CARACHI: Breakthrough rapper Eva B has racked up millions of views online, but wandering the maze-like streets of her Karachi neighborhood leaves her nameless.
With her hair covered in a hijab and a veil falling below her eyes, she escapes the notice of fans and detractors alike.
“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. AFP from a rooftop overlooking the mega port city of Karachi.
Inspired by American rappers Eminem and Queen Latifah, she began writing lyrics from her bedroom and posting her raps on Facebook where she built a following.
Afraid of angering her family, she would sneak into music studios to record full length tracks with the help of other up-and-coming artists in her neighborhood, under the guise of studying.
But when the news reached her brother, she received backlash from her family who considered the gender indecent for a young girl and feared she would find it difficult to marry in deeply conservative Pakistan.
“Later they realized I was quite persistent so they turned themselves in. They realized I couldn’t be stopped,” she said with a laugh, adding that her mum is now supporting her in the studio. and on the board.
Eva B’s rise to fame accelerated this year when Coca-Cola’s international music franchise, Coke Studio, one of Pakistan’s most popular television programs, invited her to collaborate on its series 2022.
The clip of “Kana Yaariwhich features Eva B rapping in a bright orange hijab about the betrayal of a love interest, has over 16 million views on YouTube.
But unlike the other performers on the show, she shunned celebrity status.
“It’s strange living two lives. People know me, but at the same time they don’t really know me,” she said.
She finds it fun to wink at conversations in cafes or at friends’ weddings when people are talking about the latest Eva B.
On rare occasions, she says people recognize her by her eyes, but she always denies her stage identity.
“I’m okay with who I am. I can’t handle everyone,” she says of the media and fan attention she would otherwise get.
Industry ‘amazed’ by hijab
Most women wear some form of hijab in Muslim-majority Pakistan, but there are very few local pop culture musical artists who are veiled.
Walking into studios for the first time, industry producers and managers have often been “astonished”, she said.
“They reacted like ‘what is this? “, She said. “But everything quickly became normal.”
For Eva B, the hijab has always been part of her Muslim identity, but it has also defined her image as a rapper.
“These days, I wear more stylish clothes for music videos, so I stand out. But even then, I still wear my hijab,” she said, adding that she sometimes swapped the face veil for a pandemic era mask.
However, she grew tired of the conversation about the way she dresses.
“The media focused on my hijab rather than me…they do it for the hype,” she said. “It’s normal in my society. Don’t let it be breaking news.
What she does delight her is the stream of Instagram posts from girls and women who are thrilled to see a woman in a hijab portrayed in mainstream media.
“I’m happy to inspire them…make them proud of me,” she said.
But as a hijab-wearing rapper, the disapproval of not being “a good girl” is never far away, she says.
“There is nothing harmful in what I do, I openly sing songs and there is nothing wrong with that.”
Straight out of 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 booming hip hop scene.
With its proximity to the sea and history of smuggling, Karachi’s ethnically majority Balochi district is notable for its history of violence and lawlessness, even by Pakistani standards.
But the worst of the violence has subsided and an increase in security has led to flourishing creativity.
The beleaguered neighborhood now clings fiercely to its reputation for producing top footballers, iron-chinned boxers and, more recently, socially conscious rappers.
“We didn’t go to prestigious music schools, we learned everything by ourselves, driven by our passion. So I keep pushing Lyari forward and I’m proud of that,” she said.
The rise of hip hop in Lyari reflects the genre’s birth decades ago in New York’s Bronx neighborhood, where it was largely centered around street performances and featured lyrics that addressed social ills and life in urban ghettos.
Eva B also talks candidly about the difficulties faced by women and the disparity of wealth in Pakistan, even the sensitive issue of local corruption.
Her favorite song, “Bayani Rog,” in her native Balochi, tells the story of her development from a shy and nervous teenager to the confident and outspoken woman she is today.
“I realized that keeping quiet wouldn’t work, so I better speak up,” she said.