A Piece Of Zoe Viccaji – The Golden Voice of Coke Studio
A special thanks to Aqsa Kazmi, Ali Qamber, Kanzah Hassan and Hasan Shaharyar for designing this questionnaire.
The Viccaji sisters are no longer an unknown name in the music industry. You think Viccaji and you think of vocals that are likely to stay with you for a long time to come. The Youth Correspondent recently had a heart to heart with one of the Viccaji sisters and is still floored by all the awesomeness. You’d be too!
For starters, tell us something about your musical background? Does music run in the family?
There is no one in our family who has been fully involved with music as a career, but it has sort of been second nature to us. Our mother has always been involved in music, be it musical theatre, a choir or her musical group. She once sang with her group for the radio, but I think that’s the closest she ever came going public. Our brother has also been playing the guitar from a very young age but again, music is a hobby for him. So I guess you can say the musical streak does run in the family.
So, how did the Coke Studio journey start for you? Did Rohail approach you or you auditioned for your places in the house band?
For myself, Rohail had seen me first performing in the musical Mama Mia and showed interest in having me do backing vocalist. At first he didn’t approach me directly because he was afraid that I wouldn’t be interested in being a backing vocalist and rather be a main vocalist. When i got wind of this, I immediately relayed a message that I would like to be part of Coke Studio even if it meant doing the jharoo pocha while they were rehearsing. Being a permanent part of the house band had given me the best learning curve i could ask for!
How was your experience of performing on Coke Studio?
It’s always a great learning experience. There are so many people who are part of the team and it feels invigorating to be a part of such a huge project, and that too, a successful project that people listen to and love.
I havent performed as a full-fledged vocalist yet, because I felt I still needed more experience in the realm of eastern music. I’ve constantly been asked by the public to do a main song, but I haven’t felt the need to hurry on my developmental journey. I think I’m ready now to approach the centre stage. Backing vocals has afforded me the opportunity to see the most experienced musicians in the country at work and learn from them.
You sisters have grown up singing and listening to Western music. This year you made thorough efforts to develop your skills at singing Eastern music. How different and difficult has it been?
I think I find overcoming my accent the most challenging thing. Urdu hasn’t been second nature to me, and so now to incorporate it into our singing is difficult. Also the entire approach to eastern music is so different from western and while it’s a very arduous journey, I must say I find it enjoyable. I also think this middle world that we straddle between the eastern and western tradition is unique and a great place to be. .
Zoe, you collaborated last season with Asif Hussain Samrat for a folk number. It was the first time you came on to front stage in the Studio. How was the experience?
It was quite different from any other, my only tool of expression was my voice and melody, and that was a challenge because I had to convey a feeling without words. It was also nerve-racking as some parts needed to me impromptu to stay true to the fluid nature of the song. Asif Hussain has a beautiful quality to his voice and it was a pleasure accompanying him.
Considering how contrasting the two duets you two have done are, would it be safe to assume that Rachel and Zoe are also that different in traits and in their taste for music?
Zoe- Rachel and I are very different in our approach to music. She’s more gutsy and spontaneous and likes to use the power of her vocals, where as I’m more geared to calmer vocals and music that is more laid back.
Zoe, you have been with the Studio for 3 years now. How has Coke Studio evolved in front of your eyes?
Well we’ve gone more towards folk music, and the styles have definitely become more challenging. I think the music has also become less commercially appealing and more focused on deeper levels of musical appreciation, which seems to explain that sector of the audience that feels Coke Studio isn’t delivering anymore. For me I feel we keeping upping the ante every year and I learn more and more as we go along.
Coke Studio @ MTV has sought to add a new dimension to the show by bringing 8 different producers onboard this season. Do you think the Pakistani version would also fare better, if this policy were to be adopted?
That’s a tough question. It would definitely be very confusing at first because it takes a lot to build chemistry between the musicians, the artists, the team and the producer. I can only imagine that different producers would completely change the dynamics. For good or for worse? that remains to be seen.
The Coke Studio is a multinational franchise also currently running in India, Philippines and the Middle-east. What, do you think, makes the Pakistani version different from other ones around the world?
Well it’s the first of its kind, and the intentions with which it started were very unique to our culture and nation. Pakistan needs to go back to its roots and gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of what is intrinsic to its people, it’s this thirst that makes Coke Studio especially successful in its creative home.
