The ‘Misfit’ Star In The Making

There’s something rather infectious about 28-year-old Risham Faiz Bhutta (or RFB as she refers to herself). Buoyant and chatty, she’s dressed in a long chocolate brown coat and slacks at a relatively quiet coffee shop’s rooftop in Lahore.

With soft curls that frame her lovely features, Bhutta comes across as someone who had to learn the art of setting emotional boundaries the hard way. There’s a wounded energy about her which she masks well on the surface.

An artist at heart, the singer reveals that it was only until she graduated from art school – successfully selling all her thesis paintings (including a mammoth, 30 feet long piece) – when she realized she needed to sing to gain some semblance of identity in the world.

“My siblings and I used to wake up to our mother blaring Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan at full volume on Sundays at home,” she chuckles. “We were exposed to many genres of music music and poetry since we were children. Our parents used to read Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Allama Iqbal’s poetry to us.”

But even though the artiste was raised in a house which not only supported, but enthusiastically encouraged the arts, Bhutta went through years of wanting to “try everything.”

Any form of creative expression wasn’t new to her, she had tried it all throughout school and college. But she still felt a sense of emptiness and went through an extended bout of depression after graduating from the National College of Arts (NCA) in 2018. Until she released Kunwaray with Feroz Faisal, a song which became the hit soundtrack for the popular Pakistani web series, Churails.

“Even though I was earning well as an artist, I didn’t feel grounded. I wasn’t content. I didn’t feel I was meant to be an artist,” she states, “Battling depression was essential for me to realize what I had to do. When Kunwaray came out, I knew I had to pursue music.”

It was a moment which gave way to a raging creative deluge for Bhutta. In one week alone she wound up feverishly penning 25 tracks.

Releasing her debut album, Part One, just last month, the artiste is currently working on her second, Part Two, which she states is exceptionally close to her heart. “It’s like my open diary to the world. Every song is based on an event in my life that I’ve expressed in a song. Part Two is me opening up to the world.”

A self-confessed rebel, Bhutta mentions that she enjoys singing in Punjabi because she feels more in touch with her roots when she’s both penning lyrics in Punjabi and singing in her mother tongue.

“I feel comfortable expressing myself in it. It’s empowering.”

When she sings, the artiste seems to channel a deep-seated anger, not just her own, but a collective, feminine rage which echoes in both her persona as an artiste and in her rich voice.

“I was always the misfit in school, I used to play sports and get bullied for it by the other girls, they’d keep saying ‘Risham is a boy, a boy!’ But I realized that when you don’t fit into the cookie-cutter variety, it takes time for people to understand you. I felt that in the music scene too. Your ideas and approach to music will be different for the audience at first, but 10-20 years down the line it becomes the norm. I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t put pressure on me to let go of being who I truly am for instant fame and fortune, but then I quickly revert back to who I am as an artiste and as a person.”

But only a few years into her introduction to Pakistan’s music scene, Bhutta states that she sees many peers, just like herself, who bring a new flavor to the country’s new wave.

“It’s very interesting to see new artistes, my peers and senior artistes come forward with this fire in them – they’re powerful women who are bringing a unique originality to their music.”

With a tattoo on her wrist featuring the words ‘listen, learn and change,’ Bhutta reveals that the words come from her beloved father who has always taught her to be proud of who she was, but at the same time, be open to adapt and change.

No wonder then, the artiste’s need to constantly push herself to achieve more. However, it has been exhausting, she admits.

“I’ve always been in a rush to do big things…there’s always been this war in my head that I’m not doing enough. But I am. I just felt I had to keep challenging myself, but this year I realized I don’t have to push myself so much. Because this, music, is something I love doing…then why not do it from a place of love?”

With her upcoming album underway, including training herself in the art of music production, Bhutta is an untethered misfit with that extra special something that makes a star, a star.

While she isn’t thinking too far ahead, Bhutta is one to watch.

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