Born in Saudi Arabia and based in Pakistan, singer-songwriter Rutaba Yakub is among the most promising artists of this decade. She went national with her selection in Nescafe Basement followed by Pepsi Battle of the Bands. Rutaba and her music group, Roots, didn’t win the top prize in the competitive PBOTB but did find a loyal audience.
2022 seems to be the year where Rutaba will go all-out. A sign of this can be seen in the number of songs she has dropped. Among them is a collaboration with Indian artist Abhilasha Sinha for a song called “Nazar/Surma”.
The song was deliberately released last month as part of celebrating South Asian Heritage month. The two artists never met but knew full well that music transcends borders and employed technology. The music video is surprisingly strong with a clear idea driving it. The sonic side fits well into Rutaba’s growing discography and is full of synth, electro, and dancehall vibes.
She seems open to trying new things as has become apparent with releases such as “Anay Wala Kal/Ghubaray”, “Dair-e-ufuq”, and “Nazar/Surma”.
Talking to Instep Today, Rutaba explained her Indo-Pak collaborative song ‘Nazar/Surma’ and how it came about.
“The story behind ‘Nazar/Surma’ is a discussion on what we would be like or how we would behave and live our lives if we knew no one was watching us, no one was judging us or have expectations.”
Social media’s many, many platforms, biometrics, metadata, drones watching/attacking from the sky above, the militarization of space and CCTV cameras define the very basics of modern times.
Big Brother is always watching.
Rutaba isn’t just talking about Big Brother, though. As she explains, our behaviour, our surroundings and the people around us affect us in unfathomable and overt ways.
“Everything we do is kind of reactionary and sometimes it’s very hard to lose yourself in it and realize that you’re not really this person. If there were no external factors, you’d be someone completely different.”
The narrative Rutaba is talking about can be found within the lyricism of the song.
The Urdu lines that start off the song may sound overwhelming to those who suffer from a case of weak Urdu. But its meaning, according to Rutaba, is based on a similar thought process.
“For no reason, without us asking, it’s so regular for people to give us either their opinion or their critique.” She’s right there. As for the collaboration with Indian artist Abhilasha Sinha for ‘Nazar/Surma’, Rutaba expressed how both artists are fond of each other’s music.
“She really understood the narrative of the song (‘Nazar/Surma’) and she wrote her verse for it, reiterating the same question(s) but in a different way. But she’s also building up the story to say that we will break free and find the freedom to be our own selves. We’re sharper and we will thrive.”
The music video’s narrative is a split screen as it begins with childhood videos of both the artists respectively. “We were sharing our home videos with each other and realized the similarity in each other’s childhood. Even though we are borders apart, there are so many similarities.
We are South Asians so the birthdays and vacations were similar. And, because of South Asian Heritage Month, in August, we feel we should try to share those similarities instead of focusing on the differences.” Rutaba, through her music, is challenging the typical side of music and deliberately taking risks. But in her own fashion.
“To be honest, I’m completely alright with being an artist who has one specific sound and who’s not experimenting all the time and doing different things with every song.”
Rutaba Yakub describes herself as a collaborative artist and ‘Nazar/Surma’ is simply the latest example. The music video reflects the ideology of the song and though experimental and risky, it is introspective and therefore sounds very cool. With a debut music album called nostalgia @ the keryana store in the pipeline, Rutaba has the confidence and the talent to reach greater heights. This is her third release from said album. She previously released an EP called S**t I’ll Never Finish (2020).
Originally published in