Born in Karachi, schooled in Peshawar and based in California, Pakistani-American musician Bohemia is the only globally recognised Punjabi rapper. The musician, who raps to poetry, gained global fame with his debut album Vich Pardesan De, which took the international rap scene by storm. The mastermind behind the catchy “Kaali De Naali” and “Ek Tera Pyar” was recently in Karachi and during his trip shared his opinion about desi rap music.
Bohemia, who started writing poetry at very young age, believes the setbacks he faced earlier in life have made him the star he is today. The rapper, whose family shifted to the US when he was 13, recalls his struggle adjusting to a new place where he didn’t even know the local language. “As fate would have it, my mother passed away soon after we moved and I left home after this. I was living on the streets and playing with some musicians when a close friend was murdered. Another went to jail,” the musician recalls.
When asked how one moves from poetry to rapping, the artist replies, “I believe it’s the same thing. When I moved to America, I felt I couldn’t connect with other desi children. The poetry I was writing was heavily inspired by famous Pakistani poets and I slowly began to recognise that I could connect the most with rap artists. Their music had the same message that I was trying to convey.”
Leading the way
Being a trendsetter in his own genre, Bohemia has a vast array of followers but none of them have managed to impress him substantially. “I’ve seen rappers from all over the world — as well as from India and Pakistan — but no one has thus far impressed me from the subcontinent,” says Bohemia.
“All the aspiring rappers around the world — desis in particular — need to realise that just listening to rap music and singing along the lyrics, while may be good training, will not turn them into artists,” he says, adding that being a rapper is more than just donning the outfit and wearing thick chains. Instead, Bohemia is of the opinion that rapping is not only a matter of saying some random lyrics; it is actually the expression of one’s own evolution. “Since you’re giving words to your own life, you better know yourself well.”
However, his disappointment with desi rappers doesn’t make him pessimistic about the future of rap in Pakistan. “Pakistan is an unpredictable country; you can expect anything out of it,” says Bohemia. “Pop was never a ‘desi’ thing but they made it their own with icons like Sajjad Ali, Awaz, Vital Signs and many others, who first understood the music and then composed their own songs. Pakistani pop is only called this because it is sung by Pakistanis, however, it is recognisable all over the world as part of the pop genre — this same concept should be applied to every sort of music. I’m sure about one thing — if proper rap music ever comes from Pakistan, it will be a customised version and people will love it.”
Bohemia’s own poetry serves as a constant reminder of where he comes from. When asked whose poetry has inspired him the most, the Pakistani-American rapper replies, “People like Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Mirza Ghalib are our icons and most of my poetry is inspired by them. For instance, in one of my songs, I talk about ‘going beyond the stars’, the idea of which is essentially taken from Allama Iqbal’s ‘Sitaron Se Aagay Jahan Aur Bhi Hain’.” He adds, “But it is only those listeners who have read the work of these great men will be able to make the link and find other influences in my work.”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 27th, 2012.