Sara Haider broke onto the scene with her debut performance in Nida Butt’s musical adaption of Grease playing Marty Maraschino. Featured most recently alongside Ali Zafar singing Saleem Raza’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 song Barishon Main 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) and Ahsan Bari (established musician and teacher of music theory at NAPA) that are still the invaluable associations that I have and I’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 what’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 play Grease that you debuted in?

Grease 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 as Ayesha Omer and 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 told 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 you’re singing, especially a song that somebody else has written, for those three odd minutes, you have to put yourself in the writers’ shoes. It’s a pure emotion and you have to really connect with the sentiment of Reshma Jee, Nazia Hassan, Ella Fitzgerald or whoever’s song it is that you’re singing. In this way, acting wasn’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 for Ahsan Bari at NAPA for over four and a half years, which I still do sometimes. Coke Studio and Grease 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.

I’m currently training, learning how to read sheet music, training with my ustad (teacher), 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 didn’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 I’ve heard live, it would be all round musician Mekaal Hassan and drummer Gumbi. From those I have heard recorded, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedesch and definitely George Harrison, Ravi Shankar and Anushka Shankar would be playing in my dream band.

What’s currently on your iPod?

I have 6 different versions of 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. It’s part of my working process. My phone is filled with just half complete songs. Apart from these, I currently have Laila O Laila by Rostam Mirlashari, Sarak Sarak by the Mai Dhai Band and Awaargi by Ghulam Hussain to name a few. The last one I’m trying to learn, so it makes sense to listen to it as much as possible and especially since I’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 you’re a woman. They point fingers and speculate about your married life and say things like, “Oh, but how is she going to make time for the kids?” 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 they’re all in their own rights extremely tough women.

What I really like about the song Dekha Day Rang Apna and its video is it’s treatment. It doesn’t just represent a girl in the music industry, it’s about any person. It’s not about that poor girl in a boy’s club; it’s about someone trying to figure out their way in going about what it is that they want to do.


You’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 Levi’s commercial I did with Jami featuring my song Dekha Day Rang Apna has me acting in it. Music is really a visual medium. Singers have to act in their videos and on stage. I’d love to do a movie; I think it’d be really fun. Music is just really about interacting with your audience whatever your style. It’s always somehow an act because no matter what you’re feeling when you go up on stage, you have to be the person everyone expects to see.

—By Saba Ahmed

Good Times


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