Zahra Paracha on navigating Pakistan’s male-centric music industry as a singer and music producer

From her gig in the retro musical duo Biryani Brothers to the magic weaved into the numerous songs she’s produced over the years, singer and music producer Zahra Paracha is a well-known name in Pakistan’s music scene. It hasn’t been easy to get here though — Paracha’s journey is marked by the struggle to be taken seriously in a music industry dominated by men on all levels.

In an interview published in Forbes on April 25, Paracha spoke about the challenges that came her way as a musician and music producer. The musician was regularly on the receiving end of ‘mansplaining’, unsolicited advice and being overlooked by industry players. “I remember when I started doing things where I was the sole producer, people were like, ‘hey, she might be onto something’. But prior to that, I was just screaming into the void! I realised male artistes have their own little club – ‘hey bro check this out, hey bro give this a listen’ – I didn’t have that with anyone.

Paracha is currently working as an Audio Post Production Engineer for Citrus Studio. It was when she started there that she discover her struggles in the industry weren’t hers alone. “[W]hen I started working with Haniya Aslam [of Citrus Studio], that’s when I realised it wasn’t in my head and that this seems to be a shared experience, something rooted in gender somewhere!” she said.

“It’s insane how gender really does inform a lot of the stereotypes that some people have, the misconceptions that they would choose to have. But when I joined the Citrus audio team and [Aslam] became my mentor, it was one of the best moments in my life to have someone guiding me in this otherwise sausage-fest scene. When you’re a woman, you have to be twice as good to prove that you’re just as good as a man.”

For Paracha, her passion for creating music was born out of a personal experience she grappled with for years. Music became her outlet for expression as she navigated life and emotions. With time, she became a lot more inquisitive about the music she loved listening to. “We had an old computer that I would use to listen to a lot of music on. I used to think, what is it about this song that I like so much? I would then try to recreate those beats from scratch,” Paracha stated, “I’d think, this is something which is in my control — I have a guitar in my hands and I can make something from this,” she said.

“Music has always been something I did for myself to heal and feel whole again. And I think it has done a really good job in helping me so far.”

As a budding artist, she was inspired by the likes of Call, Entity Paradigm (EP) and Jal. “I thought it was so cool, but I didn’t want to just admire these people, I wanted to be them,” Paracha shared, “I used to constantly listen to Jal’s songs and learned every part of ‘Aadat’ — from the rhythm chords to the lead chords. I couldn’t talk to people, but when I played the guitar, it was like they felt connected to me. Music seemed like such a perfect Segway into having social relationships.”

Paracha has produced music for bands and artistes such as Sikandar ka Mandar, Risham Faiz Bhutta (RFB), Towers, Takatak and others. She is also the co-founder behind Pakistan’s first music festival, the annual Lahore Music Meet (LMM).

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