Released this month, Meesha Shafi’s latest song, Hot Mango Chutney Sauce, is every bit a sizzling ditty with a killer music video to boot. But don’t be fooled, as always, with Shafi’s music – it has a strong message woven into its fun and very danceable, electro pop tune.
Produced by Abdullah Siddiqui, a young electronic music producer in Lahore, the song has already created quite a stir just days after its release.
In an exclusive with Shafi, I speak with singer about the essence and meaning behind her current single, the current sounds being developed in local music and more.
SR: Meesha, your work has always carried very powerful, significant messages. What was the inspiration behind Hot Mango Chutney Sauce?
MS: I do believe art and the artist’s role in society have always been linked to the politics of their environment. Whether that environment is internal and leads to introspective work or external, in which case, socio-political commentary has always been widely seen in art through the ages.
For Hot Mango Chutney Sauce, I wanted to create a juicy, vibrant and celebratory depiction of South Asian culture and how it can be embraced in a modern day context. For this, we have to bring up the colonial hangover as well as the patriarchy and its influence on the brown woman’s experience of life. How our identity is sized up based on material clout and further, how the marginalized, are made to color within the lines set by society and must not overstep in the process of having fun.
My intention was to create an audio/visual texture that lets [South Asians] around the world bring our own cultural identity into the pop culture spotlight. An attempt at reinterpreting or even reclaiming how fabulous and rich our heritage is and how it fits into a contemporary conversation.
In my experience, bringing up serious conversations like this in a dry manner tires everyone. I deliberately decided to package this conversation in the hyperpop genre sonically and make it really glossy and irresistible visually so that the audience could be tricked into having some food for thought. At the least, they get entertained. At the most, they start reading between the lines. I’m happy to say it’s been a very successful experiment.
SR: This is the second time that you’ve collaborated with Abdullah Siddiqui. What was it like working with him?
MS: Abdullah is the only music producer who has the skill to produce such unapologetic hyper pop/EDM in Pakistan at the moment. Other than that, the fact that he has a depth of undertaking when it comes to gender and identity politics was a real bonus. Plus, humor was very essential to the language of this track, so arranging it with its comic beat in tact was crucial.
What I love the most about collaborating with Abdullah is that his range of sonic landscapes is vast and enables him to be just as genre-bending as I want. He is ahead of his time and the region which he calls home.
SR: What’s your take on the current music scene? There’s lots of new talent, do you think – being a veteran singer/musician yourself – a new sound is being created in music on home turf?
MS: One hundred percent yes. There is a surge of music being produced in Pakistan. The sharp rise in indie artists self-publishing is creating an authenticity and freedom to Pakistani music which is a break from the usual soft pop/rock that we had been stuck in for a while.
SR: What are you currently working on? Is there another single or project in the pipeline?
MS: Yes. There’s a lot. I did a lot of songwriting during the lockdown. The world coming to a halt was good for my creativity. There are several projects and singles I’m very excited to share over the coming months.
SR: How has your own music changed and transformed over the years? What do you feel you’re being more drawn towards?
MS: I have really taken my time to explore and play with many different sounds, genres and lyrical themes. That’s how I wanted it to be. And because of that palette being so colorful, at the moment I am pursuing two polar opposite directions creatively. One being very loud, political and unapologetic i.e., Hot Mango Chutney Sauce, and the other, deeply spiritual, very gentle, emotionally vulnerable and oftentimes beautiful but sad, like Mein for instance. I plan on pursuing both. Life wouldn’t be complete without both night and day.