Catching Up with Simal Nafees | Irteassh

One of the most popular songs to come out of Coke Studio Season 10 was Ghoom Tana featuring Momina Mustehsan and an all-girl acapella band, Irteassh. Irteassh was termed as a unique entry to Coke Studio as part of Salman Ahmed's ensemble and many believed the four girls, Eman Pirzada, Ayesha Akbar Waheed, Sajar Nafees, and Simal Nafees would create some great melodies going forward. However, even after 3 years, we haven't heard much from them. 

Simal Nafees is a Pakistani musician and a vocalist in the band Irteassh.

One of the mellifluous voices that captivated everyone and stole the hearts of millions was Simal Nafees. Daughter of the legendary Sitar player Ustad Nafees Ahmed, Simal has music in her genes and has been training since the age of 5 with her sister and band-mate Sajar Nafees. Since Irteassh is in hibernation but we keep getting glimpses of Simal on her Instagram, we decided to get in touch with her to talk about her musical journey, know what's brewing with Irteassh, and how she sees her musical career shaping up. 

1. You had a dream debut in Coke Studio but not many people know how did that happen. 

Whenever anyone asks me this question I always feel so weird telling them the whole story because of how fictional and made up it sounds.

Well all four of us were finalists for an Inter-school  singing competition where Salman Ahmed happened to be the guest judge. 

He liked a few voices and invited them to his place the next morning for a jam session. Little did we know that he was auditioning us for Coke studio and that he was scrutinizing every one of our voices. 

In the end he chose the four of us. Initially he had planned to keep us just as backing vocalists in his songs but as we started practicing Ghoom Tana, he realised how good it sounded in our voices and decided to give the song to us.

2. Please tell us about your musical journey prior to Coke Studio and how it changed after that? 

I belong to a family that has quite a strong musical history and background. So music was something that was a part of my life since the very beginning. I sometimes tell people that I think I started singing even before I started speaking. My very first memory is of me dancing and singing around with my mother to old Indian Pakistani songs that she used to play on her cassette player. 

Then at the age of 7, I took admission at NAPA and started learning the Piano. It was just a small 2 month summer vacation course. I continued practicing but because of my studies, I couldn’t do it regularly. I properly started learning music when I was 13. I took admission in the three year diploma course at NAPA and took piano and vocal lessons there.  

NAPA is known for its international collaborations and being a student there I got to perform with various international artists and got to learn about their music too. 

While in school I would actively participate in inter school singing competitions and was also the part of my school choir.

Because of my active participation in so many activities I was kind of known around schools in Karachi. 

Since after Coke studio I think i personally have gained more perspective on the music industry and how it works. We got the opportunity to tour with Junoon around North America. We performed at one of Karachi’s biggest concerts, we performed in Dubai, Canada and ofcourse the historic SSE Arena Wembley which was a dream come true. All of this really made me grow out of this little shell I was living in. These were huge experiences, being an all girl band travelling with a group of more than 20 men and also men who are experts of their work. 

I didn’t only learn a lot about my work but also a lot about myself and I think that’s the real growth. 

3. How was your experience of working with Junoon? 

Junoon is a complete experience in itself. In Salman Ahmed’s words “it’s not just a band it’s a feeling.” Which is true because it dominated a whole

Generation of Pakistanis and I saw that whenever we used to perform with Junoon. It had the most amazing audience. To be just 19 and be able to perform in front of a crowd of thousands and not just any normal crowd but one with fans screaming at the top of their lungs. It was definitely something else. 

But what surprised me the most was the energy that the band still has regardless of their ages and of the long hiatus.  After opening the concert our band would perform backup vocals for the rest of the concert and we’d get tired standing at one place for three hours but Ali Azmat, Brian and Salman Ahmed would jump around the whole stage throughout the concert, constantly for three hours and have the crowd go crazy till the very and to me that’s what a real rock stars are. 

During the North America tour Ali Azmat caught a really bad cold. One could see how tired and unwell he was but that didn’t stop him from delivering the most rocking concerts and no one could even notice how ill he was whenever he got on stage. These little things taught me professionalism and seriousness.

Over all I’d say it was an unbelievably crazy experience.

4. Irteassh made a very promising start. What’s keeping you guys from releasing new music? 

As unexpected as Irteassh and it’s debut was so were the hurdles that came after. I think we all didn’t know that juggling our education with the music industry will be so hard. Also the fact that the pressure after releasing a song like “Ghoom Tana” was so much due to the high expectations. We didn’t want to release anything that didn’t meet those expectations.  

I also feel that we were never taken seriously. Maybe because at that time we were just “four young girls” and that always over shadowed our talent and what we had to offer to this industry. We didn’t really submit to a lot of unnecessary “favours” or behaviours of a lot of people that we met along the way which of course did not make them happy and we lost a lot of opportunities because of that as well.

Who likes young and opinionated girls who say no?  

Simal Nafees, Ayesha Akbar Waheed, Eman Pirzada, and Sajar Nafees perform with the band name Irteassh.

5. What’s up with you nowadays? 

I’m currently in my first year of Bachelors at TMUC university Karachi and I’m studying Creative Media Production there. Since the lock down started I took to social media and became more active on my Instagram. I attended a few international symposiums one of which was by the Academy of Human Rights in Buffalo. I am also proud of the fact that I’m using my social media not just to promote my music but also talk about social issues like mental health stigmas, and problems that women with stigmatised health issues like PCO face and also talk about women in music.

6. There’s a very fine lot of female musicians and singers shaping up in Pakistan. How do you feel about it? 

I always feel great whenever I see female representation increase in any field especially in Pakistan. So the fact that there are a lot  of young girls who sing so beautifully making their way in this industry delights me to no end.

7. A lot of music shows are now happening in Pakistan. Which one is your personal favourite? 

There is absolutely no way that I could chose one. All of them are working really hard and of course are representing Pakistan beautifully in the international media as well. 

Obviously the fact whether one likes a particular type of music or not depends on one’s taste but regardless of that I feel we should thank these shows for getting huge investments to Pakistan and helping our economy.

8. It is almost curtains for 2020. Can we expect some original work in the next year? 

We had original work planned for 2020 as well but considering the unpredictable situation of the world I think it’s hard to say anything about what is possible for the next year. But we’re trying our best to work something out.

9. Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years? 

I see myself as a successful media personality, whether it’s as a film maker or a musician. I’m working very hard on myself at the moment and I hope I can achieve whatever I have planned.

10. What would you like to achieve as a musician? How would you like to be remembered? 

I think more than fame I want to earn respect in this field. That will definitely be my biggest achievement.  

Of course whenever I’m in the zone around my friends and family, I tell them that I want to win Grammys and all (which I wouldn't mind if I do) but to be very honest I want to keep learning and be good enough to be able to give back to the world and be respected.

11. Please give a message for your fans. 

All I’d like to say for now is stay strong. Try and be understanding and nice to the people around you .This pandemic is hard on everyone and the least we can do is be kind. Keep working towards your goals with whatever recourses available and the universe will start giving back too.