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By Eric Sean Weld   Date: 7/29/09 Bookmark and Share

Alumna CD Bridges Western, Middle-Eastern Cultures

Last year, Haniya Aslam ’02 released a CD of her original popular music, produced with her creative partner Zeb Bangash, a Mount Holyoke College graduate. Normally, that event might not warrant much media attention. But in some parts of the duo’s native country of Pakistan, an album of popular music by two women can be controversial.

The album cover of chup. Click on the image for an enlarged view. To listen to sample tracks, visit Zeb and Haniya's MySpace Web site. Also, visit their band Web site.

Popular music—and music in general—in Islamic cultures such as Pakistan is met with mixed reactions, from contemptuous shunning based on religious interpretations to youthful exuberance, and everything in between.

“Music is a thorny issue in many Islamic societies,” writes Margaret Sarkissian, professor of music, in the syllabus introduction to her course “Popular Music in the Islamic World.” “There is often tension between hardliners who believe that music has no place in Islam and thus try to prohibit it and those who tolerate it, albeit within well-defined parameters. The debate intensifies in the case of popular music.”

In Pakistan, while popular music and female musicians are embraced around urban areas such as Karachi, the capital city, Lahore and Islamabad, in rural areas music is often considered antithetical to the Kor’an’s tenets.

Ayesha Siddiqui ’08, of Pakistan, has noticed mostly favorable attention given to Aslam and Bangash’s album. “They might face some issues when it comes to certain small parts of the nation, such as tribal areas or the Taliban-controlled locations in the north,” she explained. But “Zeb and Haniya are being embraced by the younger generation and really appreciated for their simple-yet-modern songs that seem to draw on the best of everything.”

The Josten Library for the Performing Arts recently acquired a copy of chup, the women’s debut effort.

Chup features a jaunty Western pop sound with drums, bass and guitars backing up intricate layers of vocals. The melodies, such as in the first cut “Rona Chor Diya” and later, “She Na Sakay,” interlace Western harmonies with lilting, middle-eastern modal intervals.

Some tracks, such as “Kabhi Na Kabhi,” weave a mysterious, bluesy arrangement, scoring a sassy trumpet solo amid the multiple vocal tracks.

The album displays the women’s versatility as composers and arrangers. The song “Paimana Bitte,” a melancholy ballad with faded-in, processed guitar pads, and “Chal Diye,” a simple, plaintive tune, are in contrast to a sprinkling of driving rock numbers on the album. Throughout the collection, the rhythm pulses some version of a four-beat tempo, the most common rock meter.  

“Zeb and Haniya have issued a well-produced, appealing and danceable first recording,” said Marlene Wong, head of Werner Josten Library. “They are a wonderful singer-songwriter team. Smith has so many talented alumnae that have gone on to have creative and significant careers. This CD is a timely footnote in the exploration of music and gender, with a Smith connection.”

Regardless of the language barrier, chup is an accessible collection of music. Its ten songs provide a spectrum of listening experiences while combining sounds and styles that bridge Western and Middle Eastern traditions—a reflection of its creators. 

Chup is available for purchase on iTunes and on the group’s Web site. It is also available to check out from the Josten Library.


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