Ms Marvel’s Universe, across the song lines

Jo kuch bhi seekha, galtiyon se hi toh seekha maine
Khud ko sambhala, Gir ke hi toh uthna seekhe maine
Jab bhi bikhri toh, bikhar ke simatna seekha maine
Jab khwaab toote, tab bhi unko poora krna seekha maine…
Duniya toh bolti thi bolti rahegi, Himmat ka hai parwana, parwaz hai hoslon ka

(Whatever I learned, I learned from my mistakes
I held myself, falling and then learning to get back up
Whenever scattered, I learned how to shrink back
When the dreams were shattered, I learned to fulfil them
The world has always talked, will continue to do so
But the moth is courageous, and the flight is of fortitude)

These power-packed lines by 22-year-old Karachi-based musician Eva B, the first female rapper from Pakistan and the latest music sensation who raps under the garb of an English name and a hijab, are a part of her latest song, Rozi. Eva comes from Eve, the first woman, and B is for her Baluchi identity, while the tenacity in her lyrics is an attempt to talk of her life and struggles While sitting in Lyari – the Baluchi neighborhood that’s known more for its violence than its socially responsive musicians. A few years ago, Eva B found inspiration in Eminem, Queen Latifah and Indian rapper DIVINE, and continues to speak truth to power.

The song emerges along the final credits of the first episode of the recent series, Ms Marvel, the latest from Marvel Cinematic Universe. Rapped in Hindustani, the ditty is an attempt to match Eva B’s lyrics with the life and times of Ms Marvel – Kamala Khan – a 16-year-old Pakistani-American teenager trying to navigate life in Jersey City, US. The song may sound a tad amateurish in terms of its rendition but its significance lies in the matter of Eva B baring her soul and her difficult life as a woman. The predicaments of life may be different for Eva B and Kamala, but the crux of the thought and the similarity in dealing with issues of life, binds them.

The song was co-produced by US-based musician and violinist L Subramaniam’s daughter, Gingger Shankar. Rozi and many other pieces hand-picked by music supervisor Dave Jordan and his team make for a separate character in the series, as if it’s a voice in Kamala’s head.

In the multipolar world that we are currently inhabit, the roots of ethnic stereotyping seem to run deeper than what we may have thought once. Somewhere amid this parochial and riled global space, there is this Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has in it the effervescent Ms Marvel (Iman Vellani) – who is busy finding herself. At hand are matters of dealing with teenage problems of not fitting in, obsessing over her favorite actor, Shah Rukh Khan, wondering about the pain of the Partition dealt by her family, and arguments with her parents over what’s best for her life. Her existence is fueled by her universe of Captain Marvel fandom, her most compelling connection with American culture. Soon, a brown and unpopular geeky kid finds superpowers, and some confidence.

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Kamala Khan in the series Ms Marvel, which is based on the comic book series of the same name, is Marvel’s first Muslim female superhero. Besides breaking that basic stereotype, what’s imperative is that Kamala Khan’s existence in the popular culture is also the need of the hour. It’s one of the few times when Muslim characters in a show aren’t shoved into one of the two categories – bad or worse. But it isn’t just about suspicious portrayal of Muslim characters or the stereotyping of all the South Asian characters as Indians who talk in a strange theatrical accent, eat spicy food and funny dress. The world that Sana Ahmed, co-creator of Ms Marvel and executive producer of the series, builds for Kamala, is plain and ordinary, with its own cultural affections and aversions, just like any family from any part of the world. It’s the ordinary in Khan’s otherwise extraordinary superhero life that is of utmost significance. And a young Muslim woman, a statistic often sidelined in the mainstream, finally finds a significant voice on screen. The cultural representation is devoid of the typical negative stereotypessuspiciousness and strange subtle racism and that’s significant.

Eva B, the first female rapper from Pakistan and the latest music sensation who raps under the garb of an English name and a hijab (Surce: Eva B/Facebook)

And it is this quotidian that is marked by music that acts as a narrator for the show. While Rozi is a glimpse into Kamala’s journey to becoming who she wants to be, there is also Pakistan’s beloved classic, Ko Ko Korina, from the 1966 film Armaan. The catchy number sung by playback singer Ahmed Rushdi back in the day, was released months after the Indo-Pak war, and spoke of the perfect woman that the actor in the film is looking for. ‘Ko Ko Korina’, the gibberish phrase was soon dominating the airwaves and lifting the spirits of a shattered subcontinent. In Ms Marvel, it plays in an eastern market where Kamala is shopping with her mother for her brother’s wedding and gorging on sweetmeats, getting fascinated by junk jewellery and giving measurements for her shararas.

Kamala’s is a family that dances to Asha Bhosle’s Ye mera dil pyaar ka deewana and Pritam’s Bol harippa at the wedding of their son. There is also AR Rahman’s Tere bina from Guru, besides the fun Joote do paise lo. There are sprinklings of once extremely popular playback singer Nahid Akhtar’s Sohniye I love you (1987) from Pakistani film Baabul Veer and Peechhe Hatt from Coke Studio. AR Rahman’s Oh Nanba (Lingaa), sung by SP Balasubrmaniam, Jalebi Baby by Canadian-Indian singer, rapper and producer Tesher, Raja Kumari’s Goddess, Ritviz’s Sage, and Disco Gully by Ishq Bector, Kully Bhamra, and Angus Campbell are other songs on the soundtrack, which has been carefully curated. The family is not into sitar and tabla music — the American choice for background music when it comes to portraying families from the Subcontinent.

There is also Riz Ahmed’s Deal, with it as a background for Kamala’s first day at school and Oye hoye, a collaboration between Nooran Sisters, Brooklyn-based Evan Giia and New York-based music duo Memba.

The music in the series sticks to the current trend of including existing tracks to suit the needs of Ms Marvel’s universe. But what’s interesting is that it adds wonderfully to the atmosphere of the series and is a reminder that inside Kamala’s red and blue superhero costume, is a young Pakistani girl with her ethnicity in tow. One will need to see how a carefully crafted soundtrack by Laura Karpman and well-curated tracks by Jordan further the story of Kamala Khan in the upcoming episodes. For now, the charm is in the fourth gear.

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