Not another girl band!

I read about this “Pakistani girl band” a while ago last December but only got my hands on their album Chup a few months ago. Mutineers, Zeb & Haniya is not a girl band.

Zeb and Haniya are two Pakistani women cousins, Haniya Aslam and Zeb (Zebunissa) Bangash, who make fantastic music. Two weeks ago, they were awarded “Best Live Act” in the MTV Pakistan Music Awards. They are Pashtuns (Pathans) whose families are based in the town of Kohat in the North West Frontier province.

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Zeb & Haniya is the music I want to listen to on a Sunday morning/afternoon— great vocals; and not so mellow that I wander back into bed, but not so aggressive that I’m further traumatized the first few hours I’m up after a late night out. Their music draws on a number of different traditions– folk, the blues, jazz, rock, swing (!), ghazals, qawwali, Hindustani classical music, and Turkish and Lebanese music; Manish calls them a “little too pop,” but I think there’s more going on there.

They’ve received a fair amount of press in India and in the States because they defy outsiders’ expectations of the Pashtun valley. Last summer, they commented on music’s role in Pathan culture:

In their grandmother’s house in Kohat in the North-West Frontier Province, recall Zeb and Haniya, there were always “lots of harmoniums and tablas lying around.” Their uncles, “all big strapping Pathan men,” sang “beautifully.” And their grandmother too wrote and sang in three languages — Pashto, Urdu and Punjabi… “We are not fighting our culture to make music. When Pathan families get together, there’s lots of fun, lots of food, lots of meat, and lots of music. That has been fading away from our experience and other people’s perception of Pathan culture. It is something we want to reclaim,” said Zeb.

While they sing mostly in Urdu, one of their ten songs, “Paimana Bideh,” on Chup is an adaptation of a folk song in Dari and Pashto:

Their video for the song “Aitebar,” which NPR PRI’s “The World: Global Hit” commentator Aaron Schachter playfully called “Clapton-esque,” features two modern dancers and is a far cry from the booty-shaking Bollywood video, for which I’m thankful. Here’s how they describe what’s going on in the video:

The basic concept is a woman who’s ended the relationship and she’s symbolically closing the house where she spent time with her partner, husband, we don’t know, that’s been left open. And as she goes through each room she relives a part of her relationship that coincides with what we’re singing about, the emotion we’re trying to express. So sometimes it’s anger, sometimes it’s hatefulness, nostalgia, freedom, some sort of tension.

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Zeb & Haniya began performing professionally in 2000-2003 when they were college students at Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges in the Pioneer Valley. Since graduating, they’ve built a solid fan base in Pakistan through their website and live performances. Check them out if you haven’t already!

40 thoughts on “Not another girl band!

  1. Love them. The video is lush and it compliments the song perfectly. Bravo.

  2. Aitebar was cool. Like the dancing in the video and the dude was kind of cute too.

    I also appreciate how none of the women in the video were half naked like a lot (all?) music videos nowadays portray. It might be risque for Northwest Frontier, but for our eyes, its very chaste and conservative. As a feminist, I appreciate that.

  3. The songs sounded pretty good, but does someone mind translating the second song for me.

    I also appreciate how none of the women in the video were half naked like a lot (all?) music videos nowadays portray. It might be risque for Northwest Frontier, but for our eyes, its very chaste and conservative. As a feminist, I appreciate that.

    Feminist or no feminist, it’s always nicer when you can watch something around other people and not feel awkward.

  4. It’s funny how we all see different themes. If my mommy were to see this video, she’d say, “See, [rob] you should have worn your “Fair and Handsome” if you wanted to date Iranians. Il n’y a pas de hors texte, indeed.

  5. Only 6 comments in til skin color was brought up? Wow. We are improving!

    Fair and Lovely has been forced upon desi women for decades now. You know Fair and Handsome was only a matter of time. Color issues not withstanding, its about time desi dudes start reciprocating with their womenfolk.

  6. Thanks Nilanjana for highlighting something positive about Pakistan. It makes a nice change.

    I thought the interpretive dancing in the “Aitbar” video was quite amusing, though the song itself didn’t really do much for me.

