He’s waiting outside the café in Karachi, taking the opportunity to stretch after a quick evening run in the park, something he tries to squeeze in regularly into his otherwise very busy schedule.
Although the singer, songwriter and musician known as Jimmy Khan is originally from Lahore, he currently finds himself dividing his time between both Karachi and Lahore.
While I stuff my face with a brownie — it’s been a long day — Jimmy refuses the additional sugar and sticks to his coffee, ensuring that all those calories burnt whilst running aren’t completely wasted. Oh well, there are several ways to relieve stress.
In person, Jimmy Khan comes across as outgoing and friendly. His current album, Tich Button is named after one of the more recent songs that have been released, Tich Buttona Di Jorri. “It’s such a quirky name for the button,” he laughs.
Jimmy was featured last year with Naghma and Lucky in Coke Studio in a song called Baalkada. This wasn’t his first time working with Lucky, though. In 2017, Jimmy released a song called #Madam which aimed to show what regular life is for transgender persons in Pakistan and how it’s made harder by all of the harassment that they face on a daily basis. It features Lucky along with Nirmal Chaudhry.
The fact that they were chosen to be in Coke Studio together was a massive coincidence. “We flew together on the same day from Lahore to Karachi for this meeting and we had no idea we were going to do this together. Till the moment that we got to the studio, that’s when we realised, that’s why we’re here.”
“I never saw myself as an actor. This is the first time I was on a film set. The shoot is done. It was kind of nerve-wracking but fun nonetheless,” Jimmy says on his role in 'Parey Hut Love'.
That’s quite the story! “As far as the story is concerned, it’s great,” he responds indicating his unhappiness with Baadlaka’s final version. “I loved the song,” he explains. “I contributed in writing it. It didn’t turn out the way I had envisioned it. That’s all.”
Speaking about his album, Tich Button, which is currently undergoing a release, one song at a time, he relates, “There are five songs in total, there are two that are out already. I’ve shot music videos for all of them. I’ve worn the same outfit in each song, to show that it’s a part of the one body of work. I went into an auditorium and chose five different locations, five different colour palettes, including the costumes, so the theme of it remains the same.”
Who directed them? “Ahsan Ali,” he responds. “There are two, they both worked on the videos. One is with an E, the other an A. One was directing, the other was DoP-ing.” For those confused, he means Director of Photography (DoP).
“Tich Buttona Di Jorri is an original song, the rest are all traditional folk songs but renditioned the Jimmy Khan way,” Jimmy elaborates. “So, they’re a lot about heartbreak, distance etc.”
Oh, I thought he would be writing about his own experiences. “Waisay, mera dil har waqt toot-ta hai! [By the way, my heart breaks all the time!]” he laughed. “Aur jaisay hi toot-ta hai, naya gana banta hai [And as it breaks, a new song is made].”
The next song from the album is called Pyaar Naal Na Sahi and its originally by the legendary Attaullah Essakhelvi. “It’s kind of like celebrating his work,” says Jimmy. “Like I say before singing any of his music in my concerts: He’s the equivalent to Johnny Cash in Pakistan, except bigger. The song after this one is also by Attaullah Essakhelvi.”
Other than his album, Jimmy has a few things up his sleeve for this year. “I just did a song with Asim Raza for his film Paray Hut Love,” Jimmy relates adding that he’s also playing a little role in the film as well.
“He saw something in me, much to my confusion,” he says, elaborating that, “I never saw myself as an actor. This is the first time I was on a film set. The shoot is done. It was kind of nerve-wracking but fun nonetheless. But I’m most excited about the completely new sound that you will hear. This is not a Jimmy Khan song, it’s been composed by somebody else, I’ve sung it. But it’s a very different world to what you’ve heard from me. I’m excited about presenting that.”
That’s not the only film Jimmy will be featured in, though. Sometime last year, he travelled to Jordan and collaborated with a group of Jordanian musicians. “We put up a show in Amman for about 500-600 people in Al-Hussain auditorium,” he added. “I’ve shot the entire experience with Kohi Marri. It’s a cross-cultural exchange between us and the Arabs. It’s going to lead up to one particular song from the concert that I ended up recording in the studio.”
Jimmy and Kohi approached Zeeshan Parwez and asked if he’d edit the footage they shot into a proper film. “Yes, I told them I’d be happy to help out,” confirmed Zeeshan in a text later.
“Apart from that, this year I’m thinking about where to start for next year’s album,” he added, his eyes twinkling, watching for my reaction.
But it’s January, the year has only just started, I say. “I know!” he responds, “It’s already in the works, but I’ve put myself in too many places. I’m trying to figure it all out, but that’s the deal.”
Originally published in Dawn, ICON, January 20th, 2019