There could not have been a warmer and more rewarding Indo-Pak dialogue. As the engaging young musical emissaries from Pakistan, Zeb and Haniya, delivered with an open heart and a passionate voice a collage of emotionally-resonant songs, the euphoric audience followed it up with cries of joy, sharp whistles and loud cheers. The compositions in Dari, Turkish and Urdu were beyond the comprehension of many. But, sometimes, language is hardly a barrier. And in the case of this band of cousins, it couldn't have been more real.
With no constraints of technique and genres, the duo's unchained melodies were about freedom of the mind and liberation of the soul. The songs — ‘Chup' that announced their arrival on the music scene, the bluesy ‘Aitbaar', ‘Dil mein kahin chupa lo' in the O.P. Nayyar mode and ‘Bibi Sanam' — were as vivid as their influences and artistry. Their music is also about optimism, destiny, dreams and memories, captured so well in the earthy and endearing Dari songs from Afghanistan ‘Layli Jan', ‘Amada Bodi' and ‘Paimona' (“we learnt this song sung for king Zahir Shah from Afghan refugee musicians”) or the Turkish folk song ‘Nazar eyle'.
“They reflect the cultural connect of not just the subcontinent but the entire Central Asia,” said Zeb and Haniya, post-concert, furiously signing autographs, acknowledging compliments and smiling for the cameras. “Many times during the concert, I avoided eye-contact with the audience fearing I would burst into tears. Our initial fears whether our renditions would go down well with Chennai-ites were completely misplaced. I am touched that they know so much about our work,” added Zeb clad in an elegant white Afghani designer wear.
The cousins were drawn towards music even as children, but a life divided between stage shows and recordings was never on their mind till some songs written and sung by them were uploaded on the Internet and established an instant connect with listeners.
Record clicks and hits later, they decided to release an album that made them the stars of the real world too. And then began the Pashtun girls' musical journey across time, genres and generations.
The musical arrangements of the rescheduled ‘Lahori Blues' that drew a packed house were simple but the outcome was anything but simplistic with Mohammed Ahsan's evocative flute refrains, Aamir Azhar and Haniya's impeccable guitar riffs and Kamran Paul's drumming that kept perfect pace and volume. Bass guitarist Sameer Aamir came into his own with a firm strumming of the strings in the Urdu-through-blues ‘Aitbaar'.
The lyrics of the Urdu numbers penned by Haniya were unfussy and straight from the heart, especially their popular “emancipation anthem” (as Zeb called it) ‘Rona Chod diya' and the ode to Islamabad with that beautiful line “Aas wohi dil mein liye, is arzoo mein hum jiye, tera haath tham kay lo hum bhi chal diye…” And as the audience demanded an encore, music seemed to have truly crossed borders and melded hearts.