Bilal Khan Shares His Experience of Coming Back on Coke Studio [Interview]

Bilal Khan, who returns for the new season of Coke Studio, talks about his feelings of performing in CS for the second time. The songs he has done this time are from his second album “Maktoob”. His first song which is called “Larho Mujhey”, comes out on 27th May.

1. How do you feel about your performance on Coke Studio. What kind of reaction are you expecting from the audience?

I was right in the sweet spot I need to be while singing. Just like in my last season with Coke, I performed original songs, written and composed by myself. But its always tricky because there’s no barometer to gauge how well you’re doing at the end of it.

Since the last year things have changed. The audience reaction – equally hard to gauge. Always on a whim. I’ve sort of just tuned out of the whole comments and number of hits on Youtube race. I think in the last year I’ve just decided not to read too much about myself and just keep my nose to the grindstone. Now, I evaluate myself on how many songs I’ve written and not so much on how people are reacting or what their expectations are. It’s more about the music, less about myself.

2. Tell us something about the songs you’re performing?

The songs I have done this time are from the second album “Maktoob” and it is great to see them go through the filter of Coke Studio. Soundwise I have tried to expand the horizon from the dark, sad themes of the songs on the last album and last season to more positivity. The tempo of the songs are faster but the essentials of writing a good song are still the same.

The song that comes out on 27th May is called “Larho Mujhey” and I feel it is the most mature and elaborate set of lyrics I have written so far. By “Larho Mujhey” I don’t mean a fight in its actual context but I mean it in the sense that if people wage war against your dreams and your abilities then you are ready to fight them. It is more about the intellectual war. It is about the warrior spirit in these dark times of our society today. It is not preachy at all. It is about the self-struggle against all these doubts about the self in the society. Thus I think this song has a lot more positivity and I hope that comes across through to the listeners.

3. How was your experience of going back on Coke Studio? Was that a nostalgic experience?

It almost felt like deja-vu. No just kidding. It was just as cool. Rohail Hyatt and the houseband were just as fun to work with as last season. But this time I put the guitar down. The guitar is sitting in the background I think. On hiatus for Season 5.

4. Tell us about some of the magical moments you had while shooting Coke Studio.

There is something mystical in the set at Coke Studio with everyone is always giving it their all, the lighting, the mood. From the lightboys to the cameraman, they are all spiritually connected to the work there and I think that sort of stems from the spiritual nature of the producer there.

5. I don’t think anything can go wrong when such great artists work on something together. So, how was it to make the songs with the house band?

I can only talk about my songs and I think with my songs the house band adds versatility to the songs. They would generally have a different rhythm going on to my guitar playing and I would have to adapt to that new rhythm pattern. Each members adds their little bit and those little bits become into the 5-6 minute song we get to hear. This time I just took a guitar and vocals structure to them as I understood what the process looks like and I asked them to fill that structure with their music.

6. Tell us about some unseen moments that probably the fans might not get to see on the show.

They have a hybrid canteen meets dining area of sorts at the set there. They have unlimited Coca-Cola, samosas, chai, sandwiches. Basically heaven for the school boy version of me. I always look forward to the eating part more than the performance part (pun intended).

7. Whose performance touched you the most? Do you have a favourite song in the season?

I think its too early to say. And it’s a tough choice considering all the greats that comprise this season. But this is the second season I share with Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad and I have always wanted to meet them. I couldn’t meet them this season either. They have quite the personality. Enigmatic in their performance and speech while on TV.

8. What are your thoughts on the future of live music, and the challenges the industry faces moving forward.

Our industry is definitely dying a slow death. I’ve been lucky to perform in almost every city of Pakistan last year and I know for a fact that the majority of Pakistanis do love and appreciate their music. It’s the disorganized nature and the lack of coherency that is getting us. That’s whats great about Coke Studio – it has managed to organize, bring together, and bind. And that’s a good template to have for the live business too. If somebody could organize the live business like Coke Studio has organized the recording business to much extent then there’s a lot of opportunity in that.

9. When you mix the genres tastefully I think the end result always come out something new and fresh. Did you experiment with your music or did you hone in on one type of sound?

I think you’ll get to see the fusion part in the bridge section of “Larho Mujhey”. That was all the house band and Rohail. They came up with that part and I really like it.

10. What motivates you in this musical journey?

To write good songs. I just see myself as a songwriter first. Songwriting is a dying art. Not enough people take risks with their own songs. Covers are great and I have done plenty too but I think I make up for it by writing my original songs and by writing my own lyrics. It’s the only legit way for me to communicate.

11. What do you think the biggest differences were between the last season and the new one?

5 – 4 = 1. The difference is definitely the “ONE”.

– Photography by Kohi Marri