US diplomat writes and sings Pashto song for Malala

Published: December 7, 2012
There’s need to encourage young girls in education and leadership; that’s the basic message of my song, says diplomat. PHOTO: AFP

There’s need to encourage young girls in education and leadership; that’s the basic message of my song, says diplomat. PHOTO: AFP

There’s need to encourage young girls in education and leadership; that’s the basic message of my song, says diplomat. PHOTO: AFP There’s need to encourage young girls in education and leadership; that’s the basic message of my song, says diplomat. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD: A US diplomacy official has written and sang a Pashto song “Jenaiy”, which means “girl”, as a tribute to Malala Yousufzai, the teenager who was shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting education for girls.

She has taken a novel approach to diplomacy in Pakistan – singing in a local language to build bridges, where anti-Americanism runs rampant.

Shayla Cram, a public diplomacy officer assigned to Peshawar, the gateway to al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds in the northwestern tribal belt, has not only learnt Pashto but has penned her own Pashto-style song.

It features Cram on guitar and vocals and a Pakistani musician, Sarmad Ghafoor, on the rabab — a traditional stringed instrument — and urges girls to have hope for the future and pursue their dreams.

“There’s definitely need in Pakistan to encourage young girls and females in their education and leadership, to make them young leaders, and that’s the basic message of my song,” Cram told AFP.

Women in Pakistan, particularly in northwestern rural areas, are frequently treated as second-class citizens, subjected to horrific violence in the name of family “honour”, and denied education.

Nationwide, fewer than half of women can read and write and militants are violently opposed to girls going to school — as showed by the October attack on Malala, now recovering in Britain.

Despite the anti-American feeling, Cram says the song has had a good response so far. She now plans to work with local musicians to record a whole album in other Pakistani languages.

“I would say 97 percent has been overwhelmingly positive and the other few people who have said that (given negative reactions), for example on our embassy Facebook page, are always our harshest critics no matter what we do,” she said.

Pakistan-US relations are on the rebound from a series of crises in 2011 that saw a CIA operative held for double murder, Osama bin Laden killed by US troops and botched air strikes kill 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Peshawar is regularly hit by militant bombings, including a deadly suicide attack on a US government convoy in September — and American diplomats’ movements are tightly controlled due to security worries.

Reaching out across the airwaves is a cheap and easy way to get around the frustrations of restrictions to make contact with people, Cram says.

“How can you do that for example in Peshawar when you can’t leave the (consulate) gates? How do I reach someone’s heart and let them know who I am and what I’m about as an American when I can’t physically go out?” she said.

“One of the most effective ways I think is through music, because it’s something people can connect to and understand in a simple way.”

The 29-year-old is no stranger to the musical limelight — she taught herself the guitar while working in west Africa, writing songs about HIV/AIDS and child trafficking that were still played on Togolese radio after she left the country.

While the embassy has been supportive, Cram received no financial assistance.

“Jenaiy” was recorded in a studio with the help of Pakistani friends in the music industry, and a slick video was shot in someone’s garden on the edge of Islamabad. The track has been sent to radio stations across the northwest.

Pashtun culture has a rich and vibrant musical tradition, but critics warn Cram faces a tough task in trying to win over the public.

Sher Ali, a music journalist for English-language newspaper The Express Tribune, said success would depend on how much air play the track gets.

“The key is to get on the regional networks which connect to people in the grass roots,” he told AFP.

“The music is very mainstream and will connect with a certain class of urban listener, but Pakistan is very divided and a lot of the population you want to connect to with this message is working class or in rural areas.”

Rasheed Safi, head of news at Buraq Radio, one of the biggest stations in the northwest, welcomed Cram’s efforts but said her accent — picked up from her Afghan teachers in the US — might put listeners off.

“This is a good attempt and I appreciate that a US diplomat has learnt Pashto language and then sung a song, but the accent is Afghani which is less attractive for Pakistani Pashto music lovers,” he told AFP.

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Reader Comments (37)

  • Dec 7, 2012 - 1:17PM

    What about the other girl that was shot?


  • Danish
    Dec 7, 2012 - 1:19PM

    wow! thats really great.


