Some organizations have key unforgettable moments over the years. One of such moments is when Muhammad Owais Bangash, a former student of the PakTurk Schools in Pakistan, sang the song ‘Usta’ (Master) at the 10th Turkish Language Olympiads in 2012. Owais could not be placed among the winners that year, but his successful performance has been frequently mentioned for years.
Years later, we reached Muhammad Owais and interviewed him, albeit from afar. His standing is not surprising when you consider his success over the years. While working in the advertising industry in Pakistan, he continues to deal with music professionally. He composes his own music in hip-hop and rhythm and blues (RnB) genres.
In the interview we share today on occasion of the Teachers’ Day, Owais commemorates his teachers at the PakTurk Schools. “Our teachers were the only guides we had! Without their guidance, this success would not have been possible,” he says.
Like us, he cannot forget the Turkish Olympiads and Turkey. He describes those days as: “It was surreal! It was an irresistibly intense and huge program. I made a lot of friends and it changed me in the way I would view at the world for the rest of my life.”
We leave you with Muhammad Owais Bangash’s candid answers to our questions:
-Could you briefly introduce yourself? Why did you choose to study at PakTurk? In which years did you study there?
I’m Muhammad Owais Bangash, currently a filmmaker and creative director in the advertising industry here in Pakistan and I also spend time working on my own music making songs in hip-hop and RnB genres. Back in 2010 my father decided to move to Peshawar and while exploring different schools he thought PakTurk was a good choice for me and my younger brother, that’s pretty much how I ended up there. Starting from 2010 in 8th grade, I studied there up till 12th grade – 2015.
-How was your time there as a student? How was your connection with the subjects and the teachers?
PakTurk was a beautiful journey full of fruitful learnings and experiences. Our school really satisfied both our academic and extracurricular needs by providing equal opportunities to all, free of discrimination. The ‘Ev’ and ‘camping’ culture gave us students some great memories and the teachers taught us great discipline through extracurricular books and activities we couldn’t find in any other school (I’m not discussing the regular studies because there is no question about it).
My connection with the subjects and the teachers was well, love hate! haha. But it always depended on my subjects, as in which subjects I liked and disliked that decided which teachers I really bonded with. Mathematics and physics were my least favourite whereas chemistry, English, Turkish language were my most favourite courses and so were the teachers. Obviously everyone’s favourite teacher was always the class teacher. Who was our representation in school and outside of it when some competition happened.
-Where did the idea to participate in the song contest of the Turkish Olympiad come from? Was it your choice or your teachers’ request?
Until the second half of 8th grade I had no idea about the existence of a Turkish Olympiad. One day during break time I went to the auditorium on top floor and saw my friend Arslan Naseer (aka Pakistani Ahmet Kaya) practicing a Turkish song on stage. I was very intrigued and immediately wanted to become a part of this contest and Arslan helped me out on how to do that. On the same day I went to our then Turkish Olympiad coordinator Mr. Fateh for an audition and after listening to me sing he went ‘where were you all this time?’. Nothing was the same after that, in a happy way, and that’s how the Turkish Olympiad chose me.
-Who selected the song? In the same Olympiad, you also sang a hymn called ‘Acizim’. Did you practice other musical pieces as well?
One of our dear coordinators Mr. Abdussamed gave me the song Usta to work on and later on Mr. Erdogan urged me to do ‘Acizim Aciz’ as it wasn’t done before and was written very beautifully as well. Before any competition or tour I practiced a lot of songs, only one or two of which got approved at the end. From latest Turkish pop hits to older folk songs, we practiced it all.
-It’s a bit difficult to sing ‘Usta’, because you need to adjust your volume well according to the frequent changes of pitch and tone. Was there any special reason why you chose to sing it?
That’s correct, ‘Usta’ was quite a challenge, but because I had a high pitch/range voice at the time and my teacher believed I could do it, we went for it. The fact that it was a tough song is exactly why we went for it because every one had to bring their own unique flavour to the table, which was also the beauty of Turkish Olympiad.
-How was the preparation process for the Olympiad? How long did you practice? Were there any moments when you had difficulty or wanted to give up?
The process was simple; we had a list of around 10-12 songs to choose from and after choosing the songs we liked or that went with our voice we would start practicing them daily with lyric sheet in hand. Then when there was any trouble or space for improvement we would seek guidance from our teacher. For tour there were 5-6 songs to practice before they got sent to coordinators in Turkey who approved if the songs were fit for their stage.
