Mehdi Maloof first came to national attention when he was featured in the last season of Coke Studio. His song, 'Dil Khirrki' [The Heart’s Window], now has over 2.8 million views, and yet is one of the late bloomers from CS — it wasn’t a ‘hit’ when it was first released. Up until then, Mehdi was known only in the underground music scene and that too by somewhat of a cult audience.
His inclusion in CS was surprising because, at the time, two other artists’ stars were rising and were considered strong contenders — Abdullah Siddiqui and Shamoon Ismail. Neither made it, perhaps because they were due to be featured in the first season of Velo Sound Station (Abdullah’s segment was cut from the programme because he did not meet the new minimum age criteria). One can only guess.
“Somehow CS has this nature about it that I end up working on songs I normally would never ever have anything to do with. It’s very strange,” Rohail Hyatt said in an interview late last year. “Take Mehdi Maloof for example. I had no idea who or what he was. One girl working here was a huge fan. I heard him, I found him very unique.
“I started working on his song. It ['Dil Khirrki'] seemed like it had a very dark energy to it. I embraced all the negative, the darkness, and made it part of something to celebrate as well. Darkness bhi hai tau hum naacheingey, hum gayeingey. [Even in the darkness we will sing and we will dance.]”
In Kahien Main Khirrki, Mehdi Maloof sings about the bewilderment of being objectified
That last line describes Mehdi’s music perfectly. On the surface of it, his more recent release 'Kahien Main Khirrki' may sound similar to 'Dil Khirrki' but that similarity is restricted to the title only. Musically, both are two different songs.
'Kahien Main Khirrki' is a soft, acoustic number that shows off the singer’s virtuosity on the acoustic guitar as well. Mehdi Maloof sings in a way that sounds almost like he’s not performing to dazzle, but to engage in an intimate conversation through his songs.
On the surface of it, lyrically 'Kahien Main Khirrki' almost comes across as a silly song. A light-hearted poem not meant to be taken too seriously. Take, for example, the following lyrics:
“Haan taptay asmaan pe main/ Din mein koi chimgaadar tau nahin?/ Kahien main khabar tau nahin?/ Ya phir paparr hun koi [Under this blazing sky/ Am I a bat out in the day?/ Am I the news?/ Or am I a papadum].”
Or: “Geeli kisi deewar pe/ Phisalti vi main makrri tau nahin?/ Kahien main larrki tau nahin? [On a wet wall/ Am I a slipping spider?/ Or am I a girl?]”
This sounds silly and like random wordplay, but 'Kahien Main Khirrki' is actually about the trials and tribulations of being objectified. The experience is so confusing for the singer that he wonders whether he’s woken up as a woman. It’s an intelligent reference to the experiences most women have around the world, with being harassed and objectified considered almost ‘normal’.
Mehdi Maloof sings from the heart and there is a fresh, sweet quality to his voice, though he often goes atonal at times indicating the rawness of an amateur singer. His sincerity, however, saves the day for him.
Originally published in Dawn, ICON, May 16th, 2021