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Living colours: Inspired by the Margallas

Updated February 12, 2015

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Michelle Qureshi is a composer and an instrumental guitarist from Indiana, United States. She has been playing the guitar since her teenage years and received formal training in classical guitar, studying at a musical conservatory and graduating with a Master’s in classical guitar.

Ms Qureshi recently released an album titled ‘Margalla Hills’, a collection of serene, layered guitar instrumentals.

Her music is deeply meditative, healing, and mesmerising, created with delicate, soulful sounds. She performs at festivals, yoga studios, art galleries and special events. Her music is broadcast on radio stations throughout the world and used in films, apps and commercials. Dawn spoke to her about music and her new album.

Q: Where you always drawn to music?

A: I was drawn to guitar in my teenage years and quickly taught myself many styles of guitar playing. However, I only started composing recently, after years of studying my instrument. During my formal studies, I interacted with many international students who shared their musical heritage with me. I learnt about Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas and discovered Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. I also became drawn to mysticism in music and as I delved deeper into his work, I was in awe of the beauty of Qawwali. Later, my husband and I would listen to Abida Parveen and Mehdi Hassan. I believe that these musical excursions are reflected in my music. As a composer, my music reflects the culmination of years of playing and listening to many styles of music. I find it particularly inspiring to blend sounds and traditions to create new ones. The results are sometimes deeply peaceful and other times invigorating.

Q: What is the context for the album ‘Margalla Hills’?

A: The idea for this album was born several years ago. On each trip to Pakistan, I visited the Margalla Hills and spent my evenings sitting on the balcony of my family home in Islamabad, looking at the hills. The serene beauty of the hills and my connection to my family in Pakistan inspired this music. I have released five albums before this.

This album came after ‘Flow’ from 2014 which contains hypnotic beats and guitars combined with chanted mantras and other flavours of South Asia. After ‘Flow’, I released two other albums - ‘Meditations’ and ‘Suite Beats’. ‘Meditations’, was a world fusion music album incorporating a number of instruments, while ‘Suite Beats’ fused genres such as rock and world chillout. In the album ‘Margalla Hills’, I return to my primary instrument, my home base, the guitar in what I call succinct and sweet musical vignettes.

Q: Have you experimented with any Pakistani musical instruments?

A: I have a collection of a few instruments from Pakistan - tablas, sitar, alghoza, the been and flutes. On visits to Pakistan I’ve seen many unique instruments at Lok Virsa and recently saw a multi-stringed fretted instrument that I would love to play. Curiosity and imagination are important to my approach to composition, so I am always open to experimentation with new instruments. My collection of instruments also includes the Turkish instruments oud, dumbek, and ney. I also own some American made fretted instruments, such as a Stonebridge steel-string guitar, an Alhambra classical guitar, a De Armond electric guitar, a dobro, a cello, a banjo and a ukulele. On some of my albums I play harmonium and didgeridoo as well.

Published in Dawn February 12th , 2015

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