When we asked Kaifi Khalil to trace the origins of his career in music, he responded, "Mainay jabse hosh sambhala hai, main gaa raha hoon [From the moment I gained consciousness, I've been singing]. This is all I've done in life — one, I've walked a lot of steps and two, I've sung a lot of songs." We're now delving into one of his two "favourite" activities.
'Kana Yaari', Coke Studio season 14's second song, was released in January this year and almost five months in, it has been played and replayed over 18 million times on YouTube alone. We've seen the collective magic of some very talented Baloch musicians — Khalil, niqabi rapper Eva B and singer Wahab Ali Bugti — and today, we're zooming in on one of them.
The Baloch singer was no stranger to Coke Studio — in fact, he was a true fan who wasn't able to sleep if his favourite artist was going to release a song the next day. And now, the very platform he looked up to has become one that pushed him under a huge spotlight — oh, how the tables turn.
Coke Studio is calling
One night, Khalil received an unexpected message that turned into a call that turned into the best professional experience of his life. Coke Studio's latest producer, Zulfiqar J Khan, popularly known as Xulfi, was calling to tell him he's in. "My excitement skyrocketed — I cannot describe this moment. I couldn't sleep, a friend of mine was with me but he was asleep," the singer shared.
Perhaps if his friend had been awake, it would have made Khalil reconsider his next move — keeping all his bubbling excitement inside and keeping the news a secret from his friends and family till the release of the song.
The 'Mast' singer revealed something about the call that won his heart. "The best thing for me, though, was that he [Xulfi] said 'The Kaifi that you are, we want him. We don't want to curate a Kaifi of our own, we want the original'. This is how it started."
Khalil talked about his experience with Xulfi's team, saying he felt right at home with them and termed their mehman nawazi (hospitality) excellent. "This journey was a lot of fun. I didn't even for a second feel that it is a new place and I am a new performer. It felt like I'm just doing my work, the way I do with my dost yaar [friends]."
Fast forward to song's release and his mother's reaction made all the secret-keeping worth it. "I was out when it was released. When I returned, my mother called me and said, 'Jaldi bya' — bya means come here in Balochi — she kissed my forehead, caressed me and said 'Your friends are here, do you know your song has been released? It's such a good song!'
"Even now when I wake up in the morning, she's already up listening to my song — it's a really good feeling. Whenever I leave my room, I'm met with myself on the TV screen," he said, pausing to chuckle. "And when I ask her to turn it off, she gets annoyed."
Grateful to God, his fans and his friends, the singer said they have given him a lot of strength. "And I intend on always living life like this — to live for those who listen to me, care about me and those who derive joy from me. For me, this is a big deal."
Life after 'Kana Yaari'
Khalil spoke about how life has changed after his Coke Studio journey. "There already were a good amount of people who listened to me," he said, referring to his YouTube channel with its 76,000 subscribers that he has been active on long before his big break. "But now even more people recognise me. They point at me and ask 'Kana Yaari'? 'Kana Yaari' boy?' They get really happy and tell me they really like my song. It is an amazing feeling — people meet me, treat me with respect and appreciate my work."
The musician has also had many fan encounters — some that have given him some jump scares too. "Yes, there have been fan moments. Sometimes they see me somewhere and the craziest fans will just start screaming. I've been scared by this," he laughed.
The artistic process
The 'Bya K Bacheke Abdaale' singer said he gets inspiration from the haalaat that he's seen. "Struggle is part of every person's life, that is normal, I think. So the things I've experienced, when I sit down to think, they race to my head and something starts forming from them, a melody.
"I then complete it by adding to it after contemplating what I can associate with it from my life. I also think about the people who listen to me — what from their lives could resonate, what have they seen? I want to write about them too — their thoughts and feelings. That's how my process goes."
He revealed that he pulled out 'Kana Yaari' from his treasure trove of incomplete compositions. "I wrote 'Kana Yaari' about three years ago. Some of it had been written and some I wrote in this time."
Khalil said the major theme of the song was how people can be two-faced in their dealings with others, and shared some of his insights. "This is what I think about life — a person should stick to what he says and have transparency. What he is on the inside is what he should be on the outside. That is the reason I wrote this song, to reflect this reality. Some is about the haalaat in Lyari, the way we are spending our lives there. I wanted to take all I've seen and experienced to put it into words."
The singer discussed how music is his magical ability to expel any negative feelings from his system. "I feel much lighter after putting my sentiments into music. I think God has given me this ability for a reason. When I get upset — I'm human so I go through ups and downs — I sing and release. If I get angry, I sing and take it out in the song. Whatever is in my heart, I release it through singing."
