Interview with Shumaila Hemani, Ph.D.
What got you into music, and what would you be doing today if you had not gotten into music?
Music was a calling for me, and it was a difficult one to follow because women in my culture are not encouraged to pursue a career in music because of social stigma. I was fortunate that I was pursue music through the academic route and received a full graduate scholarship to study Ethnomusicology at the University of Alberta in Canada. During my graduate study, I performed on campus and at academic conferences. When I received an invitation to participate in the World Music residency at the Banff Arts Centre in 2015, it was the first time I presented my music at Rolston Hall and Margaret Graham Theatre; this was my first performance outside academia and received a very positive in the Calgary Herald. Later, I also received the Cultural Diversity Award to create my debut music album. If I had not gotten into music, I would have been a writer.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I enjoy meditating at the riverfront and listening to the natural water flowing whenever the temperature is at +. It helps to cleanse my ears from the sounds of fan heaters, electronics, furnaces, indoor taps, and traffic sounds. I also enjoy reading poetry and watching films on art and music. These activities freshen my perspective and renew my vitality.
How long has your band been around?
My band has been around since 2015.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I am based in Alberta and studying with my mentor, Prof. Regula B. Qureshi, the scholars of Sufi music in South Asia inspired me to study music with master musicians in Pakistan.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
The name of my band is the same as my name. In 2020, I tried to change my band name to Oak Tree because it was something that a wise woman in a dream whispered to my ear and I had woken up, saying to myself, “Shumaila, you are an oak tree.” I looked up what the tree symbolizes and it is a tree that takes many years to mature, but it stands resilient for many years to come. In 2020, I tried to release my singles with this name, but my distributor, CD baby rejected the name because it did not have prior identity or history. So, I released it with my name. And my name has become my band’s name.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
The one at the Banff Arts Centre was memorably followed by a show at the University of Alberta’s International Day dedicated to Music and Health in 2017. My shows at the Femme Wave Festival in 2019 and the chapel of Canada’s Music Incubator were also memorable. During COVID, I did remote shows for International Women’s Day and Canadian Music Week followed by a show for Celebrating Life 2022 and Springboard YYC festival in Calgary with Derek Gripper.
What is your favourite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
Since my repertoire is a niche, there are a few venues that I have explored. In the future, I would be interested in performing in black box theatre spaces.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
I would like to perform with spoken word and poetry performances and artists using mixed media. And I would like to collaborate with a harpist.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
Find the people you resonate with and who make you feel comfortable and also uncomfortable in terms of pushing your creative boundaries.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
I would tell myself to listen to my intuition and trust the process.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
I think my song, Perils of Heavy Rainfall has a deep meaning for me because it was composed during COVID when I was locked out of Canada and in my city of birth: Karachi. Seeing the impact of the floods and how it displaced thousands of families in the city compelled me to create this piece. I had many self-doubts about whether I was capable of creating this one given the sensitivity of the subject matter, but I felt an urge from within to do this, and my intuition told me that even if I fail, I’ll fail forward. This piece won the Second Prize in the Listening During COVID contest curated by the Canadian Association of Sound Ecology and became the precursor of future works on the recent climate crisis in Pakistan. This piece also pushed me in the direction of creative climate leadership through artistic expression.
Which songs are your favourite to play and which get requested the most?
I think my shorter songs: Living with Purpose, Anticipating, and Baydaari are the most favorite and most requested.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
My music is inspired by the present realities both within my life and within the world at large. I am inspired to express what I won’t be able to say otherwise as a scholar or writer.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
I communicate the spirit of perseverance within people in Pakistan who have been impacted by the floods and the fragility of refugee camps where women and children are at a greater risk of human trafficking.
In my songs, I communicate the need to listen to your calling and pursue what brings you joy and celebrate the journey of love by commending yourself and taking care of yourself.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
I have not had any disagreements so far, fortunately.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
Currently, I’m part of artist residencies that focus on creating art addressing the impact of climate transitions within Canada. I’ll be having shows exhibitions, talks, and new releases coming up in 2023.
How can your fans best keep up to date with you, any socials you want people to check out?
They can join my email list on my website:
https://www.shumailahemani.com/ or follow me on socials @shumailahemani on Instagram, Twitter, and Tiktok and @oaktreeacousmatic on Facebook.