Every rap song of Saniya Kaiyumuddin Mistri (Saniya MQ) revolves around politics, gender equality, social biases, corruption and poverty. On a rainy day, as I walk around the narrow alleys of Shivaji Nagar in Mumbai’s Govandi area, I see people busy covering the roofs of their houses with plastic sheets. A few children help me locate Saniya’s house. I could hear the youngster rapping even as her mother is busy cleaning rice on a bamboo sieve. An excited Saniya, along with her 13-year-old brother, welcomes me.
As we sit down to talk, the 17-year-old hip hop artiste reveals that she is working on an EP with a team of underground rappers and beat producers. Titled Sheher, it has six tracks of which four are sung by Saniya. “We expect Sheher to be out this year. The EP speaks of the people in Mumbai and the problems and challenges they face. None of the artistes have been paid. It is made with the support of each one us,” says Saniya, who plans to share the story about the making of the EP once it is released on YouTube and other streaming platforms.
Her slow-paced raps have been easier for listeners to understand and rap along. But for the EP, Saniya has stepped out of her comfort zone to try rapping fast. “As an artiste, I don’t want to limit myself. I am game for rapping in different rhythms.”
For the past three years, Saniya has been meeting hip-hop artistes, beat producers, and sound engineers for this project. “I have met them at shows, and on Instagram. I have collaborated with some of them earlier. The discussion started a month ago and everybody agreed to come on board.”
Saniya was only 13 when she began keeping a diary of poetry and also wrote about issues that affected her. “I was five when my family moved into Govandi. Initially, we faced rejection. I experienced loneliness in my childhood. Today the same children, who once used to bully me call themselves my friends.”
Through her raps, Saniya raises questions about the education system that is not equal for all. “If we have a free education system, then every child in this country will get to learn and earn a living for himself/herself. Policymakers are aware of this fact but nobody wants to change it,” says Saniya, who emphasises that she is not an activist but an artiste.
Talking about her recent rap that she posted on Instagram, she says, “Sirpihiri narrates many stories from my life. There was a friend in school who had said I can never rap, some said I have no dress sense since I do not wear modern clothes. One of my raps talks about this. ‘Jo kehte hai dressing sense nahi, dikhti hun bas wahi kaafi hai…’ (those who say I have no dress sense, I am seen and that is enough). To those who gave her the ‘hijab girl’ tag, Saniya says, “When we do not call a rapper in a hoodie a ‘hoodie boy/man/rapper’ then why make a big deal about my hijab.”
How it began
When she started writing poetry she didn’t know how to play with words or how to please the audience. “In 2016, I began by uploading my raps as audio files on YouTube. Only in 2021, I began sharing videos because I was told by many rappers that people like to watch the artistes as much as they like to listen to them. My raps reflect my dreams, my angst, and my hopes and aspirations.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, many teenage girls in Govandi were forced into marriage. Feeling helpless, Saniya wrote ‘Chalo theek hai’ (it is okay), a rap song that spoke about issues people were experiencing during lockdown including child marriage, domestic violence and hunger. “I could not do anything to stop those weddings. Apnalaya, the NGO in our locality, organised an awareness camp where I rapped for the first time. When ammi came to know I was performing, she was there sitting in the audience. When I got down the stage, she hugged me. That moment will remain etched in my heart since it meant the acceptance of my art.”
In 2022, when Saniya performed in the television reality show, ‘Hunarbaaz’, her father too began to support her. “Now abba asks me everyday what am I working on and when is the next rap coming?”
Saniya also shares how the little income from her rap performances have helped her pursue her education. She is currently doing Bachelor of Mass Media. She aspires to be a writer in future. “I will continue rapping but the goal is to become financially independent.”