She was speaking at a panel discussion, titled ‘Women In Music’, at the US Consulate in Karachi on Wednesday. Flanked by Pakistani tabla player Abeir Shan, American musician Laura Jorgenson and University of Texas at Austin Associate Professor Sonia Tamar Seeman, Viccaji said that she can be an inspiration to other Pakistani girls who want to chase their dreams. That doesn’t mean it’s all a bed of roses for the Coke Studio star. “I can travel and make my way around Pakistan because I have travelled alone. But if I were to ever visit Afghanistan, or Chitral for that matter, I would have to take a male companion with me,” she said. Viccaji said repeatedly being told by parents that there is a risk involved in whatever she does is not easy to deal with.
“Then there is another problem. The male musicians I meet are not always interested in my music. They end up being interested in me,” she said.
Talking about how female musicians face discrimination even in the most trivial of situations, she recalled, “I was once doing this jingle for a telecommunications company alongside Ali Zafar who wanted me to adjust my vocal scale, instead of him altering his own. I ended up not doing that project.” Drawing parallels with her experience of working with Strings, she said, “Bilal Maqsood was very understanding when it came to Bichra Yaar and the song did well.”
Also speaking on the event that was arranged as part of the Women’s History Month, Shan said she was always mocked for taking up ‘tabla’ playing.
While some questioned her taking a different career route after graduating from the Pakistan Institute of Fashion and Design, others discouraged her by saying that her interest is more of “pehelwaanon ka kaam” (a wrestler’s job). However, she seldom paid attention to the naysayers. “It was always about following my passion and not about where I would be paid,” she said, adding, “Society needs to revise the perception about girls that they are useless, weak and scared creatures.”
While Seeman also believes it is important for every woman to follow her heart, she highlighted the limited opportunities for female musicians as compared to those at the disposal of their male counterparts. “Knowing how to use the equipment [instruments] itself, is very inspiring. People in general feel women are not as physically capable as men. They hence are more sensitive to power relations and get exploited,” she said. The academic said restricted opportunities are not the only problem; safety in public spaces is another important issue.
Jorgensen said for women, working in a male-dominated society makes it even more difficult for them to perform. “There’s a lot of difference between what we as women can do and cannot do. There are too many stereotypes assigned to both genders in every society.”
Renowned ghazal singer Tina Sani was also among those present at the event. She raised the question about whether marriage deters women from their musical careers or not. “If a mother can do everything for the child, the father too can fill her boots at times,” responded Seeman.