“I wasn’t sure I wanted to share a song”

Coke Studio's new sensation, Jimmy Khan talks to The Friday Times about opportunity, inspiration and his hit song Nadiya

“I wasn’t sure I wanted to share a song”
A Lahore based artist, Jimmy has been an amateur performer from the early age of 13 and has been a definitive part of the Lahore underground music scene since 2005. During his early years, he was a part of the aptly titled ‘Cover Band’ which on numerous occasions has been known to feature music maestros including Mekaal Hassan, Louis J. Pinto (Gumby), Farhan Albert, Waqar Khan and Ahmed Ali Butt to name a few. He is also a resident performer at Lahore’s popular restaurant Gunsmoke. Few of his most renowned performances include Jimmy Khan Live at Cosa Nostra, The Beatles Tribute at LGS, Annual Ball at Tetra Pak Pakistan, Levis Red Tab Gig at the Lahore Alhamra Auditorium and numerous private shows for the US Consulate.

Jimmy Khan, since his debut with ‘Pehla Pyar’ in 2011, has launched “Aisay Kaisay” in 2012 and “Nadiya” in 2014 [with his new band Jimmy Khan & The Big Ears]. Jimmy made his Coke Studio debut this 2014.

Jimmy Khan
Jimmy Khan

‘Nadiya Par’ is everyone’s favorite song from the new season of Coke Studio. Tell us about the song: what’s it about, and how did you compose the melody?

I was feeling disconnected from my acoustic and had borrowed Mahmood Rahman’s Strat for a fresh sound, hoping for a change of perspective, itching for new ideas. One could never imagine coming up with Nadiya on an electric guitar but it happened. It took no genius to play that rhythm on a four chord progression but it felt warm and right and the hook (Nadiya par) immediately poured out. It was almost as if Nadiya was stuck somewhere in my spine and my brain somehow, and that moment sucked it out. The song speaks of a love lost but the progression and melody almost suggest a celebration of it. I might have dodged a bullet and maybe I felt a sense of relief. Now, overwhelmed about people being able to connect with it.

[quote]As a child I envisioned myself sharply dressed for office every day[/quote]

How did you come to be a professional musician? Is it something you wanted to be when you were a child? Was your family supportive of the decision? 

Life is strange when it knocks on your door with random opportunities that one has no expectation of, and what a life it would be without those knocks. I grew up writing songs but no, I never saw myself as a professional musician. As a child I envisioned myself sharply dressed for office every day. Life wanted me somewhere else I guess. I got a few knocks on my door and sometimes fists, with opportunities allowing me to perform whatever I wrote or played. I took them all with a lot of encouragement from my friends and family and all I know now is that I want to grow as a songwriter.

Jimmy at concert in Lahore
Jimmy at concert in Lahore

[quote]I face much difficulty getting over the sounds of the 60s and 70s both, eastern & western[/quote]

What kind of music did you grow up listening to?

Grew up in a family of music enthusiasts. Pop, folk, country and film music is what I was exposed to before I started exploring myself. From Pakistani and Indian film music to western folk, country acts like Simon & Garfunkel and Johnny Cash, I am inspire by a wide variety of music. On my own I discovered many singers, musicians and bands from recent eras but I seem to be completely in love with, and face much difficulty getting over the sounds of the 60s and 70s both, eastern & western.

[quote]A performing artist should be performing a minimum of a hundred and fifty shows a year[/quote]

It’s said that the scope for live musicians in Pakistan is shrinking by the day. Is this true, in your experience?

In an ideal world, or I should say country, a performing artist should be performing a minimum of a hundred and fifty shows a year. That means the artist must be on stage for nearly half the year. Unfortunately, within Pakistan this is not a reality for any performing artist, consequently the driven ones need to venture outside the country to keep their job. I’m not sure whether the scope is shrinking or just stagnant but as Humera Channa put it in a recent response to my tweet when I asked for her thoughts on performing arts in the country: ‘Art is dying, and we must play our part’.

Rahma Ali & Jimmy Khan
Rahma Ali & Jimmy Khan

How did you get to be on Coke Studio?

I’ve been performing and putting out singles for some time now. My most recent collaboration with The Big Ears (Zain Ahsan, Sameer Ahmed & Raavail Sattar) led to the creation of our single – Nadiya which did considerably well as an independent release. Consequently we got some shows during which we might have entertained some key decision makers at Coke Studio :D

What was it like singing the song as a duet with Rahma Ali? How did that happen?

I wasn’t aware of it, actually, till I made it to the first rehearsal in Karachi. I was Initially taken aback, since I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share a song as close to me as Nadiya with anyone else, especially not having heard the singer and unaware that the song was going to be a collaboration. However, learning about the song choice (gaari ko chalana babu) and having met Rahma and upon hearing her voice, I had reason to believe in this rendition. Our voices clicked, the two songs took us back to the same era. Simplicity at it its best, I thought to myself, this could be the Coke Studio rendition of Nadiya, a risk worth taking and it happened! All for the greater good of mankind.


What’s the response been like to your song? What are some of your favorite reactions?

Overwhelmingly positive! There are those who listen to Coke Studio and there are those who prefer the original. It’s a win win!

What are your plans for the next few years, Jimmy Khan? 

My focus will be on performing and creating opportunities to perform not just for myself but other acts; writing new material, growing, practicing, collaborating, promoting, learning, working harder, keeping away from sliding into a  comfort zone yet living it up!