Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan, colloquially known as Xulfi within industry ranks and beyond, is among the most sought after music producers in the country right now. From coming into the limelight with music group EP on the debut edition of Pepsi Battle of the Bands nearly a decade ago, he has come far as a recording artist, music producer and mentor as well as stage performer. EP only made one revered album, Irtiqa, before the band split ways with Xulfi who went on to form Call, another successful albeit less experimental group. EP reunited to perform the head-banging ‘Hamesha’ on Pepsi Battle of the Bands (2017) and Xulfi continues to produce for front-man Fawad Khan; ‘Uth Jaag’ (2019) is a great example.
Xulfi also found great talent in Nescafe Basement that picked up millions of hits for multiple tracks in its last season.
But, when Xulfi produced the 2020 PSL anthem, ‘Tayyar Hain’ in 2020 featuring Ali Azmat, Arif Lohar, Haroon Rashid (former Awaaz) and the popular sensation Asim Azhar, something strange happened. He, along with the featured artists, was on the receiving end of some severe criticism across social media. And just as Pakistan Super League (PSL 2020) gets underway today in Karachi with a star-studded opening ceremony, another Xulfi anthem called ‘Khel Ja Dil Se’ featuring a different set of artists, in collaboration with Pepsi, is also underway.
This one features Fawad Khan, Aima Baig, Haroon Shahid, Kashmir’s Bilal Ali and Bayaan’s Asfar Hussain. The single is written by Adnan Dhool (Soch) and Xulfi with the latter also producing it. As ‘Khel Ja Dil
Se’ is releasing soon, Instep speaks to Xulfi about producing ‘Tayyar Hain’ and ‘Khel Ja Dil Se’ and facing criticism for the former.
Excerpt from the conversation below…
Instep: How was the experience of producing your first PSL anthem ‘Tayyar Hain’ while working with legends? Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan (Xulfi): It was a great experience, not just because I got to work with the best in the business but because I also enjoy collaborative efