FOCUS: SHAMOON RISING

January 27, 2019

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Quietly, but steadily, he’s amassing quite a following online. According to Patari, his songs have been in the top 10 songs of 2018 as well as in the first half of 2019 so far. And he’s done all of this in roughly just over a year.

Islamabad-based, 27-year-old singer-songwriter, musician and producer Shamoon Ismail, recently also got a shout-out from the multitalented Pakistani internet star Mooroo (Taimoor Salahuddin) in one of his vlogs. Mooroo can be seen playing Shamoon’s song Marijuana while cruising in a new luxury car and there’s a little clip featuring Shamoon himself. The video garnered 100,000 views in just the first 24 hours after it was published online.

Marijuana is from Shamoon’s EP titled Cookie. It has four songs that were released sometime in the past year or so, but his own musical journey started roughly a decade earlier.

“I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember,” he shares. He started playing instruments right before college. How many? “Four, but I’m not very good at all of them,” he confesses. “I play the guitar and bass the best, drums mein theek hoon [I am just okay on drums].” It was around that time that he also started writing songs as well. “I don’t think I was good back then,” he says. “There are a lot of songs that I have written but don’t plan to put out any time soon.

Shamoon Ismail is a rising star in music but, as popular as his music might be getting, he still comes across as intensely private and somewhat shy

He first released some of his music online sometime in 2013 — including the popular Jutt Blues. But he stopped the year after. Why? He responds after a pause, as if gathering himself. “My mum died,” he says, “I started university. Things changed. So, between 2014 to 2017 I took a break.”

He shares some of the feedback he gets from his followers on his social media accounts. There’s that person who said the song Taare helped him through some difficult times, fans across the border who send him video clips of them playing his songs wherever they are and even a clip of a dance group performing their choreography to his song Taare as well.

“Everyone has their own relationship to the song,” says the singer. “They all react differently. I have a different connection with different songs by different artists too, so I totally understand. Sometimes people send me long messages telling me their secrets, saying this is how your song has helped me.”

How does that feel? “I just wrote the song, I never thought about what the song was going to do,” he says. “I don’t know what to say. It feels good. There’s something I’ve done [that impacts peoples’ lives].”

As popular as his music might be getting, as a person, Shamoon comes across as somewhat shy and reclusive, preferring the company of a small group of people rather than enjoying mingling in large crowds. When the time comes, he can slip into the role of a performer and give himself to a crowd. But only on occasion, not all the time. After all, there’s only so much of yourself you can give to the world.

The artist admits that he likes to keep a small, close-knit group of friends and an overall lower profile in public.

Shamoon has been at the centre of some controversy as well. On two occasions he came out publicly about being threatened by production houses after having refused to grant rights/permissions to use his songs in an Indian film back then and, recently, for an upcoming local film.

This is becoming quite a pattern. “That is happening to me a lot!” he sounds frustrated. “In the last one and a half years.”

Of the songs from the well received Cookie, the first and, so far, the most popular song from the little collection is the very groovy Marijuana. But the rest are equally intriguing. There is Karachi — about feeling an unspoken connection with a stranger he locked eyes with once during a flight to Karachi from Islamabad. The stranger followed him around but he never actually talked or interacted. Then there’s the deeply-emotional Khayal and, lastly, Na Toon featuring Mooroo and Haider Mustehsan (Momina’s brother, who sounds uncannily like Justin Bieber).

Cookie is mostly in Punjabi, with the exception of Mustehsan’s lines in Na Toon. “I’ve written songs in Urdu and English as well,” says Shamoon. “But over the years I’ve realised that the best expression jo mera nikalta hai, woh Punjabi mein nikalta hai [I express myself best in Punjabi].”

Why is your EP called Cookie, I ask him. “I don’t know,” Shamoon says. “Because I like cookies! Cookie, iss ka matlab kya hai, woh thora deep hai [What is the meaning of Cookie? That’s a little deep].” He laughs. I try to prod a little more. Is it a secret nickname? “Yeah,” he laughs. “Aur iss ko mein secret hi rakhna chahta hoon! [And I want to keep it a secret!]”

Is he planning to come out with anything after this? “To be honest, I have tons of music,” says Shamoon. “I make music pretty much every day. I can release something tomorrow as well but I’m just waiting for the right time.”

Published in Dawn, ICON, January 27th, 2019