Maha Ali Kazmi, a young Pakistani of Kashmiri descent recently released ‘Nazar’, a love song that is being played all over the internet and on various television channels in Pakistan. Her relatives and acquaintances in Kashmir too have been listening to her number via internet and sharing it over various social networking sites.
Though 25-year-old Maha’s entrance to the long list of Pakistani female pop and rock singers is nothing new from an urban Pakistani perspective, but her debut is noteworthy given the ever-increasing opposition of religious extremists to the western influenced music in Pakistan and in her ancestral home in Indian Kashmir.
The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, an umbrella organization of various Islamist terrorist groups that emerged in 2007, dubbed music as ‘unIslamic‘ and targeted music shops and several singers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. A young Pashtun singer and dancer Shabana of Swat, for example, was shot dead and her body was left hanging against an electric pole. Ghani Dad, Ayman Udas, and several other singers who paid no heed to the death threats issued by the TTP met similar fate. Many singers eventually caved in and gave up their singing careers and many chose to switch from pop and rock genres to devotional singing. Some singers fled the country seeking political asylum abroad. On top of this, the Punjab lawmakers passed a bill in 2012 banning music concerts in educational institutes.
It was a time when the Pakistani society underwent ‘Islamization’ campaign under the Zia-ul-Haq military dictatorship, notes Pakistani cultural critic Nadeem F. Paracha in one of his blogs. As a result the urban Pakistan youth produced rock and pop underground through small gigs at schools, colleges and university campuses. The new wave that began with the queen of disco pop Nazia Hassan led to the birth of bands like Junoon, Vital Signs, Jal, Strings etc. Their popularity continued to grow in the Benazir Bhutto era and their numbers mushroomed during the modernization and liberalization program under General Musharraf’s dictatorship. Coke Studio, a Pakistani television series featuring live-studio music performances, that became a huge hit across the subcontinent started during Musharraf’s regime. But since the escalation of violence and terror and a volatile economy, the music industry has been floundering again.
Though Karachi is relatively safer, Maha says it is not easy for aspiring singers anywhere in Pakistan. “The overall political and economic instability and the rise of religious fundamentalist organizations in the country have affected the music industry. There are hardly any record companies around and hardly any music concerts going on in the country. One has to really struggle to find funds to finance one’s singing career here. My debut was supported entirely by my family and not any investors. “
Maha’s father, an ethnic Kashmiri from Srinagar, migrated to Pakistan in 1964. Music, she says is a heritage passed down to her from the Hindustani classical artist Wajid Ali Shah, the ancestor from her mother’s side. But it is her father, a music lover, who exposed Maha to his wide music collection ranging from Dire Straits to Nusrat Fateh Ali and Lata Mangeshkar. Enamored by the American legendary actress Audrey Hepburn and the songs featuring her such as Moon River, La vie en rose, Maha trained herself to sing and perform at school events and underground rock gigs before she was selected in an audition. Like all budding singers in Pakistan, Maha, a graduate in finance and microeconomics from MONASH University, Melbourne, will have to work on several self-funded singles before she can finance an entire album herself.
But not every Pakistani or Kashmiri girl is as lucky as Maha, she admits recalling the regret most liberal families including hers in Srinagar had this summer during her second visit, about the quitting of the Pragaash rock band. “It was understandable why the girls quit in the face of death threats issued by the orthodox and conservative elements,” she says.
“But if ever I am in such a situation, I will not back down because if Malala Yousufzai could stand up for her rights, so can I,” says Maha whose sensuality in the Nazar video stands in complete defiance of the prudishness of conservative sections of Pakistani and Kashmiri societies.
Source and Courtesy : TOI