Last weekend belonged to Meesha Shafi.
The popstar had two back-to-back releases on two major platforms, the iconic Coke Studio in its 2020 season and, the newest kid on the music-show block taking the scene by storm, Velo Sound Station. Both songs caused quite a stir online but, most notably, it was her interpretation of the late Nazia Hasan’s Boom Boom that proved to be a just a tad more popular.
Na Tutteya Ve
The season opener for Coke Studio, Na Tutteya Ve [I Will Not Break], is a feminist anthem sung by all of the women who are featured this season. This includes, other than Meesha, the likes of Fariha Parvez, Sanam Marvi, Sehar Gul Khan, Wajiha Naqvi, Zara Madani and Nimra Rafiq who is back on backing vocals. The song uses the perspective of working class women to address the everyday harassment and denigrations that pretty much every woman in Pakistan, nay the world, has faced at some point or another.
In addition to lending her vocals to the song’s main verses and chorus, Meesha, separately, has a Punjabi rap section that hits hard, in terms of its messaging. It invokes the stories of popular Pakistani folk heroines such as Heer (Heer Ranjha), Sassui (Sassui Punnhu) and Sohni (Sohni Mahiwal) but from the female perspective. Enough of romanticising their suffering at the hands of patriarchy, there is no glory in that, it’s time to face some hard truths.
Some of the lyrics that stand out are: Howe nah dunya noon khabar/ Mere dil di qabar wich nap laine main saare khaab/ Te khaabaan noon jaandi sarak/ Utte baith ke akkhiyaan ne wekhi e raah/ Saare lok gawaah/ Is reet riwaaj ne rol ditti har Heer, Sassi, Sohni/ Te naale Laila di na suni kise ne wi aah
[The world is not aware/ That in the grave of my heart, I have buried all of my dreams/ And there is a road which goes to these dreams/ Sitting by this road, my eyes have observed a path/ All the people are witness to the fact/ That these rites and customs have crushed every Heer, Sassi and Sohni/ And no one heard Laila’s anguish either]
Meesha Shafi returns with two powerful numbers in the same week on two different platforms and channelling two different energies
Other than the poetry, so much about rap is the attitude and the emotion in the delivery, which Meesha gets perfectly. Of course it helps to have a younger brother, Faris Shafi, as one of the country’s most well-known and respected rap artists helping you with it.
“I came here to troll Meesha Shafi but ended up staying for the song and liking it,” one user wrote in the comments section of Boom Boom’s YouTube link.
This Velo Sound Station production, is as much a visual treat — using 90s music video-esque animations in the background, with a part of the lyrics featured in a creative karaoke style — as it is rich in sound.
It’s not a straightforward cover, that would be predictable and boring. This begins like a whole new song, with the intro lyrics in English, before Meesha launches into the pre-chorus, Tu mila, mila sahara/ Bin teray nahin guzara/ Roz naye sapnay dikhanaywalay in a delivery that gives me goosebumps every time I hear it because of just how haunting it is — it almost feels like she’s channelling the spirit of the late Nazia Hasan right there.
Her performance is full of energy and soul and even though she’s made it her own with the additional lyrics and treatment of the song, there’s such a strong feeling of pure nostalgia when listening to the song. It’s like you’re transported from the present to the past, back to the present and again into the past and the cycle goes on. A part of it has to do with the production as well, the pre-chorus always has that slight echo-y feel to it, as if you’re listening to it from an old cassette player somewhere in the background. Boom Boom is an improvised cover for the ages.
Originally published in Dawn, ICON, December 13th, 2020