Justin Bibis: From a viral video to Pakistan’s Coke Studio stars

Saania and Muqaddas became an internet sensation in 2015. After long struggles, the duo finally made a breakthrough at this year’s Coke Studio.

justin bibis on coke studio pakistan
Reaching the current peak of their musical career was not a smooth ride [Coke Studio]

Saania Tabaydar, 21, and her 18-year-old sister Muqaddas from Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore, became instant hits in 2015 after a video in which they were imitating Justin Bieber’s “Baby” went viral.

It was the sisters’ favourite Bieber song and their mother could be seen strumming beats on a pot in the background.

The amateur video racked up millions of views, thrusting the duo, now known as Justin Bibis (Justin Girls) to fame. They were invited to TV shows for live performances and also featured in the 2015 Cricket World Cup anthem.

However, their biggest breakthrough came this year when they made their debut in the 14th season of Pakistan’s most acclaimed music performance show, Coke Studio, where they featured with Hasan Raheem in “Peechay Hutt” (Back off).

But reaching what now surely is the peak of their musical career has not been a smooth ride.

Hailing from the middle-class neighbourhood of Shadra Imamia Colony in Lahore, the girls lived through a simple childhood and dropped out of school very early.

“We are from a very simple household, a typical middle-class family,” the duo told Al Jazeera.

The sisters would complete each other’s sentences throughout the interview.

“We dropped out of school when we were in year two. We can’t tell the reasons but the situation was such that even our uniforms were worn out and torn apart.”

The girls tried going back to school but had to abandon the idea as their extended family was against it.

“Our extended family doesn’t view education as a positive aspect. They don’t even let men continue their education,” they said.

Daily financial struggles for the family were an added misfortune.

“We’ve seen days where we would have one meal a day and were not sure if we would have food the next day.”

For their mother, Shehnaz Tabaydar, there were days when “maintaining the kitchen became impossible and the family had to borrow to feed themselves”.

Despite these issues, the girls tried to live their lives to the fullest by finding other means to stay busy: Household chores and playing with friends.

But it was music – a privilege they most treasured throughout their childhood – that offered them a ray of hope.

“Since we were not educated, we didn’t dream big on becoming successful in other professions. The only thing that mattered was learning music and people across the world loving us for what we do.”

Their family hails from Rajasthan in northern India and has strong ties to the music industry.

Their father is a musical director and their paternal aunt, Naseebo Lal, is a renowned Pakistani folk singer who has also featured in this edition of Coke Studio.

“Growing up, we saw our father being extremely busy while also working with our aunt. We were inspired by them. Also, since our background is from Rajasthan, music is culturally in our blood,” they added.

The sisters said that although their father was usually away due to his busy schedule, their mother always supported them and pushed them to go beyond their limits, including performing in front of family members and friends.

They also have a 15-year-old brother who is a drummer. Together, they wished “to have a band one day”.

But it was Muqaddas who stepped into the world of music first, singing one of Indian legend Lata Mangeshkar’s classics at the age of four.

Saania said she was the shy one but as she consistently watched her younger sister perform with enthusiasm, her confidence levelled up and she followed the same path.

Through the years, the support from their parents also allowed the sisters to tackle societal stereotypes against women, they said.

“Since we were girls, our extended family did not allow us to sing and dance. But it was because of our parents, their time and constant courage in supporting us that we have come this far.

“Our mother would consistently train us a couple of days every week. She even stood up for us when other people would disagree with what we were doing. She was really passionate about music, considering our maternal grandfather also played the tabla.”

Internet to the rescue

The Justin Bibis did not acquire any formal education in English but, throughout their teenage years, admired Bieber and his music, learning his songs by transcribing them in Urdu.

“We would hum his song while doing household chores – while cooking, cleaning. It was non-stop,” they said with excitement.

The young girls were in love with music but their life took a different turn.

They got married aged 16 as, the sisters said, the “families insisted on that in order to complete their cultural responsibility”. The duo was also teased on several occasions by their friends for not being educated and unable to speak English.

But they were still keen on making it big in the music industry and the internet came to their assistance.

‘Baby’ in the park

It was just a normal day out with their friends at a park when the girls sang Bieber’s “Baby” while playing Antakshari – a spoken parlour game popular across South Asia.

“Our friends teased us a lot that day, saying we can’t sing an English song since we were not educated. We literally told them we can sing in English. All they need to do is ask us. And when our turn came, we picked Justin Bieber’s song.”

Their talent was quick to grab the attention of passersby.

“Someone randomly recorded us and suddenly, our video went viral.”

By the time the girls reached home that day, they were stunned to see their faces on TV.

“We were shocked and amazed. We had no idea that our video grabbed so much attention in a few hours. Even today, we don’t know who filmed it but we are so grateful to that person,” they said before adding that some “family members weren’t pleased with our fame, and taunted us”. 

The continuing struggles

However, despite a swift rise to stardom, the time between then and their Coke Studio appearance was spent struggling financially. Even today, the family cannot afford its own car.

“The years which followed after the video had gone viral, we still suffered a lot financially, but our demands were always simple, so we were able to survive,” they said.

Despite never-ending hardships, the girls refused to give up.

In 2019, while constantly looking for opportunities, they sent a text message to musician Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan (Xulfi), who is the current Executive Producer at Coke Studio Pakistan, requesting him to remember them for any work in the future.

“We sent him a text and forgot about it. Honestly, we did not even know that he was involved with Coke Studio at that point.”

Two years later, they got an unexpected call and an offer to perform at Coke Studio. At that time, Saania was pregnant but their excitement knew no bounds.

“We dropped everything and decided to meet Coke Studio’s team. That day felt like an adventure.”

According to Xulfi, the Bibis’ struggle was fierce and he remembered them because of their viral video.

“I always found their story to be very honest and passionate,” Xulfi told Al Jazeera. “The moment they were singing that song [in 2015], it was on a road, and the way they performed, I could sense they had taken this as a challenge that they had to get done.”

He added that the duo’s courage and resilience also aligned with the theme of the show this season.

“They need to keep making music, keep telling stories and keep collaborating. They are an amazing duo with an amazing story and they are a representation of Pakistan,” he added.

Following the success of Peechay Hutt, the Bibis are now aiming to further their music career. They want to continue working while also making sure their children carry on their musical legacy.

Source: Al Jazeera