January issue 2016

By | Profile | Published 4 years ago

Sporting his signature man-bun and decked in comfortable winter wear appropriate for the barely-there Karachi cold, Jimmy Khan of ‘Nadiya’ fame is at ease as he speaks about his sudden rise to stardom.

The 28-year-old singer, who studied public policy and development economics, never thought he’d be a professional musician. But at a relatively young age, and in a short span of time, Jimmy has managed to create a unique sound. A song can pop up on the radio, and is easily recognised by the listener: “Isn’t that Jimmy Khan?”

As he sits down with Newsline over a cup of coffee, Jimmy talks about his recent experience of the upcoming film, Ho Mann Jahan.

“I did two songs for Ho Mann Jahan: ‘Baarish’ and ‘Mann Ke Jahan.’ Zeb and I co-composed ‘Mann Ke Jahan,’ which we were supposed to do as a duet but it just didn’t feel right, so Zeb sang it,” Jimmy said of his latest venture.

He got the offer to work on the film after the film’s director, Asim Raza, met him at one of the recording sessions on Coke Studio. “Zeb had shared my songs with him, and he wanted us to compose a duet. He asked me for the stuff I had already been working on, and ‘Baarish’ was something I had composed. Asim and Sheheryar decided they wanted it for the film. I said okay, it’s done, rakh lain.” He gave the song to the film, but still retains the rights to it — it is his baby after all.

While the singer-songwriter says his original version of the hit single ‘Nadiya’ might have been his big break, working on Ho Mann Jahan has opened even more doors for the young artist. “I’m currently working on Mehreen Jabbar’s film. The film world is picking up and I want to be a part of it,” he says.

Speaking of ‘Nadiya,’ Jimmy says, “I didn’t know it would make the mark! It did well originally, and it got me on the platform [of Coke Studio].” So, make a mark it did — not just in Pakistan but internationally too. The catchy melody and lyrics stay in your head. Jimmy has also performed at a desi festival in Mississauga, where a crowd of 35,000 chanted for him to sing ‘Nadiya.’ He describes it as one of the best shows he has ever played.

“You don’t realise that people have heard your music elsewhere. It was surreal when I went up on stage, thinking nobody here would know who I am, but somehow everyone knows who you are and your songs! It was insane!” he says. “You walk into malls and people in Canada recognise you. What the hell, man! I mean people in Pakistan don’t recognise me!”

One of the most striking things about Jimmy’s music is his sound, not to mention his beautiful voice.

He defines his sound as “urban-folk” — a definition he arrived at after much contemplation, something he says is a musician’s journey.

He continues to release singles often enough, but is there an album to come with them? “I have an album ready, but there are no record labels to buy it, so what’s the point?” he says, adding that he may just put out an album for himself to have a record of his body of work.

Jimmy has no airs about himself, almost as though he doesn’t really know how big he has already become. He hates the term ‘self-taught,’ even though he is self-taught. He picked up a two-string guitar when he was 12 or 13, read through his father’s books (who was also quite keen on music and an enthusiast, but not professionally), and YouTubed videos to learn how to play, but he considers himself more of a songwriter and singer who can play the guitar (“I’m not much of a guitar player,” he adds).

He wants to get more vocal training, explore the potential of his voice and keep improving and honing his skills. “I want to take up a discipline within my vocal knowledge and singing capability,” he said.

Being a full-time musician, that too in Pakistan, raises several questions about self-sustenance. Even though the field has such a large pool of talent, it doesn’t have a record label industry. So for musicians to make a living seems to be quite a challenge. “I’ve got no complaints at the moment; when you’re busy, you don’t complain. But the fact is, music in this country is very self-driven. It’s not like what I’ve done is going to sustain me for the next 10 years. If I don’t keep at it, it’s going to die out,” he explains.

For now though, he is doing exceptionally well. Jimmy initially started off by playing every Friday and Saturday at Gun Smoke in Lahore for about four years, and is now planning ahead and aims to tour internationally in March 2016, record some more singles and put his music out through the local film industry.

But, to be relevant in Pakistan, making music in Urdu is the key to success. Jimmy understands this, and has started writing in Urdu (and even Punjabi), “because I wanted to connect and be able to resonate with my people.”

“We’re not the West, I’m not Johnny Cash,” he exclaims, before adding: “As much as I want to be!”

This article was originally published in Newsline’s Annual 2016 issue.

Raisa Vayani is an Editorial Assistant at Newsline