Pakistan’s breakthrough rapper Eva B has racked up millions of views online, but walking through the labyrinthine streets of her Karachi neighbourhood, she is anonymous. Her hair covered with a hijab and a veil falling below her eyes, she evades the attention of fans and detractors.
“It’s funny that people don’t recognize me, they play my songs but when I’m in front of them they don’t know it’s me,” the 22-year-old said from a rooftop overlooking the mega port city of Karachi.
Inspired by American rappers Eminem and Queen Latifah, she started writing lyrics from her bedroom and posting her raps to Facebook where she built up a following.
Afraid of angering her family, she would sneak to music studios to record full tracks with the help of other emerging artists in her neighborhood, under the pretext of studying.
But when word reached her brother, she received a backlash from her family who considered the genre indecent for a young girl and who feared she would struggle to marry in deeply conservative Pakistan.
“Later they realized that I was quite persistent, so they surrendered. They realized I couldn’t be stopped,” she laughed, adding that her mother now supports her in the studio and on set.
Eva B’s rise to fame was accelerated this year when Coca-Cola’s international music franchise Coke Studios — one of the most popular television programs in Pakistan — invited her collaborate for its 2022 series.
The music video for Kana Yaari, which features Eva B rapping in a bright orange hijab about the betrayal of a love interest, has more than 16 million views on YouTube.
But unlike other artists in the series, she has shunned a celebrity status.
“It is strange to live two lives. People know me, but at the same time they don’t really know me,” she said. She finds it amusing to nod along to conversations in cafes or at friends’ weddings when people talk about the latest track from Eva B.
On rare occasions, she says people recognize her from her eyes, but she always denies her stage identity.
“I’m okay with what I am. I can’t handle everybody,” she says of the attention from media and fans she would otherwise attract.
INDUSTRY ‘ASTONISHED’ BY HIJAB
Most women wear some form of hijab covering in Muslim-majority Pakistan but there are very few music artists in local pop culture who are veiled. Turning up to studios for the first time, industry producers and managers were often left “astonished,” she said.
“They reacted like ‘what is this?’” she said. “But then everything soon becomes normal.”
For Eva B, the hijab has always been a proud part of her Muslim identity — but it has also defined her image as a rapper.
“These days I wear more stylish clothes for the music videos so I stand out. But even then I always wear my hijab,” she said, adding that she sometimes swaps the face veil for a pandemic-era mask.
She has, however, grown weary of the conversation around how she dresses.
“The media has focused on my hijab rather than me... they do it for hype,” she said. “It’s normal in my society. Don’t let it be breaking news.”
What does delight her are the stream of Instagram messages from girls and women thrilled to see a woman in a hijab represented in mainstream media.
“I feel happy that I inspire them... that they feel proud of me,” she said. But as a woman rapper in a hijab, disapproval for not being “a good girl” is never far away, she says.
“There is nothing harmful in what I am doing, I openly sing songs and there is nothing bad in that.”
STRAIGHT OUTTA KARACHI
Eva B grew up in Lyari, a Karachi neighborhood haunted by gang violence and poverty for decades and once considered one of Pakistan’s most dangerous areas, but which inspired a generation of artists and spawned a burgeoning hip hop scene.
With its close proximity to the sea and history of smuggling, the largely ethnic Balochi neighbourhood in Karachi stands apart for its history of violence and lawlessness — even by Pakistan’s standards.
But the worst of the violence has abated, and an increase in security has led to flowering creativity.
The embattled neighborhood now clings fiercely to its reputation for producing top footballers, iron-chinned boxers and most recently socially conscious rappers.
“We didn’t attend any prestigious music schools, we learned everything ourselves, driven by our passion. So I keep highlighting Lyari and I’m proud of it,” she said.
The rise of hip hop in Lyari mirrors the genre’s birth decades ago in New York’s Bronx borough, where it largely centered around street performances and featured lyrics that addressed social ills and life in urban ghettos.
Eva B also speaks straightforwardly about the difficulties women face and the disparity in wealth in Pakistan, and even the sensitive issue of local corruption.
Her favorite song, Bayani Rog, in her native Balochi language, tells the story of her evolution from shy, nervous teenager to the self-assured, frank woman she is today.
“I realized that keeping silent won’t work, so I better speak up,” she said.
A while back, I came up with a ratio to determine whether it’s worthwhile to visit a particular location, what I call the transit-to-travel ratio. It’s simple: at a minimum, only one-tenth of the time should be spent in transit — car, bus, plane, train. A 20-minute MRT ride to Taipei’s Elephant Mountain, for example, and then a four-hour hike on the Taipei Grand Trail, counts as “making the ratio.” A High Speed Rail trip down to Kaohsiung and back and then several hours driving to and from the base of Jade Mountain to hike for one day is the
June 5 to June 11 After trying all day, reporters finally reached then-Peking University president Ding Shisun (丁石孫) by phone. It was around 6pm on June 10, 1989, the first day that Taiwanese could directly call people in China, and a week after the People’s Liberation Army began violently suppressing the pro-democracy student protests in Tiananmen Square. The reporters, who worked at the Liberty Times (Taipei Times’ sister newspaper), asked Ding about the situation at the school, whose students were the center of the demonstrations. Ding replied, “The students have all left!” When they asked whether any students or professors had been
It’s certainly been a pleasure watching the presidential campaign launch of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate Hou You-yi (侯友宜) lurch painfully about like a wounded pachyderm in search of an elephant graveyard. Hou’s fall to third place in some polls last week appears early, and it might still be recoverable. But grumbling in his party about replacing him has already begun. Indeed, all indications are that the party that twice gave us Lien Chan (連戰), the most despised politician in Taiwan, as a presidential candidate and later offered voters Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) and Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), is arcing along its normal
When Toi Windham co-organized a Black Lives Matter rally in Taipei three years ago, she received some unfriendly comments questioning the relevance of such an event to Taiwan. “They were like, don’t bring your American problems here, we’re not racist,” she says. While it’s true that African-Americans don’t experience the same overt racial tension here as they do back home, microaggressions such as constant stares, people trying to touch her hair or making insensitive comments are part of Windham’s daily life. Discriminatory hiring practices still occur. Plus, blatant racism toward Southeast Asian migrant workers and the indigenous community regularly make