Can you tell us about Homelands and the evolution of the project?
While I was looking for a theme for my final recital, I was preoccupied with the turmoil in Afghanistan and the news of migrants trying to cross the Channel. There is a long tradition of music engaging with politics, ideas, and social issues, and the stories I was reading reminded me of the music in classical Lieder about exile. Homelands really grew in response to that: from my final recital, to a charity concert at the Academy and ultimately into album, which we recorded in a wonderful church in North London last year.
What did you learn from the experience of holding a concert?
I had never done anything on that scale before. Although I benefited from the Academy’s support, ultimately, I was spearheading the whole project. I played the role of both producer and performer, and I found spinning both those plates at the same time could be very complicated and time consuming. It wasn’t just about learning the music and rehearsing, I also had to find musicians and actors to perform as well as work with their agents, learn the rules that govern fundraising, manage the licenses of copyrighted works, design the programme, and so on. What really helped sustain me through all the logistical challenges was a passion for the project and music.
When taking on any project there are always going to be complications you don’t anticipate, so it was a real lesson in thinking on my feet and being resourceful. It was an immense task, however seeing it all come together was very rewarding.
We were raising funds for the Thirty Birds Foundation, which was set up to rescue Afghan schoolgirls who had to flee their homes. It was amazing to see how music could be used as a vehicle for humanitarian impact. The money raised helped to evacuate them from Islamabad to Canada, where they are now building new lives in peace, safety, and security. I had a video call with some of the girls and it was such a privilege to hear about their lives. Among them were budding musicians, teachers, doctors, lawyers and even an aspiring astronaut. The fact that music is one of the things that helped them reach safety has made me incredibly hopeful about the power of music to be a force for positive change.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to create their own project?
The most important thing, above all else, is that you are passionate about your project. When things go wrong, or you have to put in hours of work, your passion for the project is what will sustain you through those difficult moments.
Beyond that, it is about being tenacious and finding ways through any challenges that you come up against. Be resourceful. Reach out to contacts you have who might be able to help you. However big or small your project is, there will be so many valuable lessons you can take away from it and apply to both your personal and professional life.
What does the Royal Academy of Music mean to you?
It is the most amazing place. I only graduated this year and I already miss it!
Although I performed in lots of concerts while I was doing my undergraduate degree at Cambridge, the Academy was my first experience of formal piano training. My first two years on the master’s programme was a crash course in technique, learning music at incredible speed and performing to the best of my ability. It teaches you to hold yourself to a high standard and makes you capable of working to an incredibly high level of precision and efficiency.
I had so many opportunities as an accompanist during my studies, and you are encouraged by the teachers to embrace all of it. I had the privilege of being taught by Michael Dussek, Malcolm Martineau and James Baillieu, I got to perform at Wigmore Hall and all over the country. I can’t think of anywhere else that provides a collaborative pianist with such high-level training and extraordinary opportunities to perform with such talented fellow students. I hope my playing can bring me back at some point.
What is next for you?
I really enjoy having a lot going on and having constant creative engagement. I’ll be recording my next album in February 2024. I’m also a writer. My debut novel is being published by Pushkin Press in September 2024 and I have been commissioned to write a screenplay for a European studio. I feel very grateful to Academy because I wouldn't be able to do any of these things if it weren't for the training that Academy gave me and the support that they gave me when I arrived there and throughout the years that I studied there.