Umer Piracha is a singer-songwriter, composer and guitarist. He generates his name through musical creativeness. He is an artist whose music mostly concerns existing consciousness and subterranean spirituality. He happens to hold a lot of passion about it.
He mostly records in his own studio and is involved in projects that comprise inspirations and collaborations with artists from various parts of the world. His music endeavors are not limited to geographical boundaries. While talking to The News Tribe (TNT), he was like:
The News Tribe (TNT): What is your inspiration?
Umer: The small moments that comprise daily life itself, the entire collection of everything that is bright and dull, pleasant and unpleasant, with family, friends, and new people I meet. The likes of Rumi, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Radiohead, Michael Jackson, Leonard Cohen, and Bob Dylan would relate to this I feel, an all embracing love of life and the human condition, with all its puzzles, and paradoxes of beauty and perversity existing simultaneously. There’s a concept called ‘openness to experience’ and I believe my personality ranks highly on that. I love noticing things about life that daily routine tends to miss. I try not to judge, at least not initially like the default setting one may operate on. I love people, and their different ways of thought, religions, countries, backgrounds, and work people do everywhere to move humanity forward, such as Abdus Salam, and recently Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy from Pakistan, and many others in both East and West. Learning about them excites me, and then settles in my heart as a peaceful feeling, convinced of the beauty of this world, that translates to music.
TNT: What message does your music mainly reflect?
Umer: It reflects ‘Unconditional Love’. And I know it sounds clichéd when I say that. But it is the most important thing in the world, and unimaginably hard to incorporate in daily life. But we should really try and understand what it means to love unconditionally. It’s because we need more love every time. I’d be quite content if my entire life’s work in music can truly serve to convince even a single soul on this.
TNT: If given a chance, you would like to perform with whom and why?
Umer: I’d like to perform with old souls such as Leonard Cohen and other artists I mentioned. To share a stage with any of them would be a great spiritual experience. And because young artists are more likely to be convinced of these inspirations, I’d like to perform with younger artists like Arieb Azhar, Poor Rich Boy, Zeb and Haniya and The Sketches. I would also love to perform with folk artists from Sindh, Baluchistan, NWFP, and with Indian artists too. Here in USA, I have already had the great fortune of making some special friends in this way who represent different colors of music from all over the world that are authentic in their own ways. I also like collaborating with modern dancers and visual artists as a musician.
TNT: How do you define good music?
Umer: I think good music is lasting and transcendent, it comes from a place deeper than spoken words can convey. It is a ladder for your soul, beyond just what you hear, and it causes you to be concerned with the welfare of your own life and everyone else’s in the world. It is beyond borders and it raises your understanding. When you truly hear good music, you just know. Now it doesn’t mean that I don’t listen to pop music. That stuff is also catchy, and can temporarily be a lot of fun till you get tired of listening to it because ultimately it’s a short-lived kind of fun; I suppose like anything else that is fun and pleasing to superficial senses.
TNT: What is success for a musician according to you in terms of money or fame?
Umer: I think the paradigm that defines success in terms of money or fame itself kills many artists and their inspirations. Money and fame are not bad, but they don’t attract people whose expectations you can really do without if you want to live peacefully and without sorrow. That is soul crushing stuff and kills the authentic artist underneath. I think a successful artist is the one who recognizes that making a living doesn’t have to be the same as deciding what to work on. A successful artist is the one who can share even a small room with a group of people and can transform their hearts in a good performance.
TNT: In such a competitive music environment, what acts as your niche?
Umer: I have made music quite organically, and my niche is people who find arts inspiring and have an accepting, spiritual outlook. Many people in Pakistan can also relate because it is my home, and my city of Multan is ancient and infused with the Sufi character. So it is a reciprocal relationship. Music allows me to connect with such people and their presence inspires me to make music that attracts more people like them. Competition doesn’t bug me. People equate being competitive with being good at something, but in many cases it is not so. Some people do well because they love what they do and find themselves successful without wanting to leave anyone behind. If you take a chalk and draw a line on a board, the only way to make it smaller without touching it is to draw a line next to it that is longer.
TNT: What are three things that you dislike and three things that you like about music industry? And how do you manage music industry politics?
Umer: I like that it is a platform for people to express themselves, that it brings people together to celebrate life while there is so much negativity in media and the world. It creates opportunities for organic collaborations across genres, countries, and all things that appeared as real boundaries before. I guess I don’t like that it is too commercial and people draw comparisons all the time. In Pakistan there are still cultural stigmas/restrictions on how much a person or band can develop themselves solely as musicians either because of family expectations or security risks etc. As a result, very few authentic musicians see the light of day, unless they are from musical families or somehow already connected to the industry. I manage politics by avoiding contact with it, and trying to smile it away when it is forced on me. J
TNT: Say a few lines on future of music in Pakistan.
Umer: I think it is bright. I’ve never seen so many people making music organically before, it used to only be folk music families or a few artists enjoying commercial success. I think in general it is an interesting time around the world, almost like a new axial age. Common themes are emerging amongst people who appear different on the surface, but the more you learn about people the more you realize how similar we all are. I think this is why artists also tend to work for peace because their authentic inspirations bring them in touch with a basic sense of humanity that we all share, which organized movements often tend to ignore in trying to fulfill their ideological aims, driven by nationalism, faith, or politics etc. There are many problems in Pakistan, but people are talking and becoming more solution-oriented and I think artists will have an incredibly significant part to play. I am hopeful and enthusiastic about this.
TNT: What would you suggest to infant musicians? Music shall be taken as a hobby or as a career?
Umer: I would suggest them to be less risk-averse and be nice to their parents. Your parents will always be more conservative and pick more financially secure options for you. It’s important to stay somewhat practical so you don’t starve. Now internet use is widespread, so if one works hard, there are opportunities around the world that can be explored as well to obtain funding and start things so one can grow their work well.
TNT: What is your message to readers?
Umer: Just that I am so, so grateful that you listen to my music and are receptive to the ideas contained in it. It is you whose support and connection enables me to call it ‘music’ in the first place. I will have a lot more music to share in the coming months and years; there are so many ideas and thoughts I’ve been reflecting on. Continue to grow, grow and grow.