Earlier this month, a certain bulletin caught my attention. ‘Zeb and Haniya, Pakistan’s first female duo, visit India.’ The Times of India was one of the first to feature them in their daily… after which every tabloid I turned to had them covered. Their names, place of birth, education background… and the inevitable questions about their plans in Bollywood (!) had indeed taken our media by storm. Almost every coverage of theirs in our media stood firmly on the basis of stereotypes that we have conditioned our minds to- a Pakistani female band (gasp! Is that even possible?), clad in jeans and kurtis (Double gasp!! What happened to ‘conservatism’!). The tabloids made some ridiculous comments of the like. Some labeled them as Pakistan’s first female ‘Rock Band’, while others who found ‘rock’ a term too progressive, conveniently labeled them as a ‘Pop Duo’.
If you ask me, the truth is that they are neither. Zeb and Haniya derive their music from influences of blues and jazz, complete with their understanding of classical and folk music. I wouldn’t make the mistake of shoving them under the category of ‘Fusion’ either. Interestingly, their myspace page lists their influences from R.D. Burman and A R Rahman to Simon and Garfunkel and Mark Knofler! Their bio speaks of their stand on their website, “…a sound that touches the brilliant kaleidoscope of language, history and culture that is Pakistan.”
Many of us learnt of this duo as we read along their interviews or heard them talk on news channels (NDTV and CNN-IBN more prominently). But I, for one, happened to stumble across the two not too long back, while checking out Coke Studio’s second edition episodes (aired August’09) on the internet. Coke Studio, produced by Rohail Hyatt (founder member of Pakistani band, Vital Signs; also provided Background score for ‘Khuda Kay Liye’), is a series of live recordings by upcoming and popular artists in Pakistan who bring together their musical genius on stage. Artists like Strings, Noori, Shaftqat Amanat Ali Khan (of Fuzon) and Javed Bashir (of Mekaal Hasan Band) have enriched the second season with enigmatic compositions. For those of you who don’t know yet, you must visit the website to know more- www.cokestudio.com/pk.
Coming back to Zeb and Haniya, their live performance on the sets of Coke Studio allow for a perfect understanding of the kind of music they bring on board. ‘Chal Diyay’, performed with the alaap genius of Javed Bashir, resonates the classical lyrical brilliance that Urdu renders, along with portraying Zeb’s impeccable vocal training. This track provides a perfect entry point to understanding Zeb and Haniya’s roots. Another track, ‘Rona Chor Diya’, also with Javed Bashir, presents Haniya to us as a lead vocalist. The tune is very catchy and one warms up to it almost instantly. ‘Chup’, which happens to be the name of their first album as well, is a track which exploits the blues genre beautifully, as Zeb and Haniya blend themselves into the toned down percussion and guitar ensemble. One of their tracks, ‘Paimana’, which happens to be a personal favorite of mine, is performed in Pashto/Darri- the composition includes the Rabab, the sounds of the instrument are captured to render the Afghan-folk origin that the song originally is.
They have also cut a music video for one of their songs, ‘Aitebar’, which can be viewed on YouTube.
So, after YouTube-ing and exploring more of Haniya and Zeb on their web-page and various Pakistani media, I really have come to appreciate their music. Not just because they’re women from the troubled region NWFP who have made it big in their country, but because they have come to represent Pakistan’s ‘people’ identity. Writhing under political pressure, we rarely get an insight into the lives of ordinary people living ordinary, everyday lives. Zeb and Haniya work together as artists in a country struggling against stereotypical perceptions and emerge as totally un-alienated citizens of their country.
Though their album ‘Chup’ (2008) hasn’t been released here in India, their music can be heard on their myspace page and downloaded from http://cdbaby.com/zebhaniya. Traveling to India will surely open avenues for their performing here in the future.
Coke Studio has made each of the songs performed in all of their 5 episodes available for download. One can browse through the official website to download or watch the live performances, as well as gain knowledge of the various bands involved in the celebration of culture and music. After Mekaal Hasan Band’s pathbreaking renditions to the evolution of music from Pakistan, it is indeed Zeb & Haniya who make an everlasting impression with their jazzed-up and blue-sy sounds.