Pakistani girl band Garam Anday on their irreverent critique of patriarchy, through music

Anandamayee Singh

Dec 11, 2018 13:13:36 IST

Pakistani filmmaker Anam Abbas and doctor Areeb Kishwar Usmani describe the sound of their band Garam Anday as 'angry girl music'. Although only one ‘single’ old, Garam Anday is already getting rave reviews for capturing the angst of navigating the drudge of the patriarchy in Pakistan. The Express Tribune even included their single ‘Maa Behn Ka Danda’ in its list of Top 20 Pakistani Songs of 2018.

The accompanying music video is the antidote to an awfully long day of being ogled at, dismissed, pushed, and belittled in this exhausting man’s world. And then there are the visuals of these women—rocking darkly painted lips, piercings and colourful kurtas, shirts and burqas—beating up lecherous men, smashing screens showing sexist politicians, and wreaking havoc in the streets of Karachi and Islamabad.

The band comprises of Abbas and Kishwar Usmani, but filming and imagining the first song was a collective process. The lyrics are credited to the Garam Anday gang, the bass to Basim Usmani, and drums to Ibrahim Akram. Abbas mentions that she had the help of her friends Tazeen Bari, Zoha Hussain and Soha Tanwir Khan to film the video. Musician Haniya Aslam also came on as the producer for the music video. “We wanted to create a space where women can get together and make songs for women. In the future, we’re hoping to keep the entire process, from songwriting to producing, women-only,” says Kishwar Usmani.

Abbas says filming the video itself took over a year because of everyone’s conflicting schedules. Kishwar Usmani was in medical school, Aslam was busy with Coke Studio, and Abbas was working. They filmed without any capital, shooting a scene or two whenever people were available.

When asked about the origin of the band's name, Abbas claimed that their choice was simply funny, and not necessarily intentional. It was born, however, from realising the ridiculous way in which women’s bodies are talked about. “ I remember coming to Anam’s apartment from my obs/gynecology rotation and I was explaining and laughing about how ovaries were referred to as andey-daanis, how the vagina is referred to as bachey-daani, and how a man’s penis is called his mardaangi. We were having laughs about it. I feel like we came up with 'garam andey' shortly after that,” says Kishwar Usmani.

The aesthetic of the band, in their artwork and music video, stresses the importance they place on humour in their work. For example, one of the women in the video—reading Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale—plucks out an ogling stranger’s eyes and later rolls them across a chessboard. Their artwork is similarly tongue-in-cheek, with a pair of eggs on their EP cover, and posters featuring grinning skulls and the world imagined as an exploding bomb.

(Left) Cover for Garam Anday EP (Right) Poster for the single, 'Maa Behn Ka Danda'

(Left) Cover for Garam Anday EP (Right) Poster for the single, 'Maa Behn Ka Danda'. Images courtesy of Garam Anday

The band doesn’t spare themselves from being ridiculed either. In the closing shot of the music video, for example, one of the women puts on sunglasses over her eye mask, playing at the idea of trying ‘too hard’ to be cool. The idea is to not take any of it too seriously, but indulge in the absurdity of the hyperbolic fantasies nonetheless. “It was an exchange of energies, and we all love each other, so it’s always a party,” says Abbas, encapsulating the tone of the video perfectly.

Garam Anday isn’t entirely a party without a purpose. The video, and the process of filming it, was a concerted effort at reclaiming public spaces for women. “We drew huge crowds of jeering onlookers while we were filming, and that initially made me nervous, but a friend told me that I should consider this as a dialogue that we’re all engaging in,” says Kishwar Usmani. Watching a group of women brandishing sticks in the streets, and spray painting ‘Aurat March 2018’ on a wall is indeed a powerful experience. It is also, in consciously creating spaces for women, and openly rebelling against gender roles, reminiscent of the revolutionary, albeit predominantly white, Riot Grrrl movement in the US west coast.

Like Bikini Kill, one of the prominent faces of Riot Grrrl, Garam Anday is nonchalant about backlash. According to Abbas, since the video has been spread mostly through word of mouth and the English language press, negative comments have been minimal. “I'm waiting for some patriarch to hate-tweet it, and then maybe we will get some real hate,” she says.

The band is working on their next single, a ballad about 'rishta aunties' called 'Millenial Bahu', and an EP. Sadly, the single won’t be out before spring next year. In the meantime, you can listen to their ridiculously catchy song on loop, and belt out the line 'haramion ke badshah, lafangon ke sardar’ (king of fu**bois, lord of deadbeats) every time the patriarchy brings you down. As Abbas says, it’s always a good time to be angsty as a person fighting against hegemonic norms.

Updated Date: Dec 13, 2018 12:02:31 IST