Exclusive: Arzutra Garielle. The British Girl Who Sings in Urdu, Sounds like Nazia Hassan

Tumhaari by Arzutra Garielle

Women’s Own team sat down with this lovely girl for a casual chit chat about her journey, life in general and her new single ‘Tumhaari’

WO: What inspired you to become a singer?

AG: My family wanted me to go to school, university then work as I had a traditional upbringing; however, I was never excited with academics. I was always trying to find some kind of escape from school, college and even university. I used to skip lessons and have lots of off days. I always found more joy in doing something of an artistic nature. I was constantly looking for ways not to follow the ‘normal’ conventional path. Although I had a deep desire to do something creative I never dreamed to be a singer. I really did stumble upon this Path of Music. I used to write poetry and those poems I tried to turn into songs as I started taking Singing Classes. I started those lessons for fun. That was in 2010. 10 years later and the fun turned into something a lot more serious. Nobody really inspired me to become anything. I would say I have really inspired myself on this long & painstaking journey. However that’s not to say I don’t have my idols in music who have inspired me along the journey.

WO: Tell us how you got started?

AG: I guess my very first singing lesson was never attended with the intention of wanting to be a singer. In fact, looking back on it, it was far from. Is it silly to say I just fell into it? I mean on the one hand I believe in God having everything mapped out for everyone. But he doesn’t do a great job of telling us right. This was a classic example of that where for the first 1 year I was really just dabbling with lessons, enjoying them, but nothing serious intended. After 1 year, I met a friend who suggested I make a song as my voice was nice. I mean what did he mean by that? Ok so I went along with it. I made an English song called ‘Feel It.’ I was far from ‘feeling it’. I realized in the whole process of making that song that I want to sing in Urdu. My love for Urdu came from growing up listening to Pakistani music with my Father who was obsessed with the likes of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. I realized I enjoyed the recording process. It was fun. 9 years later I have recorded 30 songs. I absolutely love Studio work. Now making music has become my life.

WO: How has the journey been so far?

AG: There have been a lot of challenges which has made it a rocky road (or should I say a Rocky Mountain). I would say the biggest challenges have been the fact that its so hard to break into a male dominated Industry. I noticed myself turning from a quiet timid girl to a more assertive selfish girl – all because of the Industry we are in especially dealing with men where you are looked down upon as a woman. I have had to stand up for myself in every scenario. I feel like men don’t take you seriously as they should. The other difficult thing is rejections. I have learnt there’s two ways to open a door. One is to knock and the other is to simply kick the door down, break in & get what you want.

WO. Which of your songs is your favorite and why?

AG: My own personal favorite is ‘Woh Pal.’ This song’s melody is so haunting that I often find myself humming it in all sorts of different places. For me the song is about finding love in a black and white world.

WO: How you select songs and then decide to sing it in your own voice? Tell us about this process.

AG: Me & Atif Ali (the Music Producer in Dubai) firstly spend some time discussing the direction of the song. Do we want slow or fast song. Then we discuss the kind of story or concept for example if the girl is falling in love or if the girl is heartbroken. We have fun here because we put no limits on ourselves. We think freely. Often Atif Ali starts to put the initial ideas of the music down, whilst we are discussing the concept. There have been many occasions whilst I am still thinking & talking and the next thing I know, half our song is drafted out. Atif Ali usually gets a lyricist on board and then composes either before getting the lyrics or after, or a mixture of the both. He then lays a demo down in his voice & I take that away to practice. Before I go to practice, he translates every word since I do not understand Urdu without translation. I know many people think it’s strange & they always ask how am I managing to sing it. The translation helps me understand exactly what I will be singing & helps me bring more feel into the song. I then go away, rehearse the song and come back to the studio to record it. Recording is really the hardest part. Not only do I have to think about delivery but we often have occasions where we have had to do 100 retakes due to my errors in pronunciation. Once it’s recorded Atif Ali then completes the rest of the Music production.

WO: Each of your music videos looks visually aesthetic specially Zaalim and Mast. So once a song has been recorded, then how you visualize a music video for it?

