Pakistan’s breakthrough rapper Eva B has racked up millions of views online, but walking through the labyrinthine streets of her Karachi neighbourhood, she is anonymous.
With her hair covered with a hijab and a veil falling below her eyes, she evades the attention of fans and detractors.
“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,” the 22-year-old told AFP news agency from a rooftop overlooking the mega port city of Karachi.
Inspired by American rappers Eminem and Queen Latifah, she started writing lyrics from her bedroom and posting her raps to Facebook where she built up a following.
Afraid of angering her family, she would sneak to music studios to record full tracks with the help of other emerging artists in her neighbourhood, under the pretext of studying.
But when word reached her brother, she received a backlash from her family who considered the genre indecent for a young girl and who feared she would struggle to marry in deeply conservative Pakistan.
“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 on set.
Eva B’s rise to fame was accelerated this year when Coca-Cola’s international music franchise Coke Studio – one of the most popular television programmes in Pakistan – invited her to collaborate for its 2022 series.
The music video for “Kana Yaari”, which features Eva B rapping in a bright orange hijab about the betrayal of a love interest, has more than 16 million views on YouTube.
Living two lives
But unlike other artists in the series, she has shunned a celebrity status.
“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 along to conversations in cafes or at friends’ weddings when people talk about the latest track from Eva B.
On rare occasions, she says people recognise her from her eyes, but she always denies her stage identity.
“I’m ok with what I am. I can’t handle everybody,” she says of the attention from media and fans she would otherwise attract.
Most women wear some form of hijab covering in Muslim-majority Pakistan but there are very few music artists in local pop culture who are veiled.
Turning up to studios for the first time, industry producers and managers were often left “astonished”, she said.
“They reacted like ‘what is this?’,” she said. “But then everything soon became normal.”
For Eva B, the hijab has always been a proud part of her Muslim identity – but it has also defined her image 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.