When fighting and defending yourself becomes an intrinsic part of your identity, a powerful shift occurs in how you approach just about everything in your life. You become fearless and unashamedly yourself, completely and wholly embracing your entire being, and this in turn becomes another act of defiance and protest: you're saying to the world, "I don't care what you think."
This is exactly the message that is at the core of ZĀN's new EP, Gulnaz. Mixing his intersectional identity, his traumatic past and his optimistic future with alt-RnB stylings and an innate knack for creating bouncing production, ZĀN emerges triumphant with a firm artistic statement on his debut.
Across four songs, ZĀN combines hindustani ad-libs and his silky smooth vocals with futuristic RnB beats to take the listener on an all-encompassing journey. From the opener, 'Salafi Sounds', with its unpredictable but enthralling arrangements to bold diversions like 'Fight', ZĀN infuses influences from the likes of ERYKAH BADU and MOSES SUMNEY with his own self-assurance, carving out his own lane alongside the greats. The emotional intensity doubles down even further on 'Erazorhead', and is amplified on the closer, 'Avalanche', featuring the record's only guest vocalist in ANNA KAT.
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Ultimately, Gulnaz is an impressive and expansive deep-dive into ZĀN's life, and he's not shying away from displaying it- scars and all. To tell us more about the EP, ZĀN has broken down the meaning behind each song and you can check it all out below.
The name Gulnaz is a Persian Urdu one; “Gul” meaning ‘rose’, and the suffix “Naz” meaning Pride; and beauty. My journey as an artist; as well as the journey of my people and where I’m from, is about pride in our pain; finding beauty in our struggle. Pakistan is a relatively young country and wouldn’t exist without resistance; and the same goes for the queer resistance. I wanted to honour that journey through this body of work -It is about allowing pain in, and finding power through it. Gulnaz is the name of my mother and her journey for survival is something that was passed down to me.
My mother was once a girl, one/tenth of a family, who found herself pulled along a journey to a land that is foreign. She was married off at the age of 13 - betrothed to a man in a different country; and her family could not afford to take care of her as my grandfather was murdered. So my mothers family found peace in sending her somewhere else to fight for herself. While others imagine their dreams and aspirations during teenage life, she focussed her life and love towards making the dreams of 3 children come true. Her spirit to survive was stronger than anyone or anything else. Eventually rejected from her society and culture for aspiring to live a life on her terms; I’ve lived through these parallels in my life. Sometimes to live and love is not about the opportunities or privileges we have - it is simply an act of survival and finding closure in the fact that we came out the other side.
“For some people, being out of the closet is this ultimate moment of liberation which marks a full stop on that chapter of your life. For me, that struggle still continues everyday, because I’m really just walking through closets the more I share parts of myself in different communities.
Sometimes the most radical thing you can do is just be honest about who you are; whether that’s embracing being queer; brown; muslim; pakistani; an immigrant or whatever.
“The song is symbolic of what music, and art in general, is about for me. Art is my activism; a battle of expression. I come from a land of freedom fighters, and the way I fight for what I believe in is through my craft. Humans seem to have this innate desire for conflict – and despite losses and pain throughout my journey, I would be who I am if I hadn’t experienced that.”
Erazorhead is a minimalist soul R&B track, named after the surrealist David Lynch masterpiece, ‘Eraserhead’. Inspired by stories from Aleppo, Syria (“And pour me like champagne/over Aleppo”), the song re-imagines the surrealistic nature of current world politics; and reminds us that this in fact isn’t a surrealist nightmare of sorts, but is the world today.
“I read some stories about Assad’s troups killing innocent people; Islamic State beheading gay people; American intervening intervening with military strikes so they can just fuck shit up; and pretty much the complete, utter destabilisation of Aleppo. It then blew up in the media, and everyone was talking about how there are millions of refugees being created from this complex conflict. But nobody discussing how the more countries go in there for their selfish reasons, the more problems it creates. There’s no one bad guy anymore; or one evil force, like the media says. Instead everyone is in it for their selfish reasons and the consequence is usually peoples lives.
I decided to name it after Eraserhead because that’s whats happening. Theres a metaphorical (or hauntingly, literal) razor cutting across peoples heads, and most people are blinded by what the powers-that-be want us to believe. Surrealism isn’t an art movement or concept anymore; we’re living in it.”
AVALANCHE (Feat. Anna-Kat)
Avalanche was written by ZĀN, who then asked Anna-Kat from TAWLS to jump on the track and lend vocals. An electronic-pop ballad at its core, it is a love song (yet somewhat of an anti-love song) about the dichotomous struggle between the beauty and pain of the love we have for others and the world around us.
“My mother is from Kashmir; a land that is never really talked about in the mass media, but has been caught in this never-ending saga of destruction of political forces, especially since the partition of Pakistan/India. I started writing about it; how the mountains are said to be the most beautiful in Pakistan, and it turned into this song about land, love and destruction. Often we love things so much that we fight for them and end up destroying them.
I asked Anna-Kat to lend her beautiful vocals, which truly completed the song. It is a ballad at its core, about the beauty and pain of love; and I wanted to mirror that relationship between two people in the relationship humans have with the world around us.”
Gulnaz is August 3rd.
Image by Nicole M Photography
Introduction by Emma Jones