Written by R. K.
Copy Edited by Eliza Marks
Photographed by Tasha Faye
At times, it seems as if there are too many compelling artists out there to keep up with, but when we learned about queer Pakistani-Australian singer-songwriter ZĀN, we had to know more. With incredible charm and earnestness, ZĀN is pushing boundaries and will stop at nothing to get what they1 want. With a sharp focus and propelling passion, they have one goal in mind and will travel the world and work relentlessly to achieve it.
Growing up in Perth, Australia, ZĀN, 27, has always had a penchant for music. However it wasn’t until they were a year or so into an internship at a public health organization that advocates for access to HIV care that they realized that music was their calling. They took this calling seriously, attending the Western Australian Academy for Performing Arts (WAAPA) to formalize their education and knowledge of songwriting and music production, and later releasing their first EP, an enigmatic and soulful collection of tracks. Now, finishing up their time in Los Angeles where they met with producers and writers, ZĀN is going for more, expanding their horizons, and not holding back.
Moving to Australia from Pakistan as a child while still going back to visit gave ZĀN the opportunity to be a part of two cultures. They are not content being in any one bubble or identity, whether it be their Australian upbringing, their Pakistani heritage, or the music scene in LA. They’re carving out their way while being influenced by all these places, and their music style reflects that. Growing up, most of the music they heard in their household were Sufi music, Ghazal, 90s pop and Bollywood. Their songs from their first EP, including ‘Salafi Secrets” and “Gulnaz”, take inspiration from all these styles and bring them together within a contemporary sensibility. The result is a smooth and polished sound that is seemingly effortless in its production and provides the perfect foundation for their R&B-style vocals. The listener is given a deep and uplifting listening experience that is clearly crafted with sentimentality and care.
It hasn’t always been easy coming out with conservative Muslim background, but that being queer and Muslim are intertwined parts of their journey and identity.
“[ZĀN is] not contented being in any one bubble or identity, whether it be their Australian upbringing, their Pakistani heritage, or the music scene in LA. They’re carving out their way while being informed by all these places and their music style reflects that.”
ZĀN is not afraid to tell the story of their journey, where they’ve been, and who they are. Being outspoken about their queerness is a big part of who they are as a musician and performer; you can hear it in their lyrics but also on their social media, which is filled with humorous but powerful terms such as ‘queeristan’ and ‘homojihad.’ They share how it hasn’t always been easy coming out with conservative Muslim background, but that being queer and Muslim are intertwined parts of their journey and identity. Their advice to anyone struggling with their queerness is that life is really short, and if you feel safe enough, then expressing yourself is the bravest and most powerful thing you could do. He adds that soon you’ll realize you’re not the only one in the room who feels that way.
“Their advice to anyone struggling with their queerness is that… if you feel safe enough, then expressing yourself is the bravest and most powerful thing you could do…soon you’ll realize you’re not the only one in the room who feels that way.”
ZĀN is constantly tuned into others’ struggles and uses their art and performance as a way to speak out. Their song, “Salafi Secrets,” is inspired by a gay couple in the religious, Muslim community in Australia that came out to tremendous challenges and backlash, but eventually found support and carved a space for themselves. ZĀN explains that the song portrays someone whose secret desires come out in secret and is trying to reconcile their identity with their daily life. Regarding Australia, ZĀN is extremely vocal about dispelling the myth of the Australian migration parable. They wish to shed light on the rich culture of the continent’s aboriginal people, and to shift the mainstream image of Australian musicians away from being predominantly white. They want to show the world that there is so much more to Australia than what is represented in the mainstream.
ZĀN is now moving back to Perth after spending some time in L.A., where they have gotten a better idea of how the global music scene works. Collaborating with different artists and producers on their new EP, they have learned how to stay grounded and not compromise their vision. Even though it has been a challenge writing about topics some might find sensitive, ZĀN has learned to work through this through storytelling. By telling a relatable story and connecting it to universal human experience, they are able to broach sensitive and difficult subjects. ZĀN has intelligent and strategic ways to write lyrics and compose music, and we are eagerly waiting to see what they’ll do next.
Favorite concert you have been to?
Beyoncé Formation World Tour.
What does your dream performance look like?
Late at night in an intimate queer-inclusive night club with about 100 people.
If you could duet with anyone who would it be?
If you could travel back in time to any musical era when and where would it be?
I would travel to 1930s and experience what the culture and music of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh was without borders.
Who was your top artist of 2019 on your Spotify or Apple Music?
Beyoncé, MIA, Bat for Lashes, and Lorde.
You can find ZAN’s music and performance videos at: https://zan-music.com/