Deeyah, born Deepika Thathaal (August 7, 1977 in Oslo, Norway), is a Pakistani-Norwegian singer, composer and human rights activist of Punjabi and Pashtun descent. Born to Sunni Muslim Pakistani parents. She is often dubbed the “Muslim Madonna”, a term coined by the British press tabloid The Sun. Her style contains elements of pop, metal, electronica and world music particularly fusion of Pakistani pop and classical sounds.
In her early days, she trained under the great music maestro Ustad Bade Fateh Ali Khan. She would later be signed by the largest independent record company Kirkelig Kulturverksted where she recorded two earlier albums with her mentors and other ustads and maestros from the subcontinent. It was then that the Muslim community got outraged and she left the country for London, United Kingdom.
Deepika has since then produced controversial tracks usually talking about free speech and women's rights and has appeared in several music videos in collaboration with various renowned producers and singers. She adopted the name Deeyah in 2002.
At the time of her pregnancy, Deeyah's mother was only 18-years old and could not speak the Norwegian language. She found a nurse in an elderly Hindu Indian woman who helped her through her pregnancy and labour. The elderly lady picked the name Deepika for the child. The nanny died long after Deeyah was born. Deeyah has a brother named Adil Thathaal.
Her grandfather was one of the most well-respected Muslim elders in the Pakistani community in Norway. Proud of his familial tribal ancestry and heritage, Deeyah's father dropped his last name Hussain for Thathaal in his mid-30s when he migrated to Norway. Towards the end of 1970s, he established an organisation called the Rāga Music Society celebrating Rāga, the most basic arrangement of notes in Indian classical music, and to introduce Pakistani artists and music styles to the Norwegian musical and cultural sphere.
Khan was aware of the talent the little girl held in herself and urged her to openly sign in public. The following year, at the tender age of eight, Deeyah made her first performance on national television appearing on the primetime show Halv Sju. She would later perform at various festivals and celebrated as the youngest performer at major music festivals. Khan taught her the intricacies of the instruments used under the Patiala gharana and ghazal, thumri and khyal forms of classical music. She would usually accompany other maestros on the surbahar (pictured).
Deeyah was later signed at the age of 13 releasing two critically acclaimed albums in her native Norway. But before she could taste stardom, she had to face questions. Heads turned in the Pakistani-Norwegian community and people would ask her father why he let his daughter enter music where Islam forbade such practices. Thathaal would defend his daughter whenever he could but as Deeyah grew older, the abuses came directly to her.
Deeyah was working on an album in the late 90's when the chairman of Warner Music UK of 20 years who had signed Deeyah lost his job, resulting in Deeyah's contract being terminated. Her manager and friend Steven Fargnoli died due to an illness in 2001. Deeyah decided to give up her music career because of these circumstances, but her musical nature wouldn't allow her to do that. These events made Deeyah even more determined to pursue music, which led to her working with Grammy winning producer Darin Prindle. Together they co-wrote and co-produced the double a-side single Plan Of My Own/I Saw You. However she was dogged with more controversy when these videos aired on music channels, causing Deeyah to take a break from the scene. It was then that she decided to change her stage name form Deepika to Deeyah in 2002 .
The video showed Deeyah topless with her back exposed and depicted Muslim women from around the world with their mouths taped, a symbol of non-free speech. Throughout the airplay, women would remove the tape off their mouths and lip her lyrics. The most controversial bit in the video that angered the Muslim community much yet was when a girl strolls around a palace in a burqa and towards the end of the video remove the traditional clothing to reveal Deeyah in a swimsuit who then descends into a pool. Her bikini-clad appearance and the burqa-strip earned her more abuse from Muslims elsewhere.
In Deeyah's opinion, this video was a direct answer to the way the threats made her feel and being silent for so long taking abuses from her own community she had to protest for her rights to free speech through this video. The song was to be released as a single only but demand for her produce soared and she assembled a compilation of her most recent hits into a new album. From then on Deeyah would travel back and forth between the USA and the UK.
The Muslim Council of Britain claimed that the death threats were faked or exaggerated in order to boost up her popularity. After extensive research by various journalists into these claims, it appears that the threats to Deeyah were not only real but that the full extent of the intimidation against Deeyah has not yet been widely reported in the media. This was further proven by violent threats and messages posted on Deeyah's website or even on video-sharing websites like YouTube.
The Muslim Council issued a statement that, judging on the basis of her name, she is probably not of Muslim origins, showing their lack of research and ignorance to the matter. Deeyah later discussed this in depth in an interview with the magazine Per Contra.
In the article, Deeyah said she is proud of the Sunni Muslim heritage of her parents and acknowledged her status as a Muslim artist, and that her name comes from a family friend. She later mentioned in brief the matter on her website that it should be seen as a sign of respect to that friend, and not as a sign that she is Hindu. Translations of newspaper articles about Deeyah and her music in her native Norway from as early as 1992 refer to her Muslim heritage as well which has put the motivation behind the accusation of the MCB under suspicion.
In the wake of these controversies, local Asian music channel B4U Music banned her videos to be aired on their station. The What Will It Be? music video was taken off shelf at the television station. In a statement the network's representative stated they received threats which forced them to take the matter seriously.
With collaboration with leading industry men, some including the likes of Jan Garbarek, David Lindley, Ustad Shaukat Hussain Khan, Talvin Singh, Rick Nowels, A.R. Rehman, Knut Reiersrud, Adrian Sherwood, Shiv Kumar Sharma, Bonecrusher, Guy Sigsworth, Martyn Ware,Zakir Hussain, Nick Sillitoe, Audun Erlien, Reidar Skår, Inder Matharu Goldfinger, Ustad Nazim Ali Khan, throughout her career, she is considered a pioneering influence on Pakistani pop music.
Hoping things would be different for her in the UK she continued working on her music in London. In 2004 her first videos started getting high rotation on Asian music channels B4U Music and Zee TV . The more her popularity grew the more unpopular she became in some Muslim circles in the UK with the same controversy and problems haunting her in the UK as they did in Norway . The controversy in the UK started with the video "Plan Of My Own" which shows Deeyah dancing seductively with a male dancer, this caused outrage among some Muslims in England and brought on her the same harassment and threats as she received in Norway .
Scared and angry that this could happen to her again years on in a different country Deeyah lashed out with the song and music video for the song "What Will It Be?"
"What Will It Be?" was never intended as a commercial release it was just for protest and was not available for sale anywhere. After months of pressure from fans Deeyah agreed to have "What Will It Be?" out for limited digital release in the UK only