August Issue 2008

By | Arts & Culture | Published 16 years ago

As Zeb first took the mike to answer a question at the press conference of the launch of Zeb and Haniya’s new album, Chup, she stuttered, before uttering, “Thank you everyone for being here.” And then in a humourously apologetic tone, she confessed, “I’m not too good at speaking.” Any jaded listener or partaker of the frequently pretentious underground scene would welcome this refreshing signifier of nervous excitement. Amidst the generation of egoistic, overconfident, self-appraising rock stars, a stuttering Zeb is a breath of fresh air.

Zeb and Haniya, who are coincidentally cousins, have been singing together since they were six. They cheerfully told the conference that they remember singing Sohail Rana’s songs together back in the day, increasing their amicable charm to the audience. But don’t let their early start mislead you, for they are no amateurs. Zeb has been training in eastern classical music for the past 10 years under the renowned Ustaad Mubarak Ali Khan, while Haniya is a guitarist and songwriter extraordinaire.

Her song ‘Mein Ne Rona Chor Diya,’ in her own words is an “emancipation song.” When asked emancipation from what, she replied with a smile, “Anything at all. Anything you need to be emancipated from.” ‘Aitebar,’ she says, is about “the mature ending of a relationship.” Topics as subtle as these only go to show how sensitive and believable her songwriting is — so different from the mundane themes of passionate love and devastating heartbreak that one frequently encounters in mainstream music. ‘Aitebar’ is not only a lyrical accomplishment, it’s music and video perfectly complement its lyrics. This bubbling blues track extends its effervescence to a waltz-cum-salsa dancing video. The title track and first release, Chup, has hit the air and is making waves on radio channels. All of the tracks on the album, with the exception of a Pushto song, are original compositions (an impressive achievement for an underground band). Two of the songs feature the acclaimed Norwegian jazz musician Hildegunn Oiseth on the trumpet.

Drawing inspiration from eastern and western classical, folk traditions, jazz music and blues, Zeb and Haniya are reputed to have, by way of integration of these genres, formulated their own genre. Slightly dubious of this pretentious claim, I asked Haniya about this ‘new’ genre and their alternative image, to which she replied, “For us, the product was the album. We didn’t know that by its completion we would be the product ourselves. The genre is not something we deliberately set out to make. We just wanted our music out there.” While pointing to the ominous emo punk image of herself on the album cover, she went on, “We didn’t think about genre, target market or image. We didn’t plan to project anything.”

Working with underground kings like Mauj, Koven and Mekaal Hasan, and getting signed to a giant label, Fire Records, does not seem to have shaken their refreshing down-to-earth nature. They spoke to reporter after reporter, humble, excited and repeatedly thankful — they are anything but the generation of image-obsessed, fame-hungry rockers that one is constantly bombarded with.