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New kids on the block

Instep speaks to the young artistes making a big splash on Coke Studio this season

New kids on the block

“I thought my career was over before it even started, but now I’m on the top of the world.”
– Jimmy Khan

So says Hasan Jamil Khan, more popularly known by his stage name Jimmy Khan, as he describes jitters before the release of his Coke Studio debut track ‘Nadiya’. This song of lost love steeped in ‘50s-‘60s film music style, complete with a sepia-toned music video, was the first single he released with his band Jimmy Khan and the Big Ears earlier this year, and has been popular by indie standards, enjoying significant airtime on the radio waves. Still, Jimmy felt nervous about his debut song on a platform as big as Coke Studio, particularly since it was placed in an episode that was packed with heavyweight singers like Abida Parveen, Sajjad Ali, Fariha Pervez and Meesha Shafi.

“I was kind of, excuse my French, sh*tting my pants,” he said. It was only when the first few listeners’ comments started rolling in that Jimmy realized the song had been ‘positively received’ – which is putting it modestly. As it turns out, despite the presence of the heavyweights, ‘Nadiya’ was the most popular song of that episode.

“When I was first approached by Strings, I thought it was amazing that ‘Nadiya’ would reach out to so many more people through Coke Studio. It was an experiment in my head when I wrote it. The song had emerged all at once in a moment, like it was already inside me.”

For a song that he holds close to his heart, it must have been a trial to hand it over for the Coke Studio touch, we wonder. It was only when Jimmy went in for his first rehearsal that he learned that Strings intended for it to be a collaborative track.

“I wasn’t so sure about sharing the song,” Jimmy confessed, “But when I heard ‘Nadiya’ was going to paired with an iconic number like ‘Gari Ko Chalana Babu’, I liked the idea of it being associated with a classic; I thought it would greatly elevate the level of my song.”

Being asked to perform on Coke Studio is a big stamp of approval in itself for young artistes like Jimmy. “The fact that you’re on the show gives you confidence, tells you that you’re not screwing around,” Jimmy shares with a laugh, “All the effort you previously put in was worth your while.”

“I would’ve still reacted if I didn’t gel well with Rahma Ali,” Jimmy continues, “But she turned out to be this wonderful, talented singer with a beautiful voice. I’ve always had key and register issues when singing with other people, with the exception of my sister in college, but Rahma and I sounded really good together.” Jimmy’s second Coke Studio track is a solo performance of his first-ever single in Urdu, the similarly nostalgic ‘Pehla Pyaar’, which has been aired in today’s episode.Coke-studio3

New music and touring is on the cards for Jimmy, who considers himself more of a performer than a recording artist. His beginning in 2011 garnered him a fan following that includes many celebrity supporters, including Ali Zafar, Fariha Pervez, Meesha Shafi and Mahmood Rehman. Jimmy jokes that he’s left them no choice but to support him.

“I’ve been killing them all with my music for so long. But I think they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t like my music. I hope I’m not wrong.” Given the wave of adulation coming his way from all and sundry, it is clear that Jimmy has nothing to worry about.

“I’ve always wanted to do music, but only realized it now.”

– Rahma Ali

Rahma Ali’s name first surfaced earlier this year in connection to the soundtrack of Jami Mahmood’s next, Moor. We heard she was Iman Ali’s younger sister, and that’s about all most of us really knew of her. It turns out that the young singer feels that she has only just found her true calling, although she’s previously been acting on TV and continues to do so.

“I’m very selective about the work I do, because there’s hardly anything good happening on TV,” Rahma feels. One would think it’d be easier for someone belonging to a family of actors, but Rahma considers her background a mixed boon and bane. “I don’t mind being known as Iman’s sister; she’s done some really great work. But we all have individual personalities and now I’d like to be known for who I am.”

“I’ve always wanted to do music, but I only realized it now,” she shares. She attributes her sudden emergence on the music scene to Anwar Maqsood’s discovery of her singing talent, quashing any speculation that she is what we call in local lingo ‘a parchi case’. During her brief acting stint as a Lucknowi woman in Sawa 14 August, Anwar Maqsood chanced upon her singing during rehearsals one day. He wrote in a singing part for her in the play, and eventually news of her vocal prowess reached Bilal Maqsood. Bilal, who was having trouble finding a female voice for a song in Moor, asked Rahma to contribute her vocals to the film’s soundtrack. Thus, Rahma’s first song ever was the presently unheard ‘Chalo Younhee Sahi’.Coke-studio2

However, it is on Coke Studio that we have heard her first, and what a sweet debut it was! Rahma features in Jimmy Khan’s ‘Nadiya’, lending her dulcet voice to Zubaida Khanum’s ‘Gari Ko Chalana Babu’. While she was not nervous about Jimmy’s reaction to her presence, she wondered if she’d be able to do justice to the song entrusted to her. Following the track’s release, Rahma has been inundated with praise on Twitter and Facebook.  “It’s the best experience I’ve had so far. The kind of appreciation I’m getting is crazy. I’m super-happy.”

Rahma grew up listening to the legends – Lata, Asha Bhosle, Rafi, Kishore, Noor Jehan, Abida Parveen. One day, she hopes to be just as good as them. Her future plans include a firmer foray into music – she’s been thinking of recording some original music and some covers. “I’ve been getting a lot of calls,” she reveals. But we know she’ll take her time, and set foot when she’s sure the next step is the right thing for her.

“Now I know what it means then they say an artiste is public property.”

– Asrar

Asrar appears to be having the most fun with his newfound success. The phone’s been ringing off the hook. “Baray larkiyon ke phone shone aa rahe hai, (I’ve been getting a lot of calls from girls,”) he claims. He really likes having a Coke bottle with his name on it. He thought that was cool. But the best experience of being a part of Coke Studio has been the opportunity to work with veteran musicians, who’ve been making music for years. That, he says, is nothing short of an award for him.

“I can’t tell you how I’m feeling,” he exclaims with a laugh, “I’m not such a great artiste, but I’m friends with some, and now I know what it means then they say an artiste is public property.” Asrar insists he isn’t in it for the glory. Hailing from a Syed family who frowned at his musical inclinations, Asrar shares that he grew up with lots of questions about deen and dunya.

“When I started looking for answers, I found them in the raptures of music. Some of my wounds healed. You know how it is.”

Both ‘Sub Akho Ali Ali’ and ‘Shakar Wandan’ were Asrar’s own compositions and lyrics, picked by the Strings duo from the selection he sent them. Although he wouldn’t have minded a collaboration, Bilal Maqsood insisted that he sing his songs on his own. With a powerful voice that makes people stop whatever they’re doing and just listen, and a sense of style that frames his hirsuteness, Asrar has cut a singular figure this season, ready for stardom, no matter how much he shirks it.

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