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Behind the veil: The double life of Pakistan rapper Eva B

Behind the veil: The double life of Pakistan rapper Eva B

The rapper's rise to fame was spurred by her Coke Studio debut 'Kana Yaari', featuring Kaifi Khalil, and Wahab Ali Bugti.
07 May, 2022

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, Eva B — Pakistan’s rising rapper — evades the attention of fans and detractors.

"It’s funny that people don’t recognise me, they play my songs but when I'm in front of them they don't know it’s me," the 22-year-old told AFP from a rooftop overlooking the mega port city of Karachi.

Inspired by rappers from the United States, 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 neighbourhood, 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 realised that I was quite persistent, so they surrendered. They realised 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 Studio — one of the most popular television programmes in Pakistan — invited her to 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 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 recognise her from her eyes, but she always denies her stage identity.

"I'm ok 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

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

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 became 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

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Eva B grew up in Lyari, a Karachi neighbourhood 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 neighbourhood 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 centred 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 favourite 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 realised that keeping silent won’t work, so I better speak up," she said.

Comments

1000 Characters
Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad May 07, 2022 11:38am
Which rapper doesn't have a double or even triple life?
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Ahmed May 07, 2022 12:10pm
A Muslim woman commiting a sin. How is that a double life? Aren't we all flawed. We all avoid and commit sins. There is no double life here.
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Imran khan (Mardan) KPK May 07, 2022 12:26pm
She only wants to use her hijab to gain fame.
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ram May 07, 2022 12:46pm
Cheap stunt for public attention
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Sure Jatt May 07, 2022 01:03pm
Some people want to move civilization in stone age in name of religion. This rapper is also one among them. Instead of working for equal rights for women , she is justifing & encouraging their repression.
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ST May 07, 2022 01:34pm
Absolutely rubbish.
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Parsa May 07, 2022 01:39pm
More power to her. Hijab and Anglicized name are contradictory. She needs to shed these false personas and be genuine.
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tammanna May 07, 2022 01:39pm
she has not heard of fatwas from muslim clerics that music is not permitted?
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Parsa May 07, 2022 01:45pm
More power to her. Hijab and Anglicized name are contradictory. She needs to shed these false personas and be genuine. I’m
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TPA May 07, 2022 01:54pm
Overhyped and not so talented
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M. Saeed May 07, 2022 02:01pm
Hijab gives her secrecy and mystery zoom.
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Naseer May 07, 2022 02:10pm
@Ahmed true that
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Javed May 07, 2022 02:21pm
It’s sad but her life. You have tell how beautiful she must be from just looking at her eyes.
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Mawlwawi Yasir May 07, 2022 03:08pm
Not surprised as many beggers , hookers , and now rappers using hijab for their gains.
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Mohsin May 07, 2022 03:22pm
This girl is soo cool. She is truly an inspiration for girls
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SF May 07, 2022 03:50pm
So what??
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FAZ May 07, 2022 06:52pm
@Sure Jatt Hijab is no oppression. Its a choice. Just like any other cloth. She has proved that its the society's acceptance that matters. 16M views cannot be ignored.
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Henchi May 07, 2022 07:33pm
What happens when she's nominated for MTV, Billboard or world musical award?
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Tadka May 07, 2022 08:39pm
Secret superstar script
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sher khan May 07, 2022 09:37pm
i appreciate her. keep it up!
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time_travel May 07, 2022 10:05pm
I wonder what his her third job.
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Biscuit May 07, 2022 10:05pm
@ram it’s not a “stunt”, its just rare to be rapper who wears a hijab and niqab. That’s literally it. honestly chill, man. She ain’t bothering no one. power to her.
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Biscuit May 07, 2022 10:08pm
@Imran khan (Mardan) KPK, and yet another example of a jealous fragile man who can’t bear to see someone just living their life.
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John May 07, 2022 10:33pm
@FAZ start wearing hijab
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Curious May 07, 2022 11:57pm
To all her haters, focus on her content. It's her choice she wears what. Leave your jealousy aside and enjoy the music. Imran khan Mardan you're are a genius. Why not produce some worthy art of your own.
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Tenjee May 08, 2022 12:02am
Anyone who has experienced the inner workings and interactions of the entertainment industry knows what sort of influences abound. Gaining entry into this industry is to stack the odds of coming out intact spiritually very much against you. That tattoo is a sign of a rebellious streak. I hope the hijab and haya wins out over the other influences. Cannot comment on her as an artist ... I don't listen to music ... blissfully disinfected from that craving.
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Nostalgia May 08, 2022 02:30am
Superb! Long live Layari and long live Pakistan!
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Hussain May 08, 2022 03:20am
So sad
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I love Pakistan May 08, 2022 08:27am
This is sheer hypocrisy.
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Switch May 08, 2022 09:35am
She has great rapping skills, the coke Studio song was awesome! Australian singer Sia is also remains anonymous, not through hijab, but with lampshades. The negative comments make me not want to visit Pakistan again. It seems like men police what women can and can't do. Sort your own lives out before judging others.
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Mumtaz Ahmed Shah May 08, 2022 09:57am
We salute the girl singer who belongs of downtrodden society i.e. Layri. ( Texas)
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Sobia May 08, 2022 03:09pm
Good job Eva B
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Helping hands May 09, 2022 06:57am
@tammanna tell that to the birds...and the universe
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NYS May 09, 2022 12:40pm
@Tadka same thought here
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Aiza May 10, 2022 06:16am
Not convinced.
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