Sara Haider broke onto the scene with her debut performance in Nida Buttâ€™s musical adaption of Grease playing Marty Maraschino. Featured most recently alongside Ali Zafar singing Saleem Razaâ€™s Ae Dil and as the youngest participating musician on Coke Studio, Sara has, at a young age, garnered a formidable fan following and is taking swift strides forward as a much beloved indie musician
How did this all start for you?
I started singing as a hobby. I was a painfully shy kid who would reluctantly get up and sing when asked to at social gatherings. I got over my stage fright when I was much older. However, I loved to sing, so I worked really hard because I wanted to excel. I was putting a lot more heart and soul into my music than I was putting into my degree in economics or anything else that I was doing at the time. In college, I was in a band called Teeen, probably best known in the indie music industry for the songÂ BarishonÂ MainÂ and I did jingles alongside to help pay for the production of our songs.
At this point, I was doing almost anything I was offered whether it was a jingle or jamming with a band or performing at a corporate show. All this work in the initial phase of my career really helped introduce me to some great people and institutions, like T2F (formerly known as The Second Floor), NAPA (National Academy of Performing Arts in Karachi) andÂ AhsanÂ BariÂ (established musician and teacher of music theory at NAPA) that are still the invaluable associations that I have and Iâ€™m thankful for these.
Then, I got an audition call for Coke Studio where I auditioned and got in. Again that was to help pay the bills since I was still at college. it enabled me to produce more work and record more songs and be able to buy equipment. I was singing back up on Coke Studio and got a little bit of attention. Then, this year, they decided to feature me as a female vocalist for a cover song. People started listening to my original songs and I started to get offers to write songs for films.
How was the experience of being featured on Coke Studio?
My work with Coke Studio really exposed me to whatâ€™s behind all the glamour in the industry. It was very educational seeing how much work goes into it and what it means to be a part of such a huge platform where all the biggest artists in the industry are being flown in from all over the world to come perform and the stakes are really high. At 22 years old and doing my dissertation for my economics degree simultaneously, what really inspired me was the idea that I could contribute in some way even by composing harmonies and singing back up vocals. That even somebody like me with very little experience compared to everybody else has a voice and a say in what is transpiring gave me a lot of confidence.
Tell us about the musical playÂ GreaseÂ that you debuted in?
GreaseÂ was amazing and was especially good for disciplining me. It was a 4 month rehearsal process for 12 hours a day. For someone like me, who was trying to do 10,000 things at one time, it taught me how to be completely focused in doing one thing at a time. It was also the first time that I had been in front of a live audience with all the big shiny names in the industry showing up to watch us. It was packed every night and it was brilliant and a bit unnerving to be featured alongside superstars, such asÂ Ayesha OmerÂ andÂ Sanam Saeed.
Have you always been inclined towards acting?
Appearing in Grease was my first experience of performing where I was doing more than singing, writing or composing. I had toldÂ Nida Butt, the director initially that I could sing but not act. Sanam (Saeed) was so helpful and used to sit me down and step by step go over every single line of mine with me and teach me how to act. This experience made me realise that acting is not far removed from singing. If youâ€™re singing, especially a song that somebody else has written, for those three odd minutes, you have to put yourself in the writersâ€™ shoes. Itâ€™s a pure emotion and you have to really connect withÂ the sentiment of Reshma Jee,Â Nazia Hassan,Â Ella FitzgeraldÂ or whoeverâ€™s song it is that youâ€™re singing. In this way, acting wasnâ€™t too far removed from what I had already been doing and it sort of came naturally to me.
What are you doing currently and where are you looking to go from here?
I sang backup forÂ Ahsan BariÂ at NAPA for over four and a half years, which I still do sometimes. Coke Studio andÂ GreaseÂ taught me how big I can be in this game, while performing in India, studying with Ahsan Bari and working with NAPA taught me how small I am as a musician and how much further there is to go. I think that having a sense of balance is important.
Iâ€™m currently training, learning how to read sheet music, training with myÂ ustadÂ (teacher),Â listening to folk music and really discovering music for the first time in my life. So for me at this point to say where I will end up is too much of a long shot since anything is possible. Previously, the only songs that I had thought that I could ever do were pop songs and I didnâ€™t even ever think that blues or jazz was something that I could do but now, I mean, who knows?
If you were to put together a band of your favourite musicians from any time and any place, who would be in it?
From those that Iâ€™ve heard live, it would be all round musicianÂ Mekaal HassanÂ and drummerÂ Gumbi.Â From those I have heard recorded, Derek TrucksÂ andÂ Susan TedeschÂ and definitelyÂ George Harrison, Ravi ShankarÂ andÂ Anushka ShankarÂ would be playing in my dream band.
Whatâ€™s currently on your iPod?
I have 6 different versions ofÂ Dekha Day Rang Apna, one is on the metronome, another has no backing vocals in it and a third has half a snare and so on. Itâ€™s part of my working process. My phone is filled with just half complete songs. Apart from these, I currently haveÂ Laila O LailaÂ byÂ Rostam Mirlashari,Â Sarak SarakÂ by theÂ Mai Dhai BandÂ andÂ AwaargiÂ byÂ Ghulam HussainÂ to name a few. The last one Iâ€™m trying to learn, so it makes sense to listen to it as much as possible and especially since Iâ€™m trying to sing authentically in Punjabi and Siraiki and other different regional Pakistani languages.
As a female music artist, how do you feel about the state of women in your industry?
People will say so many different things about you, especially if youâ€™re a woman. They point fingers and speculate about your married life and say things like, â€œOh, but how is she going to make time for the kids?â€ All the women that I know in fashion, music or show business are really tough. They all do very different things from each other but theyâ€™re all in their own rights extremely tough women.
What I really like about the songÂ Dekha Day Rang ApnaÂ and its video is itâ€™s treatment. It doesnâ€™t just represent a girl in the music industry, itâ€™s about any person. Itâ€™s not about that poor girl in a boyâ€™s club; itâ€™s about someone trying to figure out their way in going about what it is that they want to do.
Youâ€™ve done one short play and Grease; are you interested in taking up more work acting?
Yeah definitely, I would love to act. Music was something that I worked at and was something that I really chased but acting was just something that found me. The recent Leviâ€™s commercial I did withÂ JamiÂ featuring my songÂ Dekha Day Rang ApnaÂ has me acting in it. Music is really a visual medium. Singers have to act in their videos and on stage. Iâ€™d love to do a movie; I think itâ€™d be really fun. Music is just really about interacting with your audience whatever your style. Itâ€™s always somehow an act because no matter what youâ€™re feeling when you go up on stage, you have to be the person everyone expects to see.
â€”By Saba Ahmed