If history is anything to go by, liberal arts college Wesleyan University, which schooled MGMT, Lemony Snicket and Michael Bay, is on to a new era of creative insurgences. Camp & Street records, kickstarted by Wesleyan alumni and rapper-to-watch Le1f, was initially conceived as an informal collective for his friends to produce music. Le1f embraced all modes of aesthetics, as long as it fulfilled the basic goal “to encourage and elevate each other’s work”, shares Zain Alam (lead singer of Humeysha), an American India Foundation scholar. He took the leap with Wesleyan, and never looked back since.
Humeysha, comprising of Zain Alam, Dylan Bostick, Adrien Defontaine and John Snyder, is the by-product of a strong music community at Wesleyan. It is this sense of solidarity that distilled and chanelled their creative energies into a multilingual band, which is a fitting reflection of their eclectic backgrounds.
“Humeysha has really come to life as a result of my close friendships that have grown since that time. It was with my best friend and fellow producer also from Wesleyan, Dylan Bostick, that the lo-fi songs recorded in India transformed into the debut LP you hear now. Ethan Young majored in film at Wes and directed the first music video; Timmy Lee provided the studio space where we shot it and also painted the cover art for the album.” – Zain
Humeysha’s dreamy debut track “Burma Between You and Me”, is a distillation of exotic multiculturalism experienced by New York-based Zain as he circles back to his home country, India.
“Wesleyan was a place that promised exactly the kind of broad, liberal arts-focused exposure I had always dreamed of while growing up and thought impossible. I played in punk bands, studied the Western canon in social studies, and was the first of my family in decades to travel across both India and Pakistan thanks to research grants awarded for my undergraduate thesis on the Partition of 1947.”
As a hat tip to their experimental soul infused tracks, Humeysha recently scored a gig at New York’s well-loved intimate venue Mercury Lounge, which kickstarted careers of The Strokes, Interpol and the like. Their music is definitely picking up momentum – their track from the LP “For Love, From the Law” recently made it to Spotify’s USA Viral Top 50 list.
Not resting on their laurels, Humeysha has just launched fresh new tracks on SoundCloud as part of their #NewMusicFriday movement. Take a listen!
Despite conveniences afforded by online digital platforms, Zain has mixed feelings about such streaming apps:
“The ability to listen to anything so easily and to reach listeners around the world is phenomenal, but I do wonder if something has been lost as listeners churn through so many individual songs at a time rather than sit down and connect with an album. It goes without saying how much farther we have to go in terms of artists being compensated fairly, but that goes for other corners of the industry as well.”
Music was a private passion, pursued when Zain was young…. I wasn’t too involved with music in any formal way beyond humming melodies from Bollywood and video games. I took piano lessons for a brief period in my teenage years, motivated partially by my parents and by my own desire to perform (and one day compose) songs by composers like Nobuo Uematsu, as well as Satie or Debussy. The lessons didn’t last long as I didn’t have much of a taste for learning music theory or the textbook way on how to play an instrument. But I still longed to somehow make melodies and write tunes. Soon I taught myself to play guitar, riffing on the melodies of Bollywood greats like R.D. Burman or Madan Mohan while trying to make the kind of sounds you hear on Loveless. I knew I’d be playing guitar for a long time after I heard that album, writing riffs and making loops on my own. Music remained a private but passionate activity until I found friends and like-minded musicians to play with in college. The time I spent there and then alone in India set the gears in motion for imagining Humeysha.
On the opportunity to live as anyone in this world… I’m going to let the student of South Asian studies part of me nerd out and choose Muhammad Iqbal or Rabindranath Tagore. In addition to living through one of the most interesting periods of modern history—the decline of the British Empire and the rise of anticolonial thought and culture in India—they had the privilege of travelling all across the world and swallowing up its riches to sculpt their own cosmopolitan aesthetic and philosophy. It’s amazing to me that their songs have been taken up as national anthems across borders in South Asia (Iqbal in India and Pakistan, Tagore in India and Bangladesh). Their trajectory as polymaths— in poetry, philosophy, and political thought that came to define much of modern South Asia—is enviable these days, given how we ask everyone now to specialize in something at a young age if they hope to make anything of themselves.
What Zain can’t live without…. Music is too easy an answer, so I’ll say memory instead. Hope that’s not too much of a cop-out. Seeing my grandmother in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease has been quite an education in how little we are without our stories.
Humeysha will be playing on 28 Feb 2016 at a secret location in New York City. For a chance to attend, signup here.
Featured image credit: Jordan Kenna
Remix EP cover art work credit: Dan Obzejta