As ‘Shaheen’, an all-women qawwali group created in 2012 in Hassanagar, gets ready to perform for the World Music Day celebrations in the city, its members tell us about how the group was formed by the poet Jameela Nishat to give a voice to women in society. The team consists of lead singer Pooja, Sultana, Zehra Jabeen, Archana,Priya, Anitha, Suma Narayana, Farheen Begum, Shainaz Begum, Tasleem Begum and Amreen Begum.
The group lead singer Pooja Kagada was a seventh-standard school dropout when she joined the Shaheen Centre at Sultan Shahi to learn the art of making patterns with henna. Slowly, the organisation supported Pooja; now she is pursuing her graduation. “In the meanwhile, I started practicing music with the group, hoping to send across a message of women empowerment through music,” says Pooja. The group’s songs, written by Jameela Nishat, cover topics on dowry, child marriage and education, discrimination against girl child, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, the Nirbhaya case, freedom, etc. “I like the song Shaheen Hamara, which says education is the tool that makes girls equal in society. Women can change society and music is effective in conveying this message to the masses,” adds Pooja.
Walking the songs
Others in the qawwali group are also survivours. Young Tasleem Begum, for instance, who is now studying for her intermediate, was rescued from child trafficking. “Initially, my parents didn’t want me to sing. But they realise the importance of our singing, and that I am happily engaged and close to good, trustworthy people,” says Tasleem.
Shainaz Begum, on the other hand, was rescued from a child marriage. “Music for me was about listening to my sister humming songs at home. I used to teach henna art at the centre. Slowly, I got interested in the qawwali group and became a part of it. My message to all girls is to move forward and to never lose hope. No matter how negative your life has been, forget the past and move on,” she says.
Rolling on the notes
Given qawwali was a genre of music popularly associated with men, Shaheen had its ups and downs to prove their worth. Sultana Begum, another member of the group and a survivour of domestic violence, recounts how there were times when few of the members would come for practice secretly without telling at their homes. “In the past, with only men singing qawwali, our voices didn’t reach the common man. Even my father was upset on knowing that I was singing qawwali. But now, times are changing and we feel proud about having a strong voice through our music,” says Sultana, who’s been educating girls on various health awareness programmes for the past 14 years.