He added that these sentiments don't just disappear, they're palpable for his listeners. "They recognise something is different about my voice, there must be something wrong. They feel it. This is a natural occurrence for me and I feel lighter. Other than that, I get busy with work, think about my listeners and forget about all the [hard] times I've been through. That was nothing — the best time is now, in which I have everyone with me."
Music has no language
Khalil entered the world of melody through Sufi music. "I was attracted to music because of Sufism. Then I crooned in Balochi and it appealed to my listeners more — they appreciated it and started inquiring into me, talking about me. They said 'you should do whatever you want to do but keep singing, don't stop.' So I kept singing and got attached to my own tongue.
"When I pursued music professionally, even then I had people listening to me. The people from my own community really appreciated it as they believe my style is unique in Balochi. Strumming my own guitar is seen as something different — it hasn't happened before. They saw it in me and liked it."
The musician said that singing in Balochi didn't feel like a hurdle because music does not have a language. "So even then, there would be Urdu-speaking people who'd listen to my Balochi songs and message to ask about the translation. Music does not have a language, we listen to it in every tongue," he explained.
"I think my language is enough to promote my culture — music itself also is a part of culture. I am working with our Baloch folk instruments but I want to do it in my own style, keeping the new dor [time] in mind, bringing innovation," he explained. "I want to take into consideration what people listen to now and what they want to listen to, and then incorporate that in my music. This will promote the language and make sure people enjoy it too."
His personal haveli studio
Khalil shared that he works on all his music at home. "My room is my little haveli. It doubles as a bedroom and a studio. [I have to work at a set time because] the noise from outside penetrates the quiet — like maids conversing — and joins in my vocals. This is also an adventure of its own," he laughed. "Getting them to quiet down so I can work."
He explained how producing music can be a feat in his neighbourhood. "In Lyari, the houses are attached one after another, we can't disturb anyone. The sounds keep on coming — the generator's rumble, then the electricity returns and more machines start buzzing. That subsides and then silence settles. That's when I pray no fight breaks out because it can go on and there is no chance of getting any work done."
Music, of course, requires quite a bit of quiet time. "This work requires quietness because though there's a margin for getting composing done without silence as it is done on a computer, the vocals cannot survive this way. Not even a minor sound should accompany the vocals. When you work on the next step, mixing, the sound will be detected and it can't be erased. The whole recording goes to waste. This has happened many times, a whole night's work had to be discarded. This is very sensitive work — creating and producing. Performing live is relatively easy."
An artist with sad tunes
Is Khalil "an artist with sad tunes" as his TikTok bio suggests? He smiled and explained, "Whatever I sing turns sad — that's why I've added that in the bio. Often people ask why I'm sad, has someone broken my heart? How am I still singing with a broken heart? So I put up this bio as a [preordained] answer for them."
Does the singer actually traverse the road of melancholy? "No, I'm not a sad person, I can be quite mischievous. I just go quiet and people think I'm sad even though this is part of my nature. There's nothing wrong, I just enter a world of my own and turn into a child there."
He amusingly explained why his music is so "sad". "The majority of my fanbase consists of broken people so 60 to 70 per cent of them demand I sing sad songs. They don't like any joyful songs — no happy vibes. They only want me to sing sad songs. Even for 'Kana Yaari' I got so many reactions like, 'I've listened to this song of yours and become really sad.'
"Actually some people get hit by a particular lyric, for example, Maa gharibi reh dini saaf, tu ameerey dara maani judaai maaf [I’m poor, yes, but my heart is pure. You are rich, my loss isn’t on you to endure]. This is a small story on its own. I feel like quite a lot of people can relate to this."
'Kahani Suno 2.0'
Khalil just released a new song, 'Kahani Suno 2.0', a revised version of his old song 'Kahani Suno'. "I revived this old song of mine because my Urdu listeners requested a song in Urdu so this is for them. I wrote the lyrics, composed it and tried to use words that I feel most people can relate to — their desires in life."
The singer mentioned that more songs are in the works, including some with happy vibes "so they can stop asking me to be sad," he added jokingly.
The 'Tayi Yaad Atkagaa'n' singer has one wish in life where music is concerned: "I pray that I never lose the love for learning. I am learning, I don't even qualify myself among the students yet, I am still learning.
"I want to know what music is — I want to understand how this magic influences people and changes their mood entirely. How a sad song can make you cry and how your favourite song make you soar. I hope I never lose this love of learning and I want to always keep singing. The fact that I am a small source that brings a smile to someone's face is a big deal for me."
Khalil said he never thought he'd be part of the music production he stayed up nights in eagerness for but now he has had a change in perception. "Now I believe that miracles do happen. If we've set off on a journey then we mustn't stop until we reach the manzil [destination]. We have to keep going and enjoy it."
What is the manzil? "The manzil is becoming a human being. I'm not a complete person so I'm trying to become that through my art," he responded.