Notes from the Frontier

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Chat Pakistani musical duo Zeb and Haniya shares their love for Indian music and the music that defines them

Redefining boundaries Pakistani singers Zeb Bangash (left) and Haniya Aslam (right) Photo:M. Subhash
Redefining boundaries Pakistani singers Zeb Bangash (left) and Haniya Aslam (right) Photo:M. Subhash

Shopping at Laad Bazaar, hunting for old Urdu book stores in the Old City, a visit to the Birla Mandir and feasting on kachchey gosht ki biryani are on the to-do list of Zebunnisa Bangash and Haniya Aslam on their first visit to Hyderabad. “The city feels like home. A lot of our writers and artists are originally from Hyderabad and our pop culture is reflective of such influences. We have a lot in common,” says Haniya of the Pakistani music group Lahori Blues.

First cousins Zeb and Haniya's musical journey began in the university dorm when they were studying in the US. Homesick, they started jamming to the long forgotten tunes of Central Asia which they grew up listening to. “Music has always been a part of our family and as a family we used to sit and sing together,” reminisces Zeb describing their initiation into the world of music as an organic process. After a lot of appreciation from friends and family, they released their first single Chup online which became an instant hit.

Originally from Kohat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the North West Frontier of Pakistan, categorising their music is a little difficult. They have influences of Pushto and Dari folk songs, elements of Sufi and Turkish music mildly woven around contemporary jazz and the blues. In fact, Haniya admits that they weren't aware what a ‘genre' was till they landed in the US. Whether it's the old Dari folk song Paimona or their first single Chup , their music includes the ancient soulful notes of Central Asia in harmony with contemporary beats. But it is their performance on wildly popular ‘Coke Studio' (Pakistan) that spread their music across the globe. Haniya points out that shows like ‘Coke Studio' redefined mainstream music in Pakistan. “Coke Studio opened a lot of doors for independent musicians of Pakistan who were struggling for corporate sponsors,” explains Zeb.

Growing up in a music space where stars like Manna Dey, Lata Mangeshkar held equal admiration along with Abida Parveen, Farida Khanum, both feel that music transcends boundaries. “The fact that there is no organised music industry in Pakistan adds to our creative freedom,” explains Haniya. In the absence of any diktats, they have been able to create their own style. “As women musicians we were not objectified. We can act and dress the way we want to,” insists Zeb.

Talking about their growing popularity Haniya says, “The initial reaction confounded us but we don't want to limit ourselves and be open minded.” Their first collaboration Kya Khayal Hai with music composer Shantanu Moitra and Swanand Kirkire courtesy the music show ‘The Dewarists' was well received. “Indian music is slowly bridging the gap between Bollywood and contemporary independent musicians and we want to be a part of it,” says Zeb.

While Zeb believes in going with the flow and experimenting with a lot of things, Haniya gave up her job as a computer software engineer to take up music. “I want to do a Ph. D in Anthropology on music and probably teach,” reflects Haniya.

Zeb and Haniya were in Hyderabad as part of The Hindu Friday Review November Fest. The Lahori Blues comprises of Zeb Bangash as the lead vocalist, Haniya Aslam on rhythm guitar and vocals, Muhammed Ahsan on the flute, Amir Azhar on lead guitar, bassist Sameer Ahmed and Kami Paul on multi-percussion.





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