  • Ammar
    Dec 7, 2012 - 1:24PM

    I wish the coming generation starts applying it’s own thinking than blindly following media hype. Never heard a song for Edhi and his likes…..


  • Adeel
    Dec 7, 2012 - 1:43PM

    they should write something for those hundred thousands other people killed due to their wars and invasions!!


  • RKM
    Dec 7, 2012 - 1:47PM

    I guess this Malala episode is being dragged now.


  • True Picture
    Dec 7, 2012 - 2:28PM

    What about those 40K innocent civilians killed in Pakistan since your Governments war on terror in Afghanistan? What about those innocent civilians killed by your governments drones? no songs for them? no appreciation for them? I guess only Malala is more special to US since she & her father used to be in many meetings with US envoy’s while rest of us Pakistanis are terrorists & have no right at all because we oppose your governments unjust war’s.


  • shariq
    Dec 7, 2012 - 2:37PM

    FBI/ CIA stunts


  • Pakistani
    Dec 7, 2012 - 3:36PM

    appreciate what’s being done rather than complain about what’s not!

    but on another note, Mehzar Ali deserves coverage too. Because she, too, was shot on her way to school, was a Shia, and her father was assassinated in front of her eyes. I think it’s reason enough.


  • kakar
    Dec 7, 2012 - 3:46PM

    Malala is a brave girl and every girl in that area is Malala she is symbol of courage, it seems those who are worried about the other girls dont have courage to swallow the fame of Malala , she is the ambassador we dont want people to write on others except her , best of Luck Malala n other girls ,thumbs up for this American woman n Malala , and this song is for a specific community who have had lost their 5 million people in the last 4 decades


  • SurelySure!!
    Dec 7, 2012 - 4:16PM

    ,,,,,,,long way to go………


  • Umer
    Dec 7, 2012 - 4:20PM


    What about the other girl that was shot?

    You are free to write and sing something for her. Who is stopping you? Instead you complain if someone is making an effort. Stop complaining start contributing.


  • Usman Lakhani
    Dec 7, 2012 - 4:21PM

    As if Malala is the only victim of this war!


  • True Picture
    Dec 7, 2012 - 4:56PM

    there have been, & are, many other renowned social workers too but only the ones that are in the interest of US are shown around the global media, fact :)


  • ahmed41
    Dec 7, 2012 - 5:35PM

    “—– but the accent is Afghani—” OK, one can not help that. Never mind the accent , the sentiments behind the process is greatly to be appreciated.


  • Arian
    Dec 7, 2012 - 5:41PM

    “This is a good attempt and I appreciate that a US diplomat has learnt Pashto language and then sung a song, but the accent is Afghani which is less attractive for Pakistani Pashto music lovers,” he told AFP.’

    That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard. Afghans speak pure Pashto as opposed to Pakistani Pashto, which has incorporated Urdu and English into their dialect. Being a contrarian must give this guy some satisfaction.


  • Renee
    Dec 7, 2012 - 5:50PM

    Shayna is my good friend from high school. She is a remarkable person, and I could not be prouder of her and her work!


  • Dec 7, 2012 - 5:59PM

    Very funny. How about singing over the heap of dead children burnt to death by the drone attacks from your beloved country …

    TO THE MODERATOR: Plz do tell me why do I have to post my comments twice everytime I want it to appear on ET’s writeups.


  • Roti, kapra aur..
    Dec 7, 2012 - 6:14PM

    @umer many songs written and sung for innocent children killed by USA.. but ET doesn’t report it


  • Umer
    Dec 7, 2012 - 7:36PM


    Very funny. How about singing over the heap of dead children burnt to death by the drone attacks from your beloved country …

    How about it? If you are really so concerned about them and are not just scoring political points then how many songs have you sung for them? Seems you want to do nothing but bicker at everything. Easiest thing to do in the world.


  • Khan
    Dec 7, 2012 - 8:18PM

    Why do people always say “what about the other girls” when they hear something about Malala? Are they really concerned about the “other girls” or they are just trying to make a useless point?


  • David K
    Dec 7, 2012 - 9:00PM

    Topi Drama = another Psy Ops for Pakistani People !!!


