“I want to make better music.” – Momina Mustehsan
The singer talks to Instep about Coke Studio 9, the somewhat unimpressive Islamabad United anthem she sang and what lies ahead.
I am on my way to the newly opened burger joint Jessie’s, which is owned by filmmaker Yasir Jaswal and his younger brother and musician, Uzair Jaswal. I’m due to meet Momina Mustehsan and along the way I quickly skim through my Facebook newsfeed and find an article on the singer. Apparently Turkish singers have covered her Coke Studio rendition of the hugely popular song, ‘Afreen Afreen’.
Now you may not be a fan of her singing and may find yourself making unfriendly remarks about her on social media but the one thing that you can’t deny is that she is impossible to ignore. Even as the hoopla surrounding her personal life has finally settled down, she manages to stay in the news and often it’s not for the right reasons.
“I am glad it settled down because I freaked out; anyone would! What it became was never my purpose. While working at Coke Studio, I had no idea how huge it would end up being. Suddenly, there’s so much pressure; there was a lot of emphasis put on how I look,” Mustehsan said as we placed our orders and sat down on the terrace.
“After the insanity settled down, people out of boredom probably started creating one thing or the other to start new gossip. It’s not that easy to ignore it and at times, can get exhausting to deal with.”
When asked about Coke Studio and what motivated her, Mustehsan clearly stated: “I didn’t do Coke Studio to prove myself or become a professional musician – I make music for myself. I enjoy singing and that’s exactly what I did. In fact, ‘Afreen’ is a track that I wasn’t even supposed to do. The response I got from it was truly unprecedented. For anyone to reach that level again, including me is near to impossible.”
In the age of social media, the right to privacy can be difficult. Mustehsan, who announced that she was parting ways with former fiancé and investment banker, Ali Naqvi, says that the undue attention did affect her off-duty.
“I do want to distance myself, because no matter how hard you try – it does leave an impact on you. Being a part of Coke Studio is very prestigious but that doesn’t mean I’ve taken it up full time. I sing only when I want to, it’s still more or less a passion and not a profession.”
“Sometimes, I feel like deactivating all my social media handles and live in peace for a while, but even then I won’t be able to, there will be people who’ll assume I’m undergoing depression or something,” she jokingly added.
Mustehsan, who is primarily known as a vocalist, says that she can offer a lot more with her vocals and has been working on several projects. “In terms of talent, I do believe I have a lot more potential of course. You only have so much room for personal creativity at Coke Studio because it’s all a team effort, headed by a specific producer and the executive producers. I am working on a few projects and I do want to make better music, but how they’re received or perceived – that’s not in my hands.”
Apart from Coke Studio 9, Mustehsan was also a part of the Twenty20 cricket-meets-entertainment whirlwind that was the PSL. In its second edition, which ended earlier this year, she sang Islamabad United’s anthem which was heavily criticized. It also came under fire for having been auto-tuned (which she denies) and comparisons were drawn to Coke Studio by some.
“Everyone suddenly became a producer and start criticizing without any knowledge. I didn’t write or compose it – it’s a team song that served its purpose and sounded great at the stadium.”
When asked to comment on what, according to her, might have gone wrong, she stated: “It’s not about the quality of the song; the presentation, execution and PR strategy have become equally important in today’s time and age. No matter how good the content is inside a book, the cover does play an important role. Everything’s become all about commercialism, you have to make things sell and there’s a reason why people invest in marketing. There was no time to shoot a video for the anthem and hence, the poor execution on that end. ”
“Cricket Joray Pakistan was a sports anthem, it was supposed to be aggressive and similarly I was literally screaming on top of my lungs in my Sprite commercial. I never claimed to be restricted to one genre. I want to explore everything and it’s harsh to compare everything that I do to ‘Afreen’,” she said.
Mustehsan has now signed on as a spokesperson for an international cosmetics company and is endorsing a number of multinational brands; she also has a number of music videos in the pipeline. Her experience with Cornetto Pop Rock 2 has been particularly special. “I can occasionally be very skeptical yet this time around I truly believe that I got to work with one of the best teams we have. They’re considerate and extremely professional.”
In a world of Coke Studio and perhaps Nescafe Basement as well, will this newly-founded platform make a mark? Mustehsan thinks so. “Cornetto Pop Rock’s purpose is to revive the pop and rock culture that we once had. It’s basically a sponsored music video. You make your own song, you pick a producer of your choice and you come up with a storyline and choose your director. You get complete creative freedom.”
A shocking feat of this year’s Lux Style Awards nominations was the absence of Momina Mustehsan as a nominee in any music category. Mustehsan, pointing out that two of the biggest hits of 2016, ‘Afreen Afreen’ and ‘Tera Woh Pyaar’ have not been recognized in the music categories, said on the matter: “Award shows serve as encouragement for the artists who have worked hard for their work to be recognized. However, if that doesn’t happen, it doesn’t take away from their hard work or achievements either. I guess every award show has its own criteria for picking nominees. It’s okay if I or neither of my songs got nominated. Getting acknowledged by an award show feels great, but being acknowledged by the masses and having them extend their love and support is enough for me to keep giving my best,” she states with that million-dollar coy smile of hers.
The struggle for Mustehsan now is to survive in the cutthroat industry by proving her mettle as a singer and by bypassing the perimeters of beauty and glamour that have placed her on the map of stardom.
With a dual bachelor’s degree in engineering and mathematics, she is currently preparing to begin her master’s degree in the USA and plans to fly back and forth to keep up with her music commitments in Pakistan.