Zeb and Haniya are two Pakistani women cousins, Haniya Aslam and Zeb (Zebunissa) Bangash, who make fantastic music. Two weeks ago, they were awarded â€œBest Live Actâ€ 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.
Zeb & Haniya is the music I want to listen to on a Sunday morning/afternoonâ€” great vocals; and not so mellow that I wander back into bed, but not so aggressive that Iâ€™m further traumatized the first few hours Iâ€™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 â€œlittle too pop,â€ but I think thereâ€™s more going on there.
Theyâ€™ve received a fair amount of press in India and in the States because they defy outsidersâ€™ expectations of the Pashtun valley. Last summer, they commented on musicâ€™s role in Pathan culture:
In their grandmotherâ€™s house in Kohat in the North-West Frontier Province, recall Zeb and Haniya, there were always â€œlots of harmoniums and tablas lying around.â€ Their uncles, â€œall big strapping Pathan men,â€ sang â€œbeautifully.â€ And their grandmother too wrote and sang in three languages â€” Pashto, Urdu and Punjabiâ€¦ â€œWe are not fighting our culture to make music. When Pathan families get together, thereâ€™s lots of fun, lots of food, lots of meat, and lots of music. That has been fading away from our experience and other peopleâ€™s perception of Pathan culture. It is something we want to reclaim,â€ said Zeb.
While they sing mostly in Urdu, one of their ten songs, â€œPaimana Bideh,â€ on Chup is an adaptation of a folk song in Dari and Pashto:
Their video for the song â€œAitebar,â€ which
NPR PRI’s “The World: Global Hit” commentator Aaron Schachter playfully called â€œClapton-esque,â€ features two modern dancers and is a far cry from the booty-shaking Bollywood video, for which Iâ€™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.
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, theyâ€™ve built a solid fan base in Pakistan through their website and live performances. Check them out if you havenâ€™t already!