In the local competitions I didn’t win the first year. Although I made it to the finals with the song ‘Babam’ by Emre, it wasn’t uplifting or performative enough to get the judges jumping from their seats like ‘Usta’ did in the second year. So it was about staying persistent and not giving up. In the beginning the song ‘Usta’ was tiring for my vocal chords and I really had to practice it a lot but eventually I caught up to it and pulled it off.
-What contributions did your teachers make during your preparation? Did they teach you any special techniques or coach you through a different method?
The teachers were all the guidance we had! I mean without their help it would not have been possible. The teachers here at Pakistan taught as in their own capacity, things like pronunciation of certain words, where to breathe where to let go, to never turn your back on the audience and more. Teachers over at Turkey taught us more technical aspects of being a vocalist, as in what notes to sustain and for how long, where to use vibrato, where the words should be cut short and where I can use my voice to shine the brightest. So yes the teachers were a huge help in getting to Turkey and then getting a medal back for the country.
-If I remember that correctly, you came the second in the Pakistan final. Were you satisfied with that result? Did you ever think, “I should have been the first!”?
I personally think that thinking about ‘what should have happened’ is not a very healthy mindset to be in. I know I was an exception and that’s what my parents raised me to be and what Allah helped me achieve. To be an exception and to be extraordinary. At the end of the day I got the same amount of learning and pleasure out of the entire Turkish Olympiad experience as the first position holder, so I have no regrets because I know how hard I worked for it.
-What did you think when you learned that you were going to Turkey for the world rounds of the Olympiad?
I still remember standing outside the auditorium of Islamabad PakTurk after they announced we both were going to Turkey. It was a very surreal feeling for the both of us and somewhere inside I knew that my life wouldn’t be the same again. Because going to Turkish Olympiad is not the same as going to Turkey.
-May you tell us what you experienced during your trip to Turkey and the Olympiad programs? May you also quote some of the memories you cannot forget?
I think I’ve said it before but again, it was surreal! The scale of the whole event was just so big it was overwhelming. I wouldn’t say it was too much to digest because I absorbed as much as I could during the time I had there. Made lots and lots of friends and it changed how I’ll see the world for the rest of my life.
Turkish Olympiad gave me a huge bunch of memories and it’ll take me days to finish talking about all of them but one I remember right now is, the first time I got to Istanbul in 2012 (10. Turkish Olympiad) we were staying in a dorm with all the other boys from Pakistan. We were just chilling and having a good time but at some point I got up and left to get some ice-cream. Once I left the dorm I started exploring the streets around cause the younger me was all about exploring so eventually I got lost. But the best part is I didn’t care, except for the street dogs, I really didn’t wanna get bit by them. So after wandering around for some time i somehow ended up right in front of my dorm gate and was glad that I was back, with my ice cream of course. I don’t know if it was the angels who helped me back home or what but I really thought I wouldn’t make it cause I had no contacts with anyone either. But I enjoyed the journey to be honest. Apart from this, there’s many many memories that I’ll leave for another day.
-While you were not included among the winners, your performance was highly appreciated as it garnered great applause and remained in people’s minds for a long time. What were your feelings about this?
At that point it wasn’t about winning the Olympiad for me. I could clearly see how hard some of the kids had worked and some of them were even trained vocalist so there was no point in being sad thinking about how ‘un-trained’ I was. I had to make use of what I had access to and live my best time possible and that’s what I did.
I still don’t know why ‘usta’ was liked among the people. Was it the high notes that I could hit at the age? Was it because Ibrahim Tatlises was unwell at the time or was? I don’t know. All I know is I enjoyed performing the song and the audiences enjoyed listening to it, that’s all that matters.
-How was your achievement and participating in this international competition received in your family and among friends?
My family and friends were really proud and glad. To this day sometimes I get messages from my relatives saying ‘hey can you send us that song you sang in Turkey?’. They like telling their friends about the achievements I had and that makes me happy.
-When you look at it from now, how do you evaluate your studying at the PakTurk Schools and your participation in the Turkish Olympiad? What effects did those have on your life?
I feel very lucky about ending up in PakTurk and eventually Turkish Olympiad. I think it has contributed a lot to my self esteem and confidence. Whatever success I’ve head in life until now, the experiences I had in Turkish Olympiad have had a substantial impact on it. It is something that will always be very dear to me, something I’ll tell my kids about.