We saw two backing vocalists leave the show and then disappear from the musical scene. Do you think this was because they left Coke Studio with a label of backing vocalists upon their back? Does this so-called label limit you as a singer or provide you further opportunities in the musical world?
I think they just moved on to different things. You know people keep advising me that I should push my self forward as a main vocalist on Coke Studio and that being a backing vocalist is bad for my career. But I honestly think that these so-called labels are superficial. If you are good at what you do and if you shine as a singer/musician, these are not the kind of things that will affect you. For me personally, being a backing vocalist affords me the opportunity of being a full-time presence in the Coke Studio band. I get to see the journey of a song from beginning to end. I get to see Rohail at work. I get to the country’s strongest musicians and singers do what they do. I’ve learn far more than I would as singer who came in once or twice to do just his or her songs and then leave. Now that I am a little more well versed in our tradition of eastern music, sure…. I feel a little more confident about coming to the centre stage, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve graduated my position of backing vocals. I intend to stay if I have the time to do so as it is very time-consuming. We need to be more tuned to our personal growth than be obsessed with what other people think of us.
You both have seen some amazing artists perform at the show. Is there any artist, in particular, who you would like to collaborate with?
For a collaboration, I think matching of voice qualities and tones is the most important. I loved the depth of Umair Jaswal’s voice and thought he’d be someone great to collaborate with.
What was the most enjoyable moment that you experienced on set this season?
There were quite a few. Like when Mithu came in beaming and lit up the studio with his smile, and when the Chakwal group came in and were as baffled by us as we were by them! Watching Hadiqa and Atif were inspiring to watch…. their control and skill is reflective of their experience.
“Thinking about you” was Zoe Viccaji’s first ever single released. How was the feedback that you received?
I got great feedback, but not too much of it. I think because it was an english single, it didn’t make the rounds as much as an urdu song would.
How was your experience working with Strings and Bilal Khan for Levi’s, Zoe? How different have the Levi’s and Coke Studio collaborations been in their approach?
The experience with Coke Studio and Levis were worlds apart. Coke Studio has been established for a while and is made up of seasoned musicians and a producer who knows what he’s doing. Levis was a very raw and had a ’first-time’ experience quality to it. The songs were completely self-directed. I directed Bichra Yaar, while Bilal did Anaajne. Hence the Levis experience felt more rewarding
Will we be hearing more of your self-composed music anytime soon?
Yes, very soon! The Album is being mixed as we speak.
The concert at PACC was jam-packed! Covering various artists like Adele, Nazia Hasan and Peggy, which one is your absolute favourite?
Ella Fitz Gerald, hands down!
You already have an admirable fan base. Where do you see yourself in the next five years? How many surprises await?
I hope to be as surprised (positively!) as you are. I’m going with the flow at the moment. I hope to be done with at least three albums and touring the world, and collaborating with musicians all over.
Do you see yourselves collaborating with international artists in the near future?
I certainly hope so.
How do you see the music scene evolving in Pakistan, considering the music industry is currently witnessing a slump? What are the challenges the music industry is facing today?
Well there definitely seems to be more variety (even though there still isn’t enough of it). The lack of shows and a concert culture makes it hard for musicians all over the nation. This new wave of corporate support for music has helped a lot of us get by, but it isn’t a permanent solution.
How do you think the youth can portray a positive image of Pakistan on the international stage?
By just putting good music out there and staying true to themselves and their style of music.
Zoe, you have been involved in theatre as well, acting in the likes of Chicago and Mama Mia, do you see the sudden rise in popularity of theatre as a sustainable one? What steps can we take to make this medium more affordable for the masses?
Yes it is sustainable, as long as enough people are doing it, and most importantly- doing it well. I think Mama Mia and Chicago stood out because of the intention to put something of good quality out there, and the entire cast was dedicated to the same goal. The only way it can be made more affordable is if there is more corporate sponsorship, and I think seats need to be priced according to their position in relation to the stage. This is how its done on broadway, and it’ll allow for people from all income brackets to have access to the performing arts. It’s just takes a little thought and organization.
Lastly, how was your experience with Youth Correspondent?
It was a very long interview, but there were good questions, and so a pleasure to answer.