Spotlight: “I want to sing for Pakistan”

Published May 19, 2013
— Photo Mohammad Farooq
— Photo Mohammad Farooq

Heather Schmid on her soon-to-be-out music video, Pehle Hum Pakistani Hain, Pakistan Zindabad!

Why would an American singer want to sing in Pakistan and share her feelings for this country with her people back home? Well, Heather Schmid says she has plenty of reason to be doing so.

“Back in America when we watch the news, we only see bombs exploding in Pakistan. If the Americans see this country through my eyes they’d see colourful shaadis, the most beautiful mehndi ceremonies, bhangra dances, and the Sabzi Mandi!” She tries to explain, thinking that another Pakistani would be able to understand her feelings but even I fail to understand the connection with Sabzi Mandi.

Suddenly the tall, blonde singer breaks into a chant: “Aloo aath rupay kilo, piaz paanch rupay, tamatar bees rupay…” (potatoes for Rs8 per kg, onions Rs5, tomatoes Rs20).

Her Pakistani husband, Dr Syed Rafay Mehdi, is obviously amused by his wife’s imitation while it becomes obvious to me that she has a good ear as she speaks clear Urdu without any hint of an accent.

“Heather is a very curious learner and has learnt all of this on her own. The Urdu language she picked up watching our television dramas and the vendor patter from the local vegetable and fruit market itself,” explains Dr Mehdi. “The moment we land in Karachi, she wants me to take her to the Sabzi Mandi. God knows why she is so fascinated by the place,” he shrugs.

“I always find some new fruit there that I have never heard of, never had before and which is even more sweet and delicious than the last one I had,” she cuts in. “This time it was the loquat. They are as sweet as candy this season,” she says. “I must have eaten over 300 of them so far,” she beams.

The couple were recently in Karachi in connection with Heather’s new music video called Pehle Hum Pakistani Hain, Pakistan Zindabad!

This Boston University graduate in Music and classically-trained Opera Soprano pop rock singer has been visiting Pakistan as a performer since 2005. “It was after the earthquake that year when my husband was coming here as a doctor as part of a relief team for the Northern Areas. I wanted to come too and was recording at the Paramount Studio in LA.”

“I thought she would only get in the way. I could imagine her on CNN with duct tape across her mouth, begging for help in some kidnapper’s released video clip,” Dr Mehdi laughs, shaking his head. “But she had obviously made up her mind.”

Heather came to Pakistan and then took part in a benefit show at the Rafi Peer Theatre in Lahore. “I sang two songs for the thousands of people gathered there. One of them was Jeevay, Jeevay Pakistan. Then there were more performances, including one at the Punjab Governor’s mansion and the response I got made me realise what music was all about. It was about my personal perspective as a musician living in two different worlds and integrating them to create unity. That was when I felt that I could use my voice and music to create bridges,” she explains.

The lyrics for Heather’s new song have been conceived by one of Pakistan’s foremost writers, but whose name the couple wants to keep under wraps… for now. It will also feature a music video along with a six-episode programme about the making process. “At present we are in production. The basis of the song is kind of integrating my story and why I harbour so much love for this country,” she explains.

The release date is set for Pakistan’s Independence Day (August 14) both here and in the US. The song and its accompanying music video will bring together musicians with the most amazing musical instruments from all corners of Pakistan in an attempt to fuse local culture coupled with the singer’s story of how she fell in love with Pakistan. “I have such an intimate connection with Pakistan that this song will be my best work to date. It has a deep connection to my soul and with what I truly feel,” says Heather who has gained a notable fan-following in China after turning their folksong Mo li Hua into a dance track.

“Every time I’m about to visit Pakistan, everyone from my manager, lawyer, agent and even my friends try to talk me out of it. I want to tell them about samosa chaat, the spices that feel like they will burn your tongue off and so many other great things along with the people who sincerely welcome us here. That’s a unique Pakistani trait, you don’t find it in America,” she points out.

The artist recently posted on her Facebook page and her website ‘Five things you don’t know about Pakistanis’. She lists them as “Passion; hospitality; smartness and intelligence; fun-loving and caring. I find the people here very articulate and caring too… like caring for your elders, calling them ‘aunty’ and ‘uncle’. I also find them very bighearted and giving people. We have charities too but when I was researching Islam, I was so inspired by the concept of Zakat. Charity is a part of the religion,” she observes. “It’s the humanity that draws me to this country. I am Pakistan’s ambassador, well, self-elected,” she smiles.



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