Welcome back to Local Spotlight, where we profile great local talent from across Alberta. If you’re reading this, it means one of two things: 1) you tolerate my writing, and/or 2) you appreciate good music by good people. This week I spoke with Edmonton artist Mohsin Zaman about how he uses music to bring the world together, and how music brings the world to him.
This is Local Spotlight.
Local Spotlight: Moshin Zaman
Mohsin Zaman is an interesting character. He showed up half an hour late to the interview, sleepy eyed and all. But he is wholly unapologetic, and warm in a way that makes the mishaps earlier forgiving. Moving to Kamloops from Dubai in 2008 for his Bachelors of Business degree, Zaman didn’t discover his love for music until moving to Edmonton three years ago. “I picked up my first guitar just before I moved to Canada” Zaman said, “but there was no real music in my life [in Dubai], and even the first few years [in Kamloops].” Putting together an open mic show with some friends, the support and connections he made through that and popping by other venues around Edmonton helped to foster this new found love for creating something through music. Growing up, Zaman spent some time in Pakistan at a military boarding school where music was not on the list of priorities. “There is a lot of music in Pakistan, amazing music, a lot of my friends are great musicians, but I don’t really know the depth of it” he explains.
“I’m a very distracted person, so even if there is a moment, I forget about it.” Zaman laughs when asked if there were instances from his past that leave an impact on his music. “Experiences sink in and leave residue, and from time to time there is a creative outflow. I get inspired every day when I watch my friends in the city make music.” Zaman’s music is dynamic in the sense that the sound is ever changing; the feelings that resonate from and within the music ebb and flow. “Every time I play a song it’s a little different. Someone told me this once; I was recording my new album and I was having a hard time recording it, and there was this musician in town, his name was Bill Bourne, and he said ‘hey man, this music is not yours. In the moment just give it what you got and it’s just going to keep changing.’ People are going to listen to it differently, you’re going to play it differently” Zaman said. The artist feels his music is not his to keep, just borrowed time that he hopes becomes a way to connect with people. But he needs to find the connection with his own music first. “I’ve never sat down with the intent of writing a song. There’s no process, it’s very spontaneous. I’m a melody driven person, so that comes first to me and it just shapes itself from there.”
I read an interesting question once that famous rock journalist Neil Strauss asked PJ Harvey. I’m not quite sure what about Zaman made me think about it, but I was interested to see what he would have to say. The question that proceeded went like this: “If you made an album, and believed it was your best work, would you be able to bury it, knowing that no one else would ever hear it, and still feel satisfied?” And Zaman was quick with his answer. “No, hell no. […] I want to connect. At the end of the day if there is even one verse that someone can listen to from a song and feel better, even if it’s for two seconds…that’s what I mean by connecting.” he says. “I feel like it would be selfish, and as it is we are selfish in so many ways, so why be more selfish?”
And being selfish is not something that Zaman is too familiar with. About two years ago, the artist started a movement on his birthday that encouraged people to give back to others. Zaman went around to different restaurants that offered free birthday meals, packed them up to go, and gave them to people in need that he met on the street. More recently, Zaman gathered a group of 20 or so musicians to create a welcome song for Syrian refugees flying into Canada to the Edmonton International Airport, where you can usually find him playing music during the day. “It would be great if they were welcomed with a song that is somewhat in their language, because music connects.” he says. But even after all is said and done, he doesn’t quite consider himself an activist. “No, I’m not an activist. I’m not perfect, I have shitty parts of me” he says, “…maybe deep down. I guess it depends what the definition is. I think everyone is an activist, some people just have a hard time showing it.” As long as he can find a way to make people connect with an idea and feel something through it or act out on it, then Zaman feels like his part in it is accomplished. “I know some friends [who still give out food on their birthdays], and they make huge pots of soup and get mittens, it’s great!” he says. Unfortunately for the airport welcome, he hasn’t seen success in it yet, as airport security has made the process next to impossible, but he is still feeling optimistic about the opportunity.
Connecting is a major theme in Zaman’s life and music, and something that he has a lot of experience with. “This lady yesterday [at the airport] was in a good mood, but I was playing a really depressing song and she started crying, then she came up to me and started to laugh but couldn’t stop crying, then I sort of started crying” he laughs, “she felt connected, which was great.”
Zaman currently has one album out, titled Waking Up, which was his way of waking up to the world through his music. Next in line is his latest project, Fly Home, which he is gearing up for an album release showcase later this May on the 26th. “I feel like [Fly Home] is truer to my sound, and the songs are more mature. And someone told me there’s a hit on there, so I was like yaaaa!” he says as he claps his hands in the air. But in terms of the hit song, the artist isn’t quite sure how it got there in the first place. “Essentially once you record it, it is a hit, but after a while you’re like ‘no this is a bad song’ or ‘this song should not have been there’.” he says, “songs transform, so a lot of times you don’t even realize that the weaker songs can be the strongest by the end, which was the case for this song. I was even questioning whether I should put it on the album or not.” Zaman hopes that one day he can make a sustainable life out of his music, but a focused end goal changes all the time. “My end goal is to be able to play for as many people and as much as I can, whether it’s in front of one person or more. Every time it’s an opportunity. And for me to get paid, it’s a pretty cool thing.” he says, “The end goal is to inspire somehow, to keep being inspired. Now, where’s my cheque?”
Zaman is humble, funny, spiritual, and fills himself up with the idea that deep down, people basically rock. He is inspired by goodness, and just hearing him talk about how much others inspire him makes it obvious that the artist thrives on being surrounded by positive energy. His music serves as a reminder that in the end, everyone in the world is in this together, making personal connections the most valuable resource on the planet.