  7. Sorry, sorry, sorry for this nitpicking comment, but The World is distributed and co-produced by PRI (Public Radio International), not NPR. (Unfortunately, on the band’s own site, they link to the Global Hit segment in question and refer to it as NPR as well.) There’s also American Public Media, Public Radio Exchange and Pacifica, as well as individual stations – known as affiliates and member stations, which may only carry shows from these distributors but mainly operate independently of them – but the best shorthand for whichever distributor/producer is just “public radio.” I am just a huge fan of The World and therefore always disappointed when it’s recognized but mistakenly referred to as an NPR show.

  8. Premiumschlock, you’re not nitpicking at all. Thanks. I updated the information. Glad some of you are digging the music…

  9. Pardesi Gori wrote:

    Fair and Lovely has been forced upon desi women for decades now.

    Forced?? That’s a pretty strong word to use. AFAIK, nobody’s putting a gun to anybody’s head and making them use skin-lightening creams.

  10. I loved both the songs, and it’s really great that they have such a wide range of musical influences and sing in so many languages. Is Aitebar in Urdu? What does the title mean?

  11. Thank you. I have a feeling I’m going to keep coming back to that first song Paimana Bideh for another listen. I’m not sure why, but I like that the video had transliteration of the lyrics in addition to an English translation.

  12. I just realized that the transliteration makes it karaoke-ready. Not that I would attempt it! But it’s good for singing along in my mind too. :)

  13. If you’re feeding, I’ll bite.

    Forced?? That’s a pretty strong word to use. AFAIK, nobody’s putting a gun to anybody’s head and making them use skin-lightening creams.

    Folklore, culture, society, media and advertising are all forms of INTENSE psychological manipulation.

  14. love their music, and also the interpretive dance in the second video. it’s beautiful, so expressive of the music itself.

  15. Though their style is little pop for me but indeed a good start. Actually I’ve met quite few westernized Pathans from NWFP, mostly from elite families. They send their kids including girls to study abroad and do what regular western kids do, like dating and mingling with boys. But its the regular people who suffers. Just recently a budding Pashto singer Singer Ayman Udas “shot by her brothers for TV sin”.

    Ashamed of her growing popularity her two brothers are reported to have entered her flat last week while her husband was out and fired three bullets into her chest. Neither has been caught. The final song performed by Udas on screen seems to have portended her death. It was entitled, “I died but still live among the living, because I live on in the dreams of my lover.” Udas, a divorced mother of two, had remarried 10 days before she was murdered

    I discovered her few months ago, and boy she was good. Here are links to her two songs, video 1 and video 2.

  16. IT GIVES ME GREAT PLEASURE TO SEE THAT PAKISTANI WOMEN ARE BEING GIVEN THE FREEDOM WHICH THEY DESERVE THESE DAYS… [Comment edited by SM Intern.]

  17. the 2nd tune’s lovely. type of song one likes instantly, like harper valley pta (and the concurring video starring jeanie)

  18. like harper valley pta (and the concurring video starring jeanie)

    You are so 40!

  19. Ashamed of her growing popularity her two brothers are reported to have entered her flat last week while her husband was out and fired three bullets into her chest. Neither has been caught. The final song performed by Udas on screen seems to have portended her death. It was entitled, “I died but still live among the living, because I live on in the dreams of my lover.” Udas, a divorced mother of two, had remarried 10 days before she was murdered

    I can’t conceive of a sibling doing this to another sibling. Nor can I conceive that any family would be ashamed of any member who became famous.

    Why do you think they killed her?

    How shameful.

