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Music as refuge

The Daily sits down with People and Space

Crammed into a makeshift four-seater table at the Java U across from Strathcona Music Building, three members of People and Space bounced their ideas off of each other as they told their story.

The Montreal-based pop-rock and alternative band came together during the starting members’ first year at McGill.

Speaking to The Daily, vocalist Sid Ahmed, lead guitarist Zia Zakaria, and vocalist and guitarist Atanu Chowdhury explored the merging of musical genres, music as a form of self expression for the diaspora, and the balancing act of playing gigs and shooting music videos amid working nine-to-five, post-graduation. Bassist Andre Homier and drummer Guillaume Lauzon were not present at the interview.

The McGill Daily (MD): So how did you all meet?

Sid Ahmed (SA): It was the first week of school, and Zak and I met through the BSA [Bangladeshi Students Association]. I was in New Rez, and when we met, we were like, ‘oh wow, we’re from the same country.’ So we kept meeting, kept jamming, and doing covers. Then this one time, Zak’s like, ‘do you have any originals?’ I was too shy to show anyone – I had never really done that before – but that was how our first song happened. We found these two buddies from rez to play shows, and after our first charity show, we kept playing as much as we could.

Zia Zakaria (ZZ): When you’re playing with students, a lot of them have to pursue their own future. So they have to leave the country and stuff. We went back to square one at one point after graduation, and it was just me and Sid again. That’s when I suggested to take Atanu into the band.

Atanu Chowdhury (AC)
: We had a lot of free time after graduation. The biggest problem is that most people involved were engineers, so, you know, they’ve got internships – but we’re science kids; we were here doing our research. But we always jammed together, played a lot of Eastern classical music, [even though] we [were used to] different genres.

MD: In terms of genre, what would you identify as your present music and influences, compared to what you started off with?

SA: When we all got together, it was kind of like magic. We were both vocalists, and [Atanu] was trained in Eastern classical music. I was kind of trained on the fly during People and Space, but I grew up with punk rock.

ZZ: I was mainly into heavy metal, and then we needed a drummer and bassist. That’s how we got Gui, who’s also punk-influenced, and our bassist is into the jazz and blues kind of thing. So it was a really good mix. Eastern classical music is a lot different from Western classical music. It has a lot of like, vocal vibratos, [and] a mix of both major and minor scales. It’s really different, so when you fuse it with rock and pop, that creates an interesting element.

MD: You’re juggling nine-to-five jobs, but you still make music a priority. How do you manage that?

AC: If you ask me, music is something I did since forever, [ever] since I knew what it was. So when I came here given the struggle, given schooling, living alone – it was the thing I knew I was good at. It was the constant thing that I could bring from home. I brought the culture with me. So no matter what happened, that was always the standard. So even if I was working nine-to-five, I would always come back home. Even if it wasn’t jamming, I would just take the guitar and play two songs by myself.

ZZ: After I graduated I felt like that part of my life was missing. And you know what, the nine-to-five life gets redundant. It’s the same: you wake up, you work. But starting music again was an escape from that redundancy.

SA: In my point of view, music was like refuge. Coming here from so far away was kind of a shock, all of a sudden. The transition was so fast […] I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. But when we played music together, that was like a safe refuge. It was like a shelter. It would hold us and embrace us. Music gave [me] a chance to identify myself in society, to represent myself. It helped me make new friends, and since I used to write poems and sonnets, it gave me a chance to get those poems out. All of those experiences that I trapped in tiny boxes, [music] helped me release [them] and share [them] with people.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.