Singing through patriarchy with a bit of desi jazz

Female musicians are redefining their musical identity - they are singing for power, for feminism and for love.

Shirin Gul February 21, 2011
So, three years too late I have discovered Zeb and Haniya.

I discovered them thanks to a friend's enthusiasm for 'waii waii', a term used in their Coke Studio rendition of Paimona Bitte.

The ‘waii waii’ women have brought a 'girls just wanna have fun' element into Pakistani music. While Paimona was the song that got me hooked, it is their song Chup (Hush) that makes me smile whenever I listen to it. It was different.

Pakistani and Indian love songs are usually all about the sacrificing, shy, scared and most importantly, submissive female. Sure, there was Nazia Hassan's Aap jaisa koi (Someone like you) or the perennial Piya tu ab toh aaja (Darling, come to me), but we all know these cabaret songs were meant to convey the message that 'females who sing in clubs are lustful'.

The ‘ideal’ woman is always conveyed through the Tuh hee mera mandir (You are my temple) in several hundred renditions of the concept.

Chup, however, was fun to listen to.

This was a Pakistani song that portrayed a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. Why waste endless energy on vows of virtue, promises of sacred love and shy longings when you have the guts to say 'shut up!'? Why not just tell him enough is enough, less talk, more action?

The expression in the song makes it all the more enjoyable. She flirts, chides and commands. She is coy yet sure of herself.

This self-assured woman is ideal for our society. She loves to love but refuses to be clobbered as a result of it. The song will strike a chord with all women who know their mind; women who are sick of being depicted as either the epitome of sacrifice or sex objects; and women who have had too many conversations with men who are only trying to impress but really have no idea what women want.

I might have been late to catch on to this trend but female musicians in Pakistan have set the stage for a powerful musical tradition.

Whether its Zeb and Haniya with the right amount of art, attitude and intellect or Meesha Shafi mesmerising listeners with her bold western sound combined with soulful eastern mysticism; Natasha Humera Ejaz with experimental poetry or Sanam Marvi with an ethnic voice  - these women are not singing to the tune of patriarchy, they are marching on their own!
Shirin Gul A development professional teaching culture and research at a local university in Islamabad.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Pakistani | 13 years ago | Reply really lovely read! and great to read this on Women's Day too! :)
Hussam | 13 years ago | Reply Yes that's right, go on and bring feminism in to every little thing. A word of advice. Don't take every little oppurtunity to shove your feminism down people's throats because you might very well find it shoved back. I believe in equal rights for women, but goddamn stop whining already. I can quote plenty of instances where women get preferential treatment compared to men just because of the fact that they're women. Also, many women use their sexuality to their advantage. You don't hear us whining about it all the time. Stop blaming your problems on the opposite gender and take some responsibility for your own failures and misfortunes. Oh and Zeb and Haniya aren't very talented. There are way more talented musicians in the Pakistani scene who do not get any recognition simply because they dont have the resources, or the media thinks they can't 'sell' them to the audience. Fact.
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