  20. SM intern, I SEE THAT YOU HAVE EDITED MY COMMENT FOR OBVIOUS REASONS, BUT IS RUNNING AWAY FROM THE TRUTH TO MAKE YOUR BLOG LOOK NON-CONTROVERSIAL THE SOLUTION TO THE BIGGER PROBLEM? I SAID NOTHING BIASED AND PREJUDICED. ASK ANY MAN ON ANY PART OF THE PLANET AND HE WILL AGREE WITH ME THAT MUSLIM WOMEN ARE TREATED IN A NOT SO FAIR MANNER. I HOPE YOU WILL BE ABLE TO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT, A BROADER VIEW. IT MIGHT HURT THE SENTIMENTS OF SOME PEOPLE BUT IF OTHERS DON’T POINT OUT OR CRITICIZE, THEY WILL NEVER CHANGE. IF YOU HAD CONSIDERED MY COMMENT AS RACIALLY MOTIVATED, I AM SORRY. BUT REMEMBER A RACIALLY MOTIVATED COMMENT WOULD BE SOMETHING LIKE “HALF PENIS CUT LOSERS DON’T KNOW HOW TO TREAT THEIR WOMEN” OR “THOSE MEN ARE A SHAME TO ALL MEN ON THE PLANET” OR “ALL THEY KNOW IS TO OBJECTIFY WOMEN AND THINK OF THEM AS BABY MAKING MACHINES” BUT I NEVER SAID ANYTHING LIKE THAT, BECAUSE I DON’T SHARE THAT VIEW. I BELIEVE THAT THOSE MEN WERE MISLED AND NOW IS TIME FOR FORGIVENESS AND SELF-REALIZATION.

  21. Prathik Raj – Shift key. Learn it, use it, love it. kthx.

    This is awesome – women should be able to speak for their own experiences rather than letting others paint them with a broad brush.

  22. Prathik Raj,

    Firstly: All religious extremists are misogynists, no matter which religion. I am a hindu woman and would like to demand equal treatment as hindu men, but hey, that’s not happening with the Indian attitude. I am more educated than most hindu men can dream about, but many hindus will consider me inferior to the uneducated men they pamper at home, not to speak about female infanticide among hindu community. I am telling you all this because from your name, I am guessing you are Hindu. It’s easy to point fingers at others, but much more difficult to change one’s own. Why are you so bothered about muslim women’s well being when hindu women are not doing much better ? The whole of south asia has abysmal records with respect to woman’s standing in society. So, look within, instead of yelling

    Secondly: All caps lock is considered as ‘yelling’ in cyberspace, and its very jarring to eyes; please stop it.

  23. Prathik Raj, why don’t you take part in campaigns saving countless baby girls that will be aborted in Punjab? What about campaign to stop dowry killing? What about eve teasing?What about western tourists who were raped by educated Indian men?

    And about the penis joke, you know what they called non-circumcised men right?

    On the lighter note, their voices are soothing and refreshing.

  24. And about the penis joke, you know what they called non-circumcised men right? On the lighter note, their voices are soothing and refreshing.

    Circumcision is a form of infant abuse, in my opinion. On the other hand, as adults their members are better looking and more practical for their partners. But then the men miss out on so much because there are a lot of nerve endings in that part and if its cut off, it cuts down on the pleasure.

    You will some, you lose some. But what is this thing about soothing and refreshing voices? Whats that all about?

  25. “But what is this thing about soothing and refreshing voices? Whats that all about?”

    I was referring to Zeb and Haniya.

  26. Nilanjana-Thanks again for the article and do keep up the positive work.

    I think this world is getting closer since the advent of cable and internet. People are learning, there are nicer people across the border too. In my view there are only two types of people, oppressors and victims.

  27. I hope that these girls keep safe, and that’s all. Their Pashtun countrymen won’t appreciate this one bit.

  28. v.refreshing…….paimana is such a cool drink and so was ahaan…

    relatively speaking, why does pakistan come up with better non-filmi musical acts that have a stronger lyrical content than your regular bollycrap/indipop…..?!

  29. From Pakistan to beyond Iran, there are many talented musicians, poets and writers, who are not getting to showcase their talent due to the political conditions there. Politicians, dictators and fanatics should never interfear and keep themselves out of any activity which unites the people, specially activities like Music, arts, films, Sports etc.

    We all remember the Respected late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Junoon etc. But this girls music reminds us about the late Nazia Hasan, her music was super good, gr8.