The talent behind a live dhol remix of Rihanna’s “Rude boy” that garnered more than two million hits on Youtube and Facebook is currently in the capital. While talking to The Express Tribune, the 18-year-old dhol player from Birmingham, Shahanara Taj, who is currently visiting Pakistan for the first time, said that she is living her dream.
Having witnessed her first dhol performance at the age of eight during the Vaisakhi Mela in Birmingham, Rani Taj, as she is popularly known, was awed by the pulsating rhythm and loud bass of the drums. Perhaps a little curious about the seemingly male-dominated performance, the British-born Kashmiri artist decided she too wanted to learn the trade.
“We weren’t sure about the etiquette in the beginning,” the dhol sensation confessed as she recalled her first lucky performance. The vibrations of Taj and her brother Aurangzeb’s practice had happened to escape through an open window, inspiring a passerby to knock on their door and ask them to play at a wedding.
Since Rani comes from a traditional Kashmiri background and lives in a predominantly Muslim community, her mother (and manager) was hesitant about the response she would get from a community that was not accustomed to the idea of a female dhol player.
“It was not animosity, but sheer curiosity,” said Taj, adding that once people were convinced by her passion and commitment to the craft, acceptance and respect followed naturally.
Through word-of-mouth, she began playing at weddings and small shows.
It wasn’t until 2010 that her live remix to Rihanna’s “Rude boy” became viral on Youtube and Facebook. It was after she had wrapped up a wedding performance that some enthused fans followed her to a parking lot, blaring “Rude boy” from their car speakers as they requested Taj for an impromptu dhol performance.
The young artist laughed as she recalled the spontaneous request that led to an Iphone video of her remix landing more then two million hits online.
Bhangra artists and enthusiasts may not have known her by name but she began to make waves as “the female dhol player”.
Though there were other women at Dhol Blasters where she took lessons from bhangra pioneer Ustad G Mall, they eventually dropped out. Soon after, she began training with Ustad Harijeet of the Azaad Group, where she was the sole female dhol player.
“My mother was also my ustad,” she said, acknowledging her mother as the backbone of her current success and future growth.
The inspiring teenager admits it was hard breaking into the music industry and gaining the respect of male artists.
“Men tend to feel threatened,” she said, adding that they were only used to seeing women as dancers but not as dhol players in the male-dominated bhangra music industry.
Taj has played with RDB, Imran Khan and 50 Cent among other acclaimed artists and has travelled with her dhol to Ireland, Norway, Denmark and the United States.
She advises young women around the world to follow their hearts. “Always push your boundaries. Push men so they can make room for women who have ambition.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 6th, 2012.