Naser Mestarihi: Achieving the impossible through rock
With his debut full length LP rock album 1987 out on iTunes and Virgin Megastore outlets in the country, Qatar-based rock artist Naser Mestarihi is on a roll and there’s no stopping him. He’s on a mission to shine the spotlight on the local rock music scene.
It was only coincidence that we chose to meet Naser for a chat at The Gate Mall. “It was next door, at Salam Stores, that I bought my first record CD at the age of seven,” he reminisces.
For as long as he remembers, Naser had always wanted to be either a drummer, singer or a guitarist. But being brought up in a country like Qatar, where rock music is barely spoken about, it’s surprising that the Jordanian-Pakistani artist found his calling in this genre of music.
He thanks his father for that. “He introduced me to old school rock and roll. He had an amazing collection of music.
“Many people think the rock music scene is not prevalent here. But, when I was a kid, rock music was really popular among school kids in Doha.” Even now, majority of his followers on social media are the local youth.
Despite this popularity of rock music among youth, why aren’t there more prominent rock artists here?
“You have many rock bands here, but they are not motivated enough. Doha has a good market for such music, and really good recording facilities. The only problem is there’s a lack of clubs, talent agencies or promoters who are encouraging musicians to come out and perform. They only encourage rappers and DJs.
“In Dubai, the music scene is bigger. It’s growing. There are a lot of bands, festivals, concerts, and amazing venues that you can play at. While in Doha, the Admiral’s Club (at The Ritz-Carlton) or The Rugby Club are the only two venues that allow you to play a gig. But these venues have time constraints; they let you play for a certain duration only.”
There’s also a dearth of music schools that teach you various genres of music here. “My mother had enrolled me to a music class. But there was too much theory, hardly any real practice sessions.” A reason why Naser decided to be self-taught.
“Jimi Hendrix was the reason I picked up the guitar. I listened to the live version of the track Voodoo Child, and was amazed by what I heard.
“I would watch the video of my favourite artists playing the guitar, and try to pick up little techniques and movements while adding my own flair. I practised extensively, and within a year and half I started writing my own music.”
Reflections of his life
All songs in the album 1987 are written, composed, arranged and performed by Nasser. The title of his album happens to be the year that he was born. “The album is about my life. The music is introspective; it highlights my thoughts, emotions, reflections be it political or philosophical.”
The title track 1987 for instance is his take on the political turmoil plaguing Pakistan, one of the countries that he calls home. He’s also a historical buff, and hence one would notice a lot of historical references in his songs. The song Wovoka, Nasser says, was inspired by the Wounded Knee massacre involving Native Americans that occurred in the 18th century in the US, and touches upon injustice and inequality that were prevalent in the past.
Then there are songs that are more “uplifting”. Phoenix is about lifting someone’s spirits; it drives you to go against all odds. Exodus Highway, on the other hand, is about speed, and the rush that you get from extreme sports and adventure.
The second reason behind the title was to pay homage to the year during which many of his favourite albums, particularly Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses, were released. “If it wasn’t for that album, I wouldn’t have been a musician today. There was some fury in those songs that ignited what I felt inside.”
Prior to 1987, Naser had worked another album, the self-titled Naser Mestarihi EP released in December 2010 outside Qatar.
Fighting other odds, like his OCD
Naser’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has made him a neatness freak. “My records have to be arranged in order: chronological – in terms of their release dates, and alphabetical – in terms of the band names.”
About having to deal with this condition as a musician, he says, “OCD helps you become accurate during studio recordings. I keep playing take after take till I get the music right. But then I get obsessed about not wanting to be wrong. That’s a set back because I like mistakes in music. I think music should be raw. It sounds real and so natural. Even Hendrix used to make a lot of mistakes.”
The next step…
Naser is busy working on his next two albums which are due for release next year. He also has an eponymous band in Dubai where he has performed on several occasions. “My musician friends are my best critiques. If the music is good, they will tell you they love it. If it’s bad, they will tell you why they don’t like it. They give you an honest musical assessment of your work.”
Shaping his career in music further is definitely Naser’s long-term goal, but he has also begun focusing on securing a regular job. “I need money to support my music.” After all, his is a one-man army. He was the sole producer of his latest album and funded its entire production and release without the aid of a label.
“Fame is not my goal, but reaching out to people through music is. If I can travel and play for different audiences and different cultures around the world, I will be more than happy. That’s all I want for the rest of my life.”
You can follow Naser via his Facebook page.