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Zayn Malik, formerly of One Direction, sings in Urdu and the song goes viral

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

British pop singer Zayn Malik got famous singing with the boy band One Direction.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT MAKES YOU BEAUTIFUL")

ONE DIRECTION: (Singing) Baby, you light up my world like nobody else. The way that you flip your hair gets me overwhelmed.

MARTÍNEZ: Obviously, One Direction sang in English. But Malik is now the talk of South Asia after singing in Urdu on a song called "Tu Hai Kahan."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TU HAI KAHAN")

ZAYN MALIK: (Singing in Urdu.)

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The track is a collaboration with the Pakistani band Aur. This isn't Malik's first time singing in Urdu, but it's his most successful attempt.

HAROON RASHID: This is by far the most fluent we've ever heard Zayn speaking his mother tongue.

FADEL: Haroon Rashid is a presenter with the BBC's Asian Network. Like Malik, he's of Pakistani descent and says he gets why so many Urdu speakers love this song.

RASHID: People are celebrating that he is drawing attention to what is a very beautiful, poetic language. To see those artists acknowledge your country, your language, your music scene is a real moment of pride.

MARTÍNEZ: "Tu Hai Kahan" was already a hit in Pakistan in South Asia before Malik jumped on the remix. Aur released the song last summer, and it got more than 100 million streams on Spotify. But the original didn't blow up in the West.

RASHID: I do think that with Zayn collaborating on this song, it has reached those places.

FADEL: Aur has it made a name for itself outside of Pakistan and South Asia, so getting to work with Malik on the remix is a big deal.

RASHID: An internationally recognized artist is giving his platform and his voice to three boys from a coastal city in Pakistan that would never have had a platform like this if it wasn't for Zayn.

MARTÍNEZ: Rashid says these kinds of multinational collaborations are on the rise. A certain Canadian pop star did something similar when he jumped on a Latin pop hit by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee back in 2017.

RASHID: It's the same sort of "Despacito" trend that we saw happen a few years ago, where it was Justin Bieber who jumped onto "Despacito."

FADEL: But to be clear, Spanish - not Bieber's mother tongue. And record labels are cashing in on this trend. But Rashid says Western pop fans have a lot more to learn about Pakistani music.

RASHID: The sounds, the scales, the notes, just the textures of that music are so beautiful.

FADEL: Rashid says "Tu Hai Kahan" is just a little taste of what Pakistani music has to offer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TU HAI KAHAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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