Qatar’s first rock musician, Naser Mestarihi is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (guitars, bass and vocals) who grew up in Doha during the late 1980’s. He began performing from the age of 17 and toured the U.S. military bases in Qatar, entertaining the troops over the Independence Day holiday. His self-titled debut the Naser Mestarihi EP was released in December 2010, making it the first official rock record ever to be released out of Qatar. Since then, Naser has successfully released more albums that have received international acclaim.
We sat down with Naser to get an insight into his love for music and his musical journey. He talked about the challenges as a musician and the highlights from his career. From collaborating with international artists to performing in concerts across the world, Naser Mestarihi is a name to keep an eye out for!
Saira Malik (S.M.): As a rock musician from Qatar can you take us through your artistic journey and where you currently stand?
Naser Mestarihi (N.M.): I was born in the late 80s and was brought up in Doha where strangely enough I got exposed to rock music in the early 90s, credit to my uncle and sibling. At that period despite rock going through a major shift with all the Seattle bands emerging into the mainstream, major 80s artists were still pretty big, I guess we caught on late so I was exposed to all that.
I started pursuing music professionally around my mid to late teens, playing in bands, backyard style parties until my early 20s when I started a solo music career. Since then I’ve put out four records, three LPs and an EP, the latest being “Ivory Towers” the debut record of my current Winterburn, which is essentially an offshoot of my solo band.
(S.M.): How has your Arab heritage influenced the music that you create?
(N.M.): That’s interesting because my sound is predominantly very Western, my primary influences being a lot of the LA or Cali bands infused with British rock. Some Arab elements do creep in, I incorporate Arabic scales or the harmonic minor scale here and there but I’d say it’s influenced more of the lyrical themes in songs like “Ivory Towers” the title track off our latest record which was about growing up witnessing the Gulf Wars.
I do have Middle Eastern influences in the song “Astral” as well as Eastern scales which I’d say comes from being part South Asian.
(S.M.): How much has the local music industry evolved since you first started and what more can be done?
(N.M.): Well I grew up in Qatar and lived a significant period of my life in the United Arab Emirates. In the latter there was a surge of artists especially during the mid 2000s, a flourishing scene. In my hometown there’s growth in other genres, not necessarily rock. I thought we could pave the way for more original bands to come out but we’re one of the few if not the only band actively releasing and performing original music, which is disappointing in a sense.
There are artists in a multitude of other genres, which is great because I support musicians regardless of what style of music they’re into. There’s a growing scene regionally and that’s always pleasing to see.
(S.M.): What were some of the biggest hurdles you overcame as an Arab musician while establishing your name globally?
(N.M.): The biggest barrier really is dispelling any preconceived notions that people may have in terms of our skill levels, like if we’re up to par with bands in the West. Unfortunately, some of this superiority complex is still prevalent but we can hold our ground, we write good music and we are very competent in our craft.
As a musician I’ve always pushed myself and pursued the ambition to be on top of my game on an international level, whether it’s live or in the studio. Obviously travelling to places like London or LA and connecting with musicians and artists there helped me understand what level we need to aspire to.
I still face some reservations when dealing with industry people internationally, being here makes it slightly challenging as I said above, cause they sometimes look down on you or at times even exhibit a preference to bands from their countries. I’ve experienced this even recently with certain outlets and although it’s disheartening, they’re missing out and I’m always setting out to prove them wrong.
We’re as good as their bands if not better and this is not pretension, we’re fans of music so we’re very aware of our levels as musicians and songwriters.
(S.M.): Tell us about your prestigious partnership with Gibson Guitars and what that means to you as a musician from Qatar?
(N.M.): Getting endorsed by Gibson was a lifelong dream and something I dreamt of ever since I was a little kid that fell in love with Gibson players like Slash, Michael Schenker, Tony Iommi and James Hetfield so far that to happen was a major honour for me.
Being the first and only artist to achieve this in the entire Middle East, I mean I sometimes pinch myself cause it’s just an overwhelming and humbling thing to be recognised by the greatest brand in music history and to represent them in our region.
I’m very grateful to them and particularly to Cesar (Gueikian) and Eleonora (Dal Pozzo) for welcoming me into their family.
(S.M.): What are some of the biggest highlights from your creative career?
(N.M.): Being appreciated by my heroes who I grew up listening to and hearing firsthand from them that enjoy my music, being part of the Gibson family for sure and getting accolades by the magazines I grew up reading as a kid for sure.
(S.M.): What does it take to reach the type of international success you have as a musician?
(N.M.): Determination, practice, being really passionate about music like not just doing it for vanity or other motives. You’ve got to really do it from a pure place. That’s how it’s always been for me. Being a kind and courteous person when engaging with people is also integral in establishing good relationships that transcends the “business” side of things.
And ultimately, just put your heart in writing authentic and killer music.
(S.M.): Over the years you have collaborated with global artists-how hard was it to break into the international music scene as an Arab artist?
(N.M.): Well I wouldn’t necessarily say I broke into the international scene yet, yes I’ve established relationships with artists and yes collaborating with musical giants like Thomas on my last record was a major stepping stone but honestly I just keep it real, that’s really all it is.
It’s no nonsense, just putting my heart into creating good music and making connections with likeminded musicians.
(S.M.): What advice would you give to young musicians from the region?
(N.M.): Never give up and always aim high.
(S.M.): What are you looking forward to in terms of your music career this year?
(N.M.): We’re gearing up for a number of regional shows and there’s an international tour currently in the works for later in the year.
We’ve also started pre-production on our follow up record so I’m pretty stoked about that, it should be a pretty busy but awesome year, God willing.
For more information, visit thewinterburn.com
Images courtesy of Naser Mestarihi