DJ Zainab Hasnain’s culture uniquely influences her musical choices
Zainab Hasnain, aka ZEEMUFFIN, is a Pakistani-American DJ from NYC.
Born in Lahore, her approach to DJing has been heavily influenced by her Pakistani heritage, and the multiculturalism of New York City. Her sets often seamlessly blend genres, with her favorites being hip-hop and Bollywood. Ditching a stable career in finance and later a job at Spotify, Hasnain decided to follow her passion. She has been shaking the New York music scene ever since.
Hasnain shared with SEEMA some aspects of her journey from Lahore to Long Island.
Moving from Lahore to the U.S. at age 5
We are Shia Muslims. We moved to the States because there were a lot of targeted killings of [Shia] Muslims. My dad was in business and there were some rumors that they would be targeting our family. So my dad moved to the States. He found a place here. My mom, my sister, my little brother, and I moved over shortly after.
Gravitating towards music and DJing
When I moved to the States, my parents put me in music programs in elementary school. I learned to play the viola and found that I really enjoyed music, playing music and listening to music. I went to a lot of shows in New York City with my sister. We really liked different types of music, particularly punk and rock. I wanted an outlet to express my love for all these different types of music and so would go and see how DJs control the atmosphere of the room. I felt really inspired.
After I graduated, and began working in finance, I used my money to pay for DJ classes. I learned the fundamentals of DJing and I bought my first pair of turntables. It was just a really crappy, cheap turntable, with a two-channel mixer. I practiced and I practiced and I practiced. At one point, I really felt like I needed to go all in with my music. I had that community. That kind of gave me opportunities to play different clubs. That’s how I got my start. Eventually I landed at Spotify, where I was for five years doing music marketing. Now I am back to DJing full time, applying the skills that I’ve learned from these jobs, including DJing, writing, content, creation… All of that.
On ditching a regular paycheck for DJing
It was not easy, but I needed to funnel my creative energy into my own things. I just didn’t feel like I was doing a service to myself. Alhamdulillah [praise be to God], things have been very good and the universe has supported me in this. So, even if there are ups and downs, I don’t really see any other life as an option.
Infusing culture in her music mixes
TikTok videos by DJs showing samples from their respective cultures inspired me. I always wanted to show how Bollywood had a huge influence on hip -hop, especially the hip-hop that I grew up with in the 2000s. I was seeing our sound and influence crossing over to this very New York art hip-hop. It was like the marriage of my two worlds: growing up on hip-hop as a New Yorker and loving Bollywood as an immigrant. I knew both and just wanted to express the beautiful cultural crossover. I decided to make one video first – a thrill song. Another one followed, and that video blew up. It was a great learning experience for me because there were songs I didn’t even know when I was researching the videos. I was finding older Bollywood tunes I knew nothing about. It was an amazing process for me.
The fascination for the 70s
If there’s one era I could pick to exist in, to live in my prime, it would be the 70s. I love the 70s. It was such an incredible moment in time. You had to be there. There was no social media, no phones, and these bands were traveling over the Silk Road to Pakistan and India. Our countries were places where these hippies would go to soak up on culture. I found that amazing. The music was, to me, at its height. It just seemed like such a fun era in life. My parents have a great love for music. They’re very much into Kishore Kumar, Abida Parveen and all. My mom is much more knowledgeable about the Western stuff. She told me about Abba and the Bee Gees. So I have a great appreciation for the music of that time.
On food as our way of loving
When I started creating content, I only wanted it to be around food. I love food and cooking. That’s just part of our culture. It’s the primary way our mothers show love. It’s also a really great manipulation tactic. I can’t lose these parts of my culture – language, food and music. Those are like the holy trifecta for me.
When not playing parties what does the DJ do for entertainment
In the past couple of years, food has become a way for me to be creative – to just spend time with my loved ones, create a space where I can be with my friends and talk over good food. That’s something I really love to do. Aside from that, I have always loved to write. I’ve been writing probably since I was 8 years old. It’s not something like Greek poetic prose. But I’ve always been expressing myself through the written word. I don’t put this out there, but I write my own poetry. But I don’t see this as a monetary thing; it’s just something I do when I have the time.
The road ahead
I am producing music now. I’m getting more into creating my own beats, remixes and edits. That might lead to songwriting, but I see myself more as a curator: someone who likes creating and telling the story through my sets and through food. So I consider myself both a curator and a storyteller.