This guy started his chanter under his school’s tree when experimenting with his voice-box was for friends alone. His rustic voice created massive ripples across the internet soon after it hit the cyber waves. Bachana, was the video which brought Bilal Khan to fame, since then there are countless grooves this singer has been producing, the latest amongst the list being Jee Raha Hoon Main. MAG recently got in touch with this poised vocalist and here are the excerpts.
When and why did you start playing? Did you get any formal training in music?
I did not get any formal training. My learning was through listening to a lot of music, lots of observation, followed by playing. To say the internet played a huge part in polishing my skills wouldn’t be wrong.
Being a singer – was it something you always wanted to do?
I just wanted to be a guitar player and the singer part came later on when it felt awkward to simply playing guitar to friends and family. Luckily, they [my friends and family] liked my voice and asked me to sing more.
What is your motivation and muse to write songs?
Experiences in life. There is not a song I have written that is not based on what I have experienced in life or that of my surroundings, including my friends. I also have a desire to be relatable to my audience and write songs that people can feel connected to.
How is your day like?
These days it starts off with an hour’s workout at the gym followed by writing and recording till the day ends. In between I take breaks to cook. I'm trying to learn how to feed myself.
What instruments do you play and what was your first instrument?
I play guitar, a little bit of piano and also drum machines with my first instrument being a guitar.
Is there any song that you wrote which symbolises your childhood?
I think Taqdeer captures the freedom of not having anything and that actually gave me the tenacity and ability to take risks.
Your fondest memories – in your house, neighbourhood or at a gig?
That's a great question. I think I miss the smallest things like playing a game of Ludo or cards while there is a power outage or cycling with my best friend in the rain or even LUMS kee chai.
What prompted you to compose To Kia Hua and Bachana?
They just happened as part of a bigger plan to become a singer/songwriter. Both of these pieces were written really fast and I had only written a few songs before them. Bachana was about being lonely in a colourful world and To Kia Hua is about moving on after losing something.
What inspired you to name your debut album Umeed?
The first album had sad, dark themes to the songs, but the thread that tied them together was hope. Even in a song like To Kia Hua I had a part called haaraa naheen hoon main so there was an underlying hope to all the sadness; an optimism that things will get better.
How would you describe Pakistan’s music industry? What can be done to revive it?
Creating art takes a lot of time and investment. The music enterprise is non-existent. Most of my fellow musicians think the answer is in paying for songs whereas I don't agree with them at all. The model has changed around the world and it’s never going back to paying for CD's and downloads. The model that exists in Pakistan currently is that you put your songs out, wait for it to become viral through some luck or chance and then hope you get a call for a concert – a school or a university is most likely to arrange a show. It's a very DIY model and a very inefficient one too. Or on the other hand, you can try and get your song to an Indian movie and try to get an approval from there, which I don't think works any more either. I think the answer is in finding revenue streams outside downloads which should be based on live music. The current model makes no business sense and thus produces lower quality, stagnant art – what happens in the long run? We lose out.
Have you ever considered joining a band or have you always wanted to be solo?
I have a band that plays live and I love playing with them.
How do you handle mistakes during a performance?
I just pretend it didn't happen, but later in the night I really criticise myself and cry myself to bed (just kidding).
Our singers have been singing for India. Do you plan to venture into the realms of Bollywood?
I think I might be the ONLY singer in Pakistan, who has never been to India, never performed in India or sung a song for an Indian film. And I still have a large fan base. I don’t know if that is something that I should leverage as my strength or whether it is a completely stupid thing to do.
A project you’re working on currently?
I just released a song called Jee Raha Hoon Main which you can check on my social media handles.
What's your opinion about ventures such as Coke Studio?
They are great. They have kept the Pakistani industry running for as long as it has, even though I miss Rohail Hyatt on the show.
How was the experience of working in Tamana ki Tamana? Do you wish to pursue acting?
It was certainly challenging. It really pushed me out of my comfort zone. However, if I pursue acting now, I would take a different approach and learn the craft before I jump into it again.
What is your favourite place to tour and who have you enjoyed touring with?
London was a lot of fun and the band I had there was super fun to work with. In the US, I have a group of four American guys and its amazing how much they enjoy Urdu music. They have toured with me in Canada too.
How long does it normally take you to write a song?
Oh, it really depends. The range is undefined. Sometimes 15 minutes and I can pull off one, and at times the hunt to derive inspiration from can lead to as long two years.
What job would you be doing now if you didn’t have a career in music?
Probably something visual, like graphic designing or video direction.
If you were to give someone an advice on song writing, what would it be?
Just spend a lot of time on writing lots and lots of songs and learn an instrument.
How was it like to be nominated for the Best OST and at the Hum TV awards two years in a row?
It feels good to have your work appreciated, but unfortunately I could not make it to the awards. I think Mata-e-Jaan and Roshan Sitara are two such songs where my voice has shined and the credit to bring out the right pitch should be given to Waqar Ali.
Your favourite composition would be and why?
Larho Mujhey – that song has had a lot of impact. Every word of it has so much context, so much depth, and relevance to our society.
What role did your family play in your decision to become a singer?
I don't think they had much choice, but to accept it. They are happy with what I am doing.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
That's a secret, but it’s somewhere where no one has been.
A song that describes you? A song that is on repeat on your playlist these days?
Larho Mujhey is a composition which would describe me and the song that I’m hooked to is Do You Remember by Jarryd James.•