AG: I always get heavily involved in the video creation process. I work closely with the Video Directors on the script. Then I work closely with each member of the team from the BTS videographer to the Wardrobe and Stylist. I want to ensure they all feel the song like how I feel it and that they bring a piece of their soul into my video. We start off with visual references. Then we build a story from there. An average amount of time we spend on planning the story is 2 -3 months. Sometimes much longer like 6 months.

WO: Tell us which Pakistani artists have inspired you the most and who are your favorite Pakistani artists from the current lot?

AG: Definitely Pakistani legends like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and yes Nazia Hasan for sure. I also really like Hadiqa Kiani, Atif Aslam and new pop sensations like Asim Azhar and Aima Baig. I think Pakistan is like the home of music. There are so many amazing musicians out there.

WO: What is the hardest part of being a celebrity? How do you manage personal and professional life?

AG: It is hard. At the moment I have a blurred line between my personal and professional life. I have a massive imbalance which I’m trying hard to address. I am a workaholic especially since my hobby has become my career. Even more so since my music career has really taken off in the last 1 and a half years. 5 years ago I had 2 people in my team. Now I have approx. 25. Asides managing my own things, I have to manage all the different personalities of my team members. At any one time I have around 4-5 projects I am involved in – all big projects. I have a To Do list and I then map out those items daily onto my daily planner. My daily planner doesn’t start with a blank template. It has half of it already pre-populated with food times, tea breaks etc. So I fill in the rest of the time with my work and pleasure activities. 98% is work and 2% is usually pleasure. I am trying to aim for an 80 / 20 balance. Whilst my weekdays are packed I will usually take the odd day on the weekend to visit a friend and turn my phone off. That’s my way of cutting off. I find pressure is immense when you are in this field from so many different angles – what you look like, how you speak to how you reply to your fans on social media. I can see myself starting to follow a minute by minute schedule soon.

WO: Your latest release ‘Tumhaari’ is a hit in Pakistan. Tell us what the song is about? And who is the inspiration behind your latest release?

AG:‘Tumhaari’ is an emotional song for me, I feel like it’s an experience. It is my most romantic song ‘til date. These kinds of songs don’t come around often. I love these slower kinds of songs & my fans are die hard romantics too. The acoustic original ‘Tumhaari’ is produced by Dubai based composer Atif Ali, Music Producer of several Bollywood films. For the Remix, I was lucky enough to collaborate with award-winning DJ Shadow, who has produced for Sean Paul, Pitbull and other renowned Western mainstream artists. The song was written and dedicated to my new lover at the time of a new blossoming relationship and recorded days after he broke my heart. I cried for 8 hours straight on a flight back to London from Dubai after the New Year’s tragic heartbreak. My Producer nearly sent me home as I couldn’t stop crying standing in the recording booth. The song reminds me of a reversible sweatshirt. On one side, the lyrics resemble falling in love and on the other side there’s hurt. While listening to the song I have more memories of tears rolling down from my face on the Emirates flight than memories of when I fell in love with him. I’m one of those people who wipes out all the good memories of my ex’s. Once it’s over everything becomes history.

WO: What the Pakistani fans can expect from you in the near future?

AG: I will be planning a Pakistan tour following a great show in Lahore last year. The 2nd Album is also on the way too. I have lots of new songs coming out – ‘Tumhaari’ this Friday and then a whole load more.

WO: Any message for your fans around the world especially in this time of global pandemic?

AG: Use this time of lockdown to work on yourself. We have extra time on our hands now more than ever. We should use it wisely. I would recommend having periods of time where your phone is switched off. Focus on eating clean food and enjoy the slowed down pace of life too.

WO: A lot of people in Pakistan are comparing your voice to Nazia Hassan’s. So how do you feel about that?

AG: Oh it is truly an honor. Nazia Hassan is an absolute legend. It is just really overwhelming for me to be compared to her. I am truly grateful for such an honor.

WO: And to end on a lighter note, who is your all-time favorite singer?

AG: My favorite singer is Michael Jackson because of his love for perfectionism in his Art.