  • Raj - USA
    Dec 7, 2012 - 10:13PM

    Despite the excess, an opportunity is presented here on a silver plate. Pakistanis should try to use this to their advantage. Many leaders have often said that they would convert every difficulty to an opportunity. Here it is.

    Imran Khan ……. Go for it and grab the opportunity. You introduced entertaining songs in your jalsa. You have young and talented musicians in your party. You also have your own internet radio.


  • Parvez
    Dec 8, 2012 - 12:02AM

    Reading too much into this is a mistake.


  • doom
    Dec 8, 2012 - 12:11AM

    @Adeel @Pakpower @True Power @Javed

    Agree with Umer. Why don’t you guys write songs about Kainat and Shazia and the 40,000, and Edhi, and the children killed by drones? We all anxiously await your contributions.


  • tariq querashi
    Dec 8, 2012 - 12:50AM

    why doesnt she write and sing for her own troops who die in afghanistan?


  • Rabia
    Dec 8, 2012 - 1:12AM

    She should have written 50,000 songs about 50,000 WoT victims.

    and why is she encouraging sub-nationalism by writing songs in Pashto? What is wrong with Urdu? Recommend

  • Drone victim's kid
    Dec 8, 2012 - 2:45AM

    A very nice gesture, auntie!


  • PakArmySoldier
    Dec 8, 2012 - 4:14AM

    Did you see the song? It’s says at the beginning that it is dedicated to all the women in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Dec 8, 2012 - 9:00AM

    Great going madam. This is thoughtful and compassionate of you to show love for Malala and girls in Pakistan. Let us make this song a success and pervasive. Thanx again. Salams


  • Dec 8, 2012 - 9:24AM

    @Umer: Agreed. You can also write a song for Shazia and Kainat. If Shayna has gone ahead and done it, good for them (Malala and Shayna).

    PS: Shayna, it will be a very big contribution from you if there was not so much partisan underlay to it. Salams


  • Dec 8, 2012 - 12:55PM

    @umer, @PakArmySoldier, @doom
    What we are pointing out to you all is that this is a Psy-op…a psychological operation radicalizing you in the face of the Taliban threat…the Malala episode has been dragged so long that it is more than evident now, except as we can see for a select few….Recommend

  • Amjad Jawaid Khan
    Dec 8, 2012 - 10:03PM

    Dear Friends,

    Any thing that is done with good faith is always good & positive. In Pakistan there are hundred’s of Malala we salute to them all. Every girl that was killed in Drone attacks & others, is not a thing to be forgotten.

    We have not heard that Pushto song> To sing a Pushto song by American Diplomat most amazing thing is writing of that song. Very difficult & its translation into Pushto will make the song less important. Pushto language is one of the most difficult language of the world. And poetry is even far difficult. If Shayla Cram has done it. I wonder, she is a great poet.But Pushto of Afghanistan & Pakistan we speak is much different. But it would be after hearing this song. What results are expected. But it is a great trial.


  • Elena
    Dec 8, 2012 - 10:13PM

    Shayna is one of the most amazing people I have ever met. For all those who are questioning her motives, this is not her first time leaving her mark in the world through song and motivational messages. She has spent her life traveling the globe and advocating for those who’s voices cannot be heard. She is truly incredible and all of her effort comes from love and compassion. I am proud to call her my “sister.”Recommend

  • Javed
    Dec 10, 2012 - 1:56PM

    Oh yes, quite agree with you. We should rather ‘sing’ about those dead kids ruthlessly murdered by our so called Ally on what we call ‘war on terror’, for want of a better word. Interesting….
    Hard to keep a straight face over your statement pal…


  • Dec 10, 2012 - 11:13PM

    why she is not writting about Dr, Afiya Saddiqi


  • Dec 11, 2012 - 11:06AM

    I appreciate that a US diplomat has learnt Pashto language to connect with the people and then sung a song, but the accent is Afghani which is less attractive for the local Pakhtun listener’s.


  • nazarrabi
    Jan 6, 2013 - 12:15AM

    I appreciate that a US diplomat has learnt Pashto languauage….nice work keep up the good work to free our pashtuns weman..


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