Pakistani pop sensation Zeb and Haniya will evoke the rich and textured soundscapes of the East during their concert on November 4, writes Chitra Swaminathan
‘Chup’ (quiet) is their first song. Ironically since its release they have been constantly singing and talking about their music.
Zebunnisa Bangash and Haniya Aslam, the pop sensation from Pakistan, are cousins for whom music has been a passion from childhood. They would sing at family functions, but the two Pashtun girls didn’t take their musical talent seriously until they uploaded their songs on the Internet, while studying in the U.S. Penned and composed by Haniya and sung by both, the songs created a virtual fan base and were played even on radio channels in Pakistan.
Later, encouraged by friends and well-known musicians in Pakistan, Zeb and Haniya released an album. Its extraordinary success led them to do live shows across Pakistan, Europe and America. And then like they say there has been no stopping them.
How does it feel when passion turns into a vocation?
Zeb: It’s an amazing feeling… we are truly blessed that we are today able to live out some of our dreams. But I must say that everything is happening so naturally that at some level it has not even registered. We still feel that it is a journey that we have to continue and the best part is the overwhelming love and warmth we are getting from everyone.
Girl bands seem to disband very fast. What is the secret behind the success of the Zeb and Haniya band? How difficult is it to sustain popularity and good work?
Haniya: I don’t know if that is true in general, but Zeb and I aren’t really just a ‘girl band’. We’re also cousins and have known each other practically since infancy. And more than being related and being friends, we share a great creative dynamic, which is something rare. We may disagree on many things, but we always respect each other’s creative vision and insight. And perhaps that’s one of the main reasons behind our success.
Zeb: I think it’s also due to the fact that we understand and give each other space in our personal lives, and respect each other professionally. It’s interesting that we work well together but have our own styles of working, so much so that Haniya likes to work late into the night and I am a true morning person and like to get to bed early.
How is the response to your music in the subcontinent and in Europe and America?
Zeb: When we started off — before our album came out — the labels told us that the music was great and fresh sounding, but would only appeal to a niche segment. But when our music was released, we were surprised to know that we were being appreciated by a diversity of people. It felt great to know our music was appealing to a much larger audience than any of us had anticipated.
Haniya: Then through the Internet we reached our largest fan base outside of Pakistan, which is in India and it didn’t stop there. We’ve received emails from the most unexpected places, such as Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Brazil and Germany. We started getting invited for International performances and have performed in Malaysia, New York, Italy, Norway and France. Some of these shows had huge audiences, as large as 15,000 people.
Is it a conscious decision not to restrict your music to genres? Is it variety that draws youth to your music?
Zeb: No. It was not a conscious decision. We love all kinds of music and have always listened to such a variety that when we set out to compose and write our own music all kinds of influences quite naturally came together. We made whatever music we loved without being conscious of what genre it belonged to.
Haniya: In fact, I didn’t even know what a genre was till I went to college in the U.S. and my friends asked me what genre of music I listened to. I guess what draws any listener to our music is that we write songs which we ourselves would want to hear, and we try and let each song take its own form.
Most of your compositions are in Urdu, Turkish and Pashto. Has language ever been a barrier?
Haniya: Music truly transcends borders and barriers. And language certainly hasn’t been one for us. One of our most popular songs in Pakistan is ‘Bibi Sanam Janem’, with over two million YouTube hits. This song is in Dari, a language which is not understood by most Pakistanis. Similarly we have performed live in Europe and North America to audiences who are non-Urdu/Hindi speaking.
Zeb: It was so heartening to perform live in France to a totally French-speaking audience, and see them having a great time singing along with us in Urdu and Dari.
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