After their memorable “Coke Studio” performances, Zeb and Haniya garnered a huge audience in Pakistan as well as abroad.
The duo recently returned from their month-long US tour, which was part of the US State Department’s initiative Center Stage organised by the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA). It included 13 large concerts, a number of radio performances and other outreach activities. The pop-folk duo sheds some light on their tour experience and upcoming projects.
“Something I really, really like that has come out of this tour are the things people have been saying during our performances: ‘What is this sound? I have never heard anything like this before but I love it’,” says Haniya Aslam, vocalist and guitarist, referring to the audience’s response to the sound and music they created.
The US State Department’s new Cultural Diplomacy Programme has served the role of providing a proper platform and arena in the US to international artists. Instead of sending American artists abroad, they have invested in bringing artists such as Arieb Azhar, Noori and now Zeb and Haniya to the American public — something which private entities have failed to do.
“We expect Americans to have misconceptions about us and we have misconceptions about them as well but it’s actually quite a varied country,” says Haniya. “Now that we have travelled so much, we realised that the country’s pretty big. There are all kinds of people there and a lot of Americans have actually come from various parts of the world and have faced difficult situations. Thus people actually understood what we were talking about and where we were coming from.”
Speaking about the musical experience they had, vocalist Zebunnisa Bangash, known more popularly as Zeb, believes there is a level of receptivity when cultures reach out to each other and mesh together. “It didn’t matter where we were from, but it really felt like people were very receptive towards us, whether it was a freshman from college or a diplomat from Washington DC,” says Zeb. “There was also a lot of prior knowledge of South Asian classical music as well, just like we know a lot about American music.”
“For us it was a steep learning curve as most Pakistani bands only get to perform in desi settings for more desi crowds,” she continues, appreciating the opportunity they received. “But we had the chance of doing so many shows in front of new audiences and the sound was fantastic everywhere.” On the tour, the duo performed with a live band, including Amir Azhar, Hamza Jafri, Muhammad Ahsan Pappu, and Kami Paul.
Apart from their US tour, Zeb and Haniya have been busy with other projects as well, which includes their second album whose videos are close to completion. A tour in India is also on their current itinerary, which is being hosted by an Indian newspaper in November. During their stay there, they also intend on completing their project in collaboration with Shantanu Moitra and Swanand Kirkire on a show called “The Dewarists” — something the audience should look forward to.
“We sat down in the studio day after day and came up with tunes together — It’s been really interesting for us to go through this kind of a songwriting process with such great musicians and composers,” says Zeb, adding that Moitra and Kirkire took time off from their busy schedule and came to record tracks with the duo. “We all contributed something to most of the songs. The album is almost done. It’s a very musical conversation in that regard, so I am interested to see how it will turn out after we fuse our varying styles.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 3rd, 2012.