Hi there, I’m doing well — enjoying a breezy Brooklyn in the lows 80s after a heat wave and flash flooding the past few days. Thanks for having me.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Nusrat on the Beach”?
Yeah — Nusrat is the lead single from the new record. Between its name and the first 20-30 seconds, I think the song brings you into its world quickly. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is the most famous Pakistani musician of all time and grew up in the region of Punjab, a breadbasket to northern Indian and Pakistan far away from the sea. We begin with the sounds of a beach in Karachi and make our way into a familial conversation about breaking from tradition, all to the rhythm of ghungroos and 808s before Nusrat reappears in the chorus melody. And there you have it — welcome to our world of Nusrat on the Beach!
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
The inspirations behind the song are more general than they are particular–from a general time and variety of places as I left New York for grad school, visited loved ones on the west coast, and began dreaming of all those warm things all over again once I settled down in Boston. I also wrote an essay about it for the premiere, if you wanna hear more.
Any plans to release a video for the single?
Yes! I was in Los Angeles a few weeks ago shooting the video with Hannah Baker, a dear friend who I’ve long been excited to work with on a collaboration. Stay tuned — I think it’ll be another lovely addition to the Nusrat world and, like the song, a visual complement for Humeysha’s evolution.
Why name the record after the song in particular?
There was no question about that being the name of the record the moment it struck me as the name of the song. There was also no question that the song was the lead single the moment the melody and initial arrangements fell into place.
How was the recording and writing process?
As mentioned, I was no longer living in New York by the time I was deep into the writing process for these songs. In some ways I welcomed the return to solitude, composing tunes and experimenting with sounds on my own without thinking about how they would work in the setup of a band. But it’s always nice to get a new perspective and a breath of fresh air when you’ve been holed up on your own for long enough. This time around I felt like I had a better sense of when to bring in my collaborators, with intention and a clarity of purpose balanced with the desire for freedom to see where things go. Nusrat, for example, was basically set in stone in terms of arrangement and instrumentation, and I was thrilled with where my experiments with synths and steel drums and new sample sources had gone. But I was still in for another surprise the way the song gained even more personality with the breakbeats and other drum programming my friend Dylan Bostick brought in. It’s always delightful when surprises in collaboration work out that way.
What role does Brooklyn play in your music?
I’m not sure how much of a direct role Brooklyn plays in my music, but in a more general sense, it’s wonderful to be surrounded by creative communities of color, friends whose work across mediums inspires you on a daily basis, and to be frank, a sense of safety in 2019 America. I grew up in the suburbs of the South so I don’t take these fundamentals lightly — gotta cherish every moment we see seeds for the kind of world we want for generations after if we make it that far!
How your upbringing does influences your writing?
I think in every creative act — making music, writing, even building certain kinds of relationships — I try to make sense of materials that seem like they don’t belong with one another. I just told you that I grew up in the South, so it probably comes as no surprise then that I never let anything get in the way of finding a throughline between Pakistani qawwali music, the ambient-punk of a band like Deerhunter, and the slow syrupy beats of Three 6 Mafia.
What aspect of the past and expectations did you get to explore on this record?
Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
My time as a grad student in a new city away from home informed this work just as much as any song or other piece of writing in some ways reflects its time and place. I do think though that some certain listeners familiar with some of the traditions (and languages!) that this music draws from will pick up on some of the ways I have fun flipping some common tropes and themes on their head…
Any plans to hit the road?
Always. We’ll be playing shows this fall in support of the record. And for everyone out there in India and Pakistan, I want to make it back out there for a tour pronto. It’s been years since I was there last and it’s only natural, given that Humeysha was born while I lived there.
What else is happening next in Humeysha’s world?
I’ll be debuting a new piece at the Revolution Remix performance on August 24th at the Christ Church Neighborhood House in Philadelphia — the culmination of a year-long project with South Asian American Digital Archive where musicians incorporate South Asian narratives in composing a sound tour of the city. You’ll be hearing more (and more frequently) from Humeysha as we march into 2020. Stay tuned.