Eva B is Pakistan‘s breakthrough rapper who has garnered millions of views online. Yet, as she strolls through the labyrinthine streets of her Karachi neighborhood, she remains anonymous.
As she wears a veil below her eyes and covers her hair with a hijab, she evades the notice of her admirers and critics.
“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,” said the 22-year-old from a rooftop overlooking Karachi, a mega port city.
Eva B Followed Her Dreams
As an inspiration to American rappers Eminem and Queen Latifah, she wrote lyrics from her bedroom and posted them on Facebook, where she amassed a large following. To avoid angering her family, she would sneak into music studios to record full tracks with the assistance of upcoming artists in her neighborhood. She would claim to be studying to get away with it.
When her brother learned of it, she suffered the consequences of backlash from her family. As a result of their perceived indecency, her family was afraid that she would have difficulties marrying in Pakistan. The country is highly traditional.
“Later they realized 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 onset.
This year, Eva B’s fame increased when Coca-Cola’s international music franchise, Coke Studios, one of Pakistan’s top-rated television programs, asked her to collaborate for its 2022 series.
More than 16 million people have viewed the music video for “Kana Yaari” on YouTube. Eva B raps about the betrayal of a love interest wearing a bright orange hijab in the video. The artist, however, has avoided celebrity status, unlike the other artists in the series.
“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 in agreement if she hears someone discussing Eva B’s latest track in a cafe or at a friend’s wedding. Sometimes, she claims that people recognize her from her eyes, but she always denies being the person she is on stage.
“I’m ok with what I am. But, I can’t handle everybody,” she says, referring to the media and fans’ attention she would otherwise receive.
Her Muslim identity requires her to wear a hijab.
Most women in Pakistan, a Muslim-majority nation, wear a hijab covering. However, very few female music artists are wearing full clothing in the local pop culture. So when approaching studios for the first time, industry producers and managers are often left “astonished.”, she said.
“They reacted like ‘what is this?’,” she said. “But then everything soon became normal.”
For Eva B, her hijab has always been an integral part of her Muslim identity and defined her role 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.
Seeing a woman in a hijab in mainstream media is welcomed
However, she has grown weary of the conversations concerning 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.”
In addition, she enjoys reading the stream of Instagram messages from girls and women. The appearance of a woman in a hijab in mainstream media attracts women’s attention worldwide.
“I feel happy that I inspire them… that they feel proud of me,” she said.
Nonetheless, she says, as a woman rapper in a hijab, she is at risk of criticism for not being “a good girl.”
“There is nothing harmful in what I am doing, I openly sing songs and there is nothing bad in that.”
Growing up in Lyari: Eva B
Eva B grew up in Lyari, a gang-infested neighborhood in Karachi that has long been plagued by poverty and violence. Once considered one of Pakistan’s most dangerous areas, it has since inspired a generation of artists and created a thriving hip-hop scene.
Its closeness to the sea and its history of smuggling set apart Karachi’s majority Balochi neighborhood for its violent past and criminal activity, even by Pakistani norms. However, the level of violence has decreased. In addition, an increase in security has led to greater creativity. The neighborhood is now firmly tied to its legacy of producing top footballers, iron-chinned boxers, and ethical 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.
Lyari’s rise to prominence in hip hop is similar to the genre’s birth in New York City’s Bronx borough decades ago. The style of music is defined mainly by street performances and lyrics that concern social ills and urban ghetto life.
In addition, Eva B speaks candidly about the hardships women face in Pakistan. There is also a vast inequality in wealth in the country and a sensitive issue of crime locally.
Among her favorite songs, “Bayani Rog,” in her native Balochi language, tells the story of her journey from a shy, nervous teenager to the confident, honest woman she is today.
“I realized that keeping silent won’t work, so I better speak up,” she said.
Written by Nikiya Biggs