When the music producer for Voice of America’s Deewa Radio composed his tribute song to Malala Yousafzai, he had no idea he’d be performing it before a worldwide audience two years later.
Sardar Ali Takkar will perform "Bibi Sherena" next Wednesday when Malala, the 17-year-old Pakistani women’s rights and education advocate, receives the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. She shares the honor with India’s Kailash Satyarthi.
The Nobel Peace Prize Concert is broadcast to a global audience and reaches up to 350 million households in 100 countries.
Behroz Khan, a broadcaster with Deewa Radio, said when Malala and her father heard that the song would be dedicated to her "she was so happy. Then she … (said) she would be delighted if (Takkar) would himself come and perform."
During a joint India-Pakistan function on Thursday in Oslo, Takkar will sing "A Zama Watana," a song based on verse by noted Pakistan poet Gahni Khan.
Malala was 15 when the Taliban tried to kill her in 2012. She survived being shot in the head to become an international figure, promoting the rights of girls to receive an education.
Her story, told in a best-selling novel, “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban,” has inspired numerous songs and tributes in her name.
"Bibi Sherena" was already the title song to a radio program of the same name that Takkar and Khan produced for Deewa Radio.
Shortly after Malala was shot, the show’s producers decided the song needed lyrics.
Khan, who penned his lyrics overnight, said that during a meeting Deewa journalists were discussing the concept of a Pashtun woman or girl: "She is always portrayed as a miserable human being." So the idea behind the lyrics of "Bibi Sherena" was to promote a new image of a Pashtun woman.
"Every Pashtun girl is not miserable," he said. "Yes, there are hardships. There are miseries. But, besides that … she is an independent human being. She has rights. She has the right to learn, to be educated."
He returned the next day and showed Takkar, who then paired the lyrics with the music. The song is played every day on Deewa Radio. "Bibi Sherena" – the title translates to "sweet woman" – is the network’s most popular program for women and stresses women’s and education rights.
The new lyrics emphasize that allowing a girl to learn and use her skills will help her country to thrive and enjoy a more peaceful, prosperous future. An educated girl, the song says, will "raze down the idols of ignorance."
But Khan said the song’s popularity really took off when it was picked up by Pakistani media. He said the Pakistani media connected the song and its lyrics with Malala. They would then play the song and run visuals in the background.
What also helps the song is that it is sung by Takkar, a legendary Pashto music singer and composer with 125 albums to his name. He is most known for setting the verse of Pashtun philosopher Khan to music.
Takkar says he knew "Bibi Sherena" had all the hallmarks of a hit.
"I know the power of art," Takkar said. “It is the most effective tool to dilute extremism in society. … And this is one example. I sang one song – 'Bibi Sherena' – and it has altered the whole world … one song. So this is the power of an artist.
"I was expecting that people would like it, because the message was there, the music was there. Everything is there" to make it a hit, Takkar said.
Khan said he was not expecting it to become so popular, "but I was very much sure that it would have an impact on the girls … and the women because our radio shows and our programs are very much popular among the Pashtuns," he said. "But this much popularity I did not expect."
Khan said he is pleased by the notice the song is receiving.
"It will help ... in our region," Khan said. "This is a strong message to the extremists. If you are banning girls from education … the whole world is behind her now and everybody in the world says, ‘I am Malala.’ "