Like all great desi stories, this one also started with biryani.
Natasha went through a tense time in her last year of undergrad at LUMS, and would be restricted to her room. She would rely on Zahra, a good friend with many similar interests, to bring her, her custom depression-lunch—a pack of Student Biryani, coke and a bag of Lays.
While Zahra maintains she would just annoyingly “throw” these at her every day, Natasha considers it the start of a long-term, viable friendship that led to the formation of Biryani Brothers.
Biryani Brothers aren't afraid to laugh at themselves
Natasha Noorani and Zahra Paracha met in 2012 and soon found themselves performing gigs in Lahore’s music and food cafes. They eventually formed Biryani Brothers in 2014, joining the ever burgeoning underground music scene of Pakistan.
When I interview them, there are only a few moments I don’t laugh. It feels like I’m in just another gathering of friends where everyone uses self-deprecating humour to joke about the hard parts of life they have no control over.
“Our whole life is a funny anecdote. Our friendship too,” Zahra says.
That is also why their music is relatable. When you listen to 'Ikisvi Sadi', their first music video, released last year, you feel nostalgia. For what though, you might not be able to put a finger on. Simple, unpretentious lyrics, yet they seem to hit you in the right place.
For me, listening to the song made me go down the memory lane, and, at midnight, I found myself playing an entire playlist comprising music by Shajie, Sikandar Ka Mandar and other indie bands.
Natasha and Zahra both co-write their songs, while the latter is the production and post-production genius. Zahra experiments with a lot of instruments in her music too. Natasha also recently sang for the Meera-starrer, Baaji.
The two have released two music videos so far. While the lyrics and sound of 'Ikisvi Sadi' may leave you feeling blue, the video is the opposite. You see a number of unrelated—or seemingly so—funny scenes showing the two women playing different parts.
Natasha and Zahra are reading news on PTV. Natasha and Zahra are a couple. Natasha and Zahra are their own selves but for some reason, Natasha is shaving her face and totally blown away by the razor’s capabilities.
Turns out, they were just copying famous ads—one starring former cricket star Wasim Akram and another timeless razor ad. “We can’t be on camera unless we’re being funny,” Natasha tells me when I ask her if the video is supposed to even mean anything.
She then concedes that there indeed is social commentary in the video, but, hey, they’ll leave to the more sombre ones to analyse, she says.
Pakistan has always had a vibrant music scene, with musicians experimenting with various genres, including pop, rock and even rap (remember Fakhr-e-Alam, anyone?). But the 2000s were truly revolutionary for the country saw opening of dedicated music channels for the first time.
Musicians enjoyed the status of rock stars and celebrities. But like a lot of other institutions, the entertainment fraternity in general and the music industry in particular suffered.
"If we want to make music we must take things into our own hands."
In such trying times, Pakistani musicians did what they had to. A lot of them recorded their own low-budget videos and released them on Facebook, or uploaded their songs them on SoundCloud, which had quickly become a popular music streaming app with amateur and aspiring musicians.
Zahra is almost shocked when I ask her about some of her solo work released on SoundCloud.
She laughs and says she had forgotten about it. “SoundCloud is like the Orkut of our age.” Her piece 'whispers' caught my attention, which features whispers, literally, with electronic music playing in the foreground.
Natasha, who is doing her Masters in ethnomusicology in the UK, has a grave look while she discusses how musicians in Pakistan face a tough time. She says in the absence of an eco-system, music labels and dedicated TV channels, a musician has no option but to be marketing and graphics experts and musicians, all in one.
And it’s an immensely difficult task to do all that, she says. Two music channels in Pakistan rejected their videos telling them their content doesn’t fit with their definition of suitable content, Natasha added.
This is also why they founded the annual Lahore Music Meet, which brings together industry veterans and actively scouts for new and young musicians. With its fourth edition this year, LMM has become a success in holding debates from industry issues to bringing fresh talent to the fore.
“We realised during our undergrad that the music industry is in pits; that if we want to make music we must take things into our own hands,” Natasha says.
We wrap up our conversation by agreeing that that’s what a millennial is supposed to do—make do somehow even in the face of disappointments. Life is, after all, in the words of Natasha, “totally random, jugaar hai.”