Posted: 27 March, 2024

Zahra: On songwriting and life at Oxford

Alumnae, Arts, Blog, Careers, Music

Zahra Ahmad (Class of ’22) is at Oxford University, Christ Church College, studying Philosophy and Theology. We caught up with her recently to talk about her time at university so far and to hear more about her fledgling career in songwriting.

Did you always want to go to Oxford?

‘I always had the notion of applying to Oxford on my mind but was leaning more towards not applying as I was not sure if it was the right environment for me.  I wondered whether I would be able to handle the workload and whether I was looking for  the typical Oxbridge experience.  In the end it was my sister Imaan (Class of ’18) who convinced me that the process of completing and submitting the application, and the rigorous interview process was a worthwhile experience.

‘I have completely fallen in love with the city, and I already feel quite sad at the prospect of graduating and no longer living here, but I’m making the most of it while I can.  In first year, I joined as many clubs and societies as I could, including my college’s netball team and I’m now the captain. I also co-hosted a show on the university’s student run radio station ‘Oxide’ which allowed me to continue exploring my love of music. The structure of Putney definitely set me up to manage the trickier aspects of balancing conscientious study with all of my other projects and social commitments.’

How is the social life at University?

‘Sports socials are an important weekly event at all unis and a great opportunity to socialise regularly. At Putney, we were encouraged to push ourselves outside of academia as well, and it’s one of the skills that has helped me most at uni. Our confidence in social situations is something I really relied on during freshers’ week.  It allowed me to be thrown in the deep end which is really what you need to do to take advantage of everything’. 

What helped you decide on your area of study?

‘There is a concept that to study at Oxbridge your degree subject needs to be something you are passionate about above all things.  I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but you spend so much time studying that you do really need to enjoy your subject, so if you aren’t sure what career you want to pursue after university, it is much more important to choose a subject that you like, rather than a degree you think makes you employable.’

What's your lasting impression of your time at Putney?

‘I really grew up at Putney. I felt pushed by my teachers in a way that made me challenge myself to do my best and really explore all the talents I had, both academically and creatively.  But there is also this gentle energy that I don’t think you get at all schools.’


Zahra has written, recorded and produced her debut single, Windows Down which was released earlier this year, including an interview and play on BBC Introducing Oxford.  ‘My childhood dream was to be a singer/songwriter, but I didn’t study music as a timetabled subject.  Instead, I played the piano and the guitar outside of lessons and I had lessons at Putney for many years.  I never felt like choosing not to study music formally would limit my opportunities – at Putney I could do both!’

In the lead up to her A-Levels, Zahra spent her downtime from studying writing songs that will appear on her EP to be released later this year.

‘I draw inspiration from artists like Phoebe Bridgers, but I do naturally gravitate towards that more upbeat summery pop sound.’

Zahra got in touch with a producer towards the end of Year 13, who has since become a mentor, helping her to understand the process of transforming her song to a polished track. ‘We worked really closely together, spending hours in the studio, and although I don’t understand a lot of the technical aspects of producing a track, I was in creative control of the whole process.  We spent over a year and a half working on the EP together and my producer was amazing’

She managed all of this while completing her first year at Oxford.

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