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Exclusive Premiere: Humeysha Channels Summery Calm For ‘Nusrat on the Beach’ Music Video

The Brooklyn-based artist of Indian-Pakistani origin released his latest EP in August

Anurag Tagat Sep 10, 2019

Zain Alam in a still from the video for Humeysha's 'Nusrat on the Beach.' Photo: Hannah Claire Baker

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American musician Zain Alam aka Humeysha can tell you a thing or two about the term “exotic.”

The 28-year-old of Indian and Pakistani origin grew up in different parts of the U.S. at a tenuous juncture in American history. He says, “As a brown Muslim in the post-9/11 American south, I never felt like I could be an object of desirability until I overheard a clique of my high school’s most popular cheerleaders describe me and some other boys of color as exotic, forbidden, mysterious. It didn’t feel great to know at such a young age that I was attractive only on such terms.”

Alam thought about how he could “take advantage” of the situation and make the most of it, but he’s happy to admit he now runs the other direction. He doesn’t so much even like to concentrate on educating or policing the use of words like “exotic.” Humeysha’s latest music video for “Nusrat on the Beach” is directed by longtime friend and collaborator Hannah Claire Baker, taking us through a day with Alam in Mount Washington, California. The artist says of his filmmaker and her team, “Hannah brought a warmth and a lightness of touch to the video that I think uniquely conveys the spirit of the song – less about nostalgia than it is memory and reinvention, actually.”

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The music too is centered around memories. Humeysha (Alam with help from producer Dylan Bostick) interpolates qawwali legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan famous song “Yeh Jo Halka Halka Suroor Hai” in the chorus and remains winsome in his vocal and sonic delivery throughout. The rest of the three-track Nusrat on the Beach, out last month, includes Urdu vocals (“Beauty In All”) and experiments with samples on “Delhi/Sedimentation.”

While Alam began writing music as Humeysha while working as an oral historian for non-profit organization The 1947 Partition Archive (which took him to parts of India and Pakistan), he released his debut album Humeysha in 2015, followed by an EP called Departures last year. Eager to share more music, he took advantage of the technological processes that make creating music easier, putting out Nusrat on the Beach within a year. This, even as he juggles his work as an artist-in-residence at the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA).

Despite the full plate, Alam is keen to bring Humeysha to India, where he says some of his songs were born. “The country seems to have changed dramatically – for the better and for the worse, much like the US – since I finished my fellowship in 2014.” Cities like New Delhi and Lucknow are his favorites right now, because it’s connected to his songwriting. “Bookers in Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, and even those supposed ‘tier two’ cities like Lucknow — I’m all ears and would love to perform for you soon,” Alam says.

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Watch the video for “Nusrat on the Beach” below.

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