Wandering Through Discomforting Soundscapes: NOMAD
6 years ago, when 24-year-old Rija Yousuf moved back from Saudi Arabia to her hometown Karachi, all she wanted to do was discover the city with fresh ears. Having never grown up in Pakistan, this was more than a homecoming. It was an opportunity to explore a city fraught with violence, with a sense of curiosity and wonder.
Yousuf began her exploration through sound. She spent 3 hours travelling across the city everyday, recording noises that she found interesting on the street. Birds in the park, utensils, keys, cars moving, the wind blowing a window shut, made way into her mind and into her music. With an ambient dream pop meets noise soundscape, her moniker NOMAD took off in 2013. The heavy sampling of everyday sounds common throughout her work can appear to be overwhelming. Notable, however, is a grainy discomfort experienced while listening to her. On first listen, raw samples and instrumental patches give an impression of being all over the place. But on closer listen, the sounds leave out all impressions of appearing random. Songs like ‘WOMB’ and ‘Koyl’ feel like asymmetric pieces of puzzles sewn together; they don’t fit perfectly, but there’s an endearing geometry to them.
“I hate refining what I record. I just want the patches I sample in my music to stay close to the original sound, including the white noise. I’m hardly conscious of how I structure them,” she explains.
Her schooling in Saudi Arabia was devoid of encouragement in art. But it only goaded Rija into wanting to learn more about music. She says, “Our school never encouraged any form of music. I used to play a couple of instruments back then, but I couldn’t really do anything with them because the environment was stifling.” Coming to Karachi has been more than a breath of fresh air for Yousuf, a city that’s sustaining an incredible music scene amid chaos and violence.
But NOMAD’s not all she’s been working on. She got together with another Karachi-based musician, Mudassir Sheikh, forming the indie folk/dream pop band Dots. The almost bubbly, melodic song, ‘Bottles’ by Dots is a far cry from the experimental melancholic dreamscape in Yousuf’s NOMAD.
Having a day job as an architect, Yousuf leads an interesting double life. She’s visibly excited about a project she’s been working on with the government to create a natural, humane habitat for animals in the Karachi Zoological Garden. Her love for animals also comes through in her artwork for NOMAD’s songs, depicting different animals.
For someone who likes to keep herself invisible, Yousuf’s approach to life and music is very transparent. Her enthusiasm for sound and curiosity towards the mundane is infectious. She makes you want to listen to her disagreements. This mirrors thoroughly throughout NOMAD. Her songs make you want to befriend their lack of familiar structure. Case in point, her track ‘Trees Play Music’.
Currently she’s working on an EP titled ‘Pilgrims in the Park’, due in mid-2017 following which she’s slated to play at Do-It-Yourself gigs in Karachi . The idea for this release comes from one of her endless strolls through parks in Karachi. She elaborates, “People sitting in parks look like pilgrims in search of something bigger than themselves. Over there, we are nobody but people sitting in different corners, in search of the same meaning. This is what I’m trying to bring out in the upcoming EP.”
NOMAD has often been compared to the incredible Pakistani ambient/psych folk artist Slowspin, a comparison she does not digest. “I look up to Slowspin and I think the comparison is unfair,” she explains. “She’s way too good at what she does! Her larynx is dipped in honey. I’m still an amateur and have a long way to go. But above all, she has a very defined and different identity, while I’m still trying to carve mine.”
Whether it’s her aversion to conformity or her casual romanticism of the ordinary, Yousuf plans bring more of herself to her upcoming work. She’s further experimenting her way through nuances of her own sound, especially through ‘Pilgrims in the Park’. “I am learning to celebrate my imperfections,” she concludes.
written by Shruti Sunderraman