Sheherazaad Unveils "Qasr" Produced by Grammy Winner Arooj Aftab

The album explores themes of displacement, the complexities of diaspora, and the struggle to reclaim lost cultural roots.

Sheherazaad Unveils
Caption: Photo Credit: Zayari Ray

Following her critically acclaimed debut single "Mashoor" for Erased Tapes late last year, American composer and vocalist Sheherazaad unveils her forthcoming LP, "Qasr," produced by visionary artist and Grammy winner Arooj Aftab. This five-track collection, set to captivate audiences worldwide on March 1st on Erased Tapes, marks a significant milestone in Sheherazaad's musical journey.

Sheherazaad's heritage and artistic journey deeply influence "Qasr," which translates to "castle" or "fortress" in Urdu. The album explores themes of displacement, the complexities of diaspora, and the struggle to reclaim lost cultural roots. These experiences are woven into a captivating soundscape that transcends genres and embraces the beauty of the "in-between," a space where cultural identities are constantly evolving.

The lead single, "Dhund Lo Mujhe" ("Search For Me"), features pizzicato fiddles and Sheherazaad's powerful vocals, creating a sense of urgency and unease. It explores the challenges and complexities faced by immigrants, particularly the pressure to conform to societal expectations.

"With 'Qasr,' I aim to dismantle the idea of a single, monolithic Asian identity," explains Sheherazaad. "I want to celebrate the multifaceted nature of our experiences and empower others to embrace their own unique narratives."

Sheherazaad's musical path has been a rich tapestry of diverse influences. Born into an "art-centered, Asian-American household," she began her musical journey at a young age, absorbing the music of Lata Mangeshkar and RD Burman while also receiving formal training in jazz and American Songbook. However, a growing sense of disconnect from her cultural heritage led her to explore experimental theatre, Bollywood dance, and the emerging South Asian electronic music scene.

Seeking to reclaim her lost connection, Sheherazaad dedicated herself to studying Arabic, Hindi, and Urdu. This exploration culminated in her 2020 self-released project, "Khwaabistan," which caught the attention of producer Arooj Aftab. Their long-distance collaboration during the pandemic resulted in "Qasr," a groundbreaking sonic exploration featuring international musicians like Basma Edrees (Egypt), Gilbert Mansour (Lebanon), and Firas Zreik (Palestine).

"Qasr" is a powerful and evocative work that defies categorization. It is a testament to Sheherazaad's artistic journey and her unwavering pursuit of self-discovery. Featuring five tracks; Mashoor, Dhund Lo Mujhe, Koshish, Khatam, and Lehja, the album invites listeners to explore their own identities and forge their own unique paths.

Sheherazaad is an American performer-composer, whose contemporary folk-pop synthesis joins the new wave of South Asian diasporic soundscapes.

Native to the San Francisco Bay Area and brought up second-generation in an immigrant household, Sheherazaad gleans from Western classical and South Asian sonic lineages. Her contemporary voicing, though inherently genre-defiant, may be described as alternative folk or experimental ballad. Sheherazaad’s original lyricism modernises certain existing Hindi-Urdu poetic forms, channelling questions of displacement, mother tongue, imagined homelands, and beyond. Currently, she allows the experience of shifting between India and Brooklyn, NYC to shape her eccentric and hyphenated musical aesthetic. 

Sheherazaad’s namesake is the revolutionary figure from the largely Middle Eastern and South Asian epic collection of folktales The One Thousand and One Nights, more commonly spelled Scheherazade. This major character’s storytelling prowess brings an end to the mindless genocide of women. 

“She has been a favourite and beloved character of mine since childhood for her ferocious storytelling ability that saves lives. Also, in Hindi and Urdu,  Sheherazaad translates to ‘Free City’. I love the idea of a person, especially a woman, being a kind of ‘city’ entity in and of themselves. In the South Asian context, this idea of ‘sheher’ (city) is more visceral with metropolises historically being centres for innovation, forward-thinking, and more social mobility for women specifically,” said Sheherazaad.

Introducing her alluring debut single for Erased Tapes, Mashoor speaks to the glamour as well as the dis-ease surrounding the experience of Fame. The song is also a larger commentary on the values we are fostering as a world society, where particular people, institutions, or countries are celebrated, despite being inherently narcissistic and perverted.

The video for Mashoor was filmed throughout New York City during extreme temperatures. It seeks to visually evoke the dissonance of worlds colliding – brown limbs and gaze projected onto a steely urban labyrinth, and it attempts to forge a kind of fantastical nostalgia around the South Asian immigrant story within America’s historical fabric.

Mashoor was recorded at The Glass Wall in Brooklyn, produced by Arooj Aftab, mixed by J. Valleau, and mastered by Heba Kadry. It features performances by Ria Modak on classical guitar, Gilbert Mansour on percussion, and additional vocal mixing by Runar Blesvik.

Erased Tapes was founded by sonic architect and explorer Robert Raths in 2007. It is a truly independent record label that has disrupted the industry and rejuvenated the musical landscape. The London-based imprint has consistently nurtured genre-defying artists from all around the world without losing its avant-garde ethos. It is home to forward-thinking international artists, including Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds, German pianist Nils Frahm, Japanese vocal artist Hatis Noit and UK electronic producer Rival Consoles amongst many others.