For folk duo Zebunnisa Bangash and Haniya Aslam (popularly known as Zeb and Haniya), music has always been a journey — from singing at family events as children to jamming through university life, they have come a long way. Another milestone in their musical journey was the release of their single “Kya Khayal Hai” on the Indian TV show “The Dewarists” dubbed by many as the non-commercial version of “Coke Studio”.
The show, which is part music documentary and part travelogue, features various artists collaborating to create original music while travelling to different locations across India. “The Dewarists” has garnered some of the biggest names from across the globe, such as Grammy award-winning singer Imogen Heap and classical folk band Indian Ocean among others, to collaborate with stalwart Indian musicians Vishal-Shekhar, Mohit Chauhan and Shantanu Moitra. Therefore, Zeb and Haniya’s inclusion seems fitting due to their impact on Pakistani music through which they have encouraged female bands to take up the profession.
The process was such that each team was given four to five days during which they got together to compose the song. Appearing in the second episode of the series, the duo collaborated with Bollywood heavyweights like Moitra and Swanand Kirkire to produce “Kya Khayal Hai”.
In the episode, Zeb and Haniya were seen exploring Mumbai and travelling through the city in a bus, in search for inspiration to create music with the Indian composer Moitra and lyricist Kirkire. The episode, which portrays how cross-border collaborations can transcend politics, also has a hilarious tinge with Kirkire disclosing his habit of writing lyrics in the restroom.
The song, which is co-composed by Haniya, maintains a certain amount of simplicity as it largely focuses on the melody and lyrics. The duo, once again, showed vocal diversity as they sang in Urdu, Hindi, Dari (the Persian court language) whereas Moitra added a touch of Bengali to the song. Haniya and Moitra provided backing vocals while Kirkire gave husky vocal performance that complements Zeb’s beautiful voice.
“The track ‘Kya Khayal Hai’ came about very naturally when the four of us came together. We have been listening to Shantanu and Swanand’s music for a while now, and they had also heard some of our tracks from ‘Coke Studio’,” said Haniya. “It was a great experience as it turned out to be a true collaboration, probably because of the instant connection and mutual trust. Other than that, the process of recording in Mumbai was fun as well.”
Appreciation in India
Their induction in the programme also highlights the fast-growing popularity of the Zeb and Haniya in India. Their Facebook fan page, which has over 160,000 followers, is testimony to their popularity. “Indian audiences have always appreciated and respected Pakistani artists,” says Haniya who plays the acoustic guitar. “Despite the fact that most Pakistani artists don’t officially release their music in India, people over there still have to access our music through the internet, hence many of our musicians and their work is well known across India,” she adds. So the opportunity to appear on “The Dewarists” comes as no surprise.
The cross-border collaboration also puts focus on the diminishing South Asian classical music tradition in the region. The band believes that classical music has been more in the background in Pakistan compared to India.
Meanwhile, the band is currently working out plans for the release of their latest extended-play (EP) album. “The EP is almost complete. We are still finalising the release details. We’re looking at several new avenues to disseminate the new songs and videos,” added Haniya.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 26th, 2011.