Maria Unera Qureshi first caught the public’s ear in Nescafé Basement season 3 in 2014 and she came back for season 4 with a rendition of Love Me Again, which she sang along with several other female musicians.
The song became a viral sensation. She recently finished her first original track, Strong, which is dedicated to her late mother who passed away last year after fighting a battle against cancer.
GVS: What got you into singing?
Maria: I’ve been singing professionally since I was 16. I got my first official singing gig with Fanta back in 2013 with the iconic band Noori.
However, singing is in my blood and culture since I’m half Filipino. My mom would always set up a karaoke machine every Sunday and my family and I would sing songs all day.
GVS: What inspires you?
Maria: My mother inspires me and has inspired me since the very beginning. She’s not with us anymore, but she lives in my heart and she still continues to inspire me.
GVS: When did you know for sure you were going to be a singer?
Maria: I think it was in school, I was 16 years old, and I used to sing a lot at school events. I just knew that this is what I want to do and make a career out of it.
GVS: Do you still practice every day? or do you feel that now since you have become successful you don’t need practice and you just get up there and perform?
Maria: I’ll be honest. I don’t practice the way I used to. But I still practice whenever I get the time, or at least I try to make time for it. As for shows, I make sure I practice at least two weeks before so I’m all set for the stage.
GVS: How did you get to perform on Nescafe Basement? Was there an audition?
Maria: Well, a friend of mine suggested sending a video to Zulfi Bhai (Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan). He was a mutual friend. I was a little hesitant in the beginning but I realized that it was worth a shot. Zulfi heard my voice and messaged me on Facebook and then I guess the rest is history.
GVS: Did the appearance on Nescafe Basement change your life in any way?
Maria: Yes, it most definitely did, I learned so many things from Zulfi Bhai and the other musicians on the show. I grew as a musician and I learned how to work with other people. I was used to jamming alone and doing my own thing. And of course, it gave me more confidence to keep pursuing my dream.
GVS: How often do you get recognized on the street?
Maria: Well, not that much. I feel like a lot of people are too shy to come up and say ‘hi’, they instead message on Instagram or Facebook saying they saw me somewhere. Guys, if you see me, and know me, don’t be shy to walk up and say hello.
GVS: Did social media help you get more recognition?
Maria: It did in a way but it was also very difficult because when I started out, YouTube was still banned in Pakistan. So all the musicians, such as myself, at that time depended on Facebook to put up their music and start a fan page. That helped at its time, and now we have more platforms such as Instagram and YouTube is back too, so it’s easier now.
GVS: We’ve seen you do ads with Cornetto and Fanta. In general how supportive are companies in encouraging young artists like you?
Maria: Well, Cornetto wasn’t an ad; it was more of a musical project. Qurram Hussain from the band JoSH got in touch and wanted to collaborate. They were pretty supportive. So was Fanta actually.
I worked with Fanta before back in 2013 so I had a familiar idea of how things would go around. These brands are encouraging to a certain extent but it’s mostly a win-win situation.
The brand improves their reputation by helping younger musicians/artists and these musicians/artists either get their first big break or get recognition. This is, however, my own opinion. I could be 100% wrong.
GVS: What’s coming up next? Do you have any gigs or original songs coming out soon?
Maria: I have a couple of small gigs here and there in the country. As for my music, I’m working on new stuff. Some Urdu original music and I’m hoping to release my songs very soon Insha’Allah!
The interview was published in the December issue of the Global Village Space Magazine.