the role of women in our society as more than mere objects that must be controlled and administered.
What do you see as the future of female musicians/bands like yourself/yourselves in Pakistan?
Undoubtedly, our society is gradually moving towards a progressive future with women standing up confidently for their basic rights! We have a talented bunch of aspiring female musicians that will make enormous waves, if given a chance! I’d urge these individuals to pursue their dreams, regardless of what society has to say and break through the stereotypes and social constructs!
What are your plans over the next 5 years, both as an individual and for the band?
As an individual, I’ve been working on one of my singles that will be released soon! As for the Nescafe Girls, we are brewing exciting things for you that shall be introduced over the next few months! So, stay tuned!
Does your band now have a name?
We’re The Nescafe Girls, for now!
Ausma Zehanat Khan is the author of the debut novel ‘The Unquiet Dead’, the former Editor in Chief of ‘Muslim Girl’ magazine and a long-time community activist and writer.