Nafeesa Dhalwani, a gifted vocalist who has made waves with her latest “original” track “Mawla Tera Noor”. Nafeesa, who is originally from Pakistan, is passionate about music. With her versatile singing abilities, Nafeesa has made her mark within Ismaili artist community. Ismailimail caught up with Nafeesa for an exclusive interview in which she shares some interesting details about her personal life, her inspirations, her latest release, and more.
Ismailimail: Thank you Nafeesa for taking time to chat with us.
Nafeesa Dhalwani: It’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
IM: Before we talk about your latest release “Mawla Tera Noor“. Please tell our worldwide audience about yourself?
ND: I am a London, UK-based vocalist, originally from Pakistan. I know a lot of people now know me through my online dance music shows however, I see myself as a versatile artist who can sing anything from a dance song, to a slow romantic ballad, to a rock song or a sufi number. Versatility I think is my strength as an artist. Singing has been my passion from a very young age, however, I am actually an epidemiologist by profession and I work in the pharmaceutical sector. I have a doctorate in Epidemiology and Public Health from the University of Nottingham and actually started out as a nurse at the Aga Khan University in Karachi. I also consider myself to be a global citizen, firstly, because I feel like I have been able to connect with the global audience through music and secondly because I have actually lived in 8 different cities in three different countries.
IM: What inspired you to become a vocalist?
ND: Both my mom and dad’s families are quite musical with some very gifted musicians and singers. I always had an inclination and passion towards music, ginans and ismaili geets and loved learning and reciting these. I remember listening to Khurshid’s mehfils and feeling so inspired as a kid. The first time I ever remember singing was some old Bollywood song at my uncle’s engagement when I was three years old. My next memory is the school bus. I would sing Bollywood songs every day on the way back from school and other senior students would come in with requests. I would then sing at every school event and represent my school at regional and national competitions for patriotic songs. There is a funny story here actually. There is a very famous patriotic song called “Yeh Watan Tumhara Hai” by Mehdi Hassan. I was asked to sing the same song at every competition and every Independence Day event. I performed the song so many times that everyone in school till now remembers me with that song. I think these experiences really gave me the courage and drive to continue singing.
IM: Tell us more about your musical journey?
ND: One thing that has played a very big and important part in my journey is taking Ginan classes in local Jamatkhana. I was fortunate enough to have some really wonderful teachers and mentors, and I was that annoying student in class who wanted to get each little variation right so I would ask them to keep singing verses on repeat until I got it right. Being part of the ginan classes, I also got the opportunity to perform at several Ismaili events including mehfils as well as jamati dandiya programs in Pakistan, which over time have become much bigger with performances all around the UK, Lisbon (during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations) and now virtually. I also got the opportunity to be a part of golden jubilee albums, which was my first ever exposure to a professional recording studio. I have since recorded several songs and covers and want to continue singing and improving with time.
IM: What is the most fulfilling part of being an artist for you?
ND: I remember during my teenage years, every time I was upset, I would just lock myself up in my room and close my eyes and listen to music and that made everything better. I believe I can now do the same for people. It is really fulfilling to see those smiling faces and those classic dance steps and creating little moments of happiness for people. It is fulfilling to see the young and the old enjoying my music the same. During one of my shows, I saw someone on a wheelchair, with limited mobility, trying to clap. I was recently told that there is a two year old somewhere who only eats her meals if my show is playing on tv. These are the most fulfilling moments for an artist, to create some kind of positive impact in people’s lives.
IM: You are the first featured artist of Maqam Station music initiative. Tell us what this new initiative is all about and how was your experience working with the team?
ND: Maqam Station is a joint music initiative of Farhan Shah/ Shahid Rehman of Udan Khatola, with Irfan S Ali (Executive producer), and JollyGul.com with the sole purpose of producing original, high quality devotional content collaborating with artists from around the world.
My experience of working with the Maqam Station team was very positive. I was kept informed and very involved throughout the process. The song was created, keeping my voice texture and vocal range in mind and there were so many creative elements added which made the song beautiful. Overall, I felt very well looked after and convinced that we will create a quality product that will create impact around the globe.
IM: “Mawla Tera Noor” is your first “original” track. How do you feel having a song which will be remembered as yours for time to come?
ND: Not many people may know this but “Mawla Tera Noor” is actually not my first original track. I have recorded for four albums during the time of the golden jubilee and I was also recently a part of the official Global Encounters song called “Free to Dream”. Each of these pieces are very precious to me. However, Mawla Tera Noor definitely holds a special place in my heart for a number of reasons. Firstly, because the process was slightly different. Normally, you go into a studio and people give you a ready melody, you sing it and then you hear the final product a while later. However, with this, I felt extremely involved in the creative process. I learnt the song one line at a time and some parts were just created spontaneously just jamming in the studio and I was kept very involved throughout the process, until the final song completion. Secondly, because now, thanks to the internet, we can reach many more people and it has been so overwhelming and humbling to see how this has connected with the global audience and touched people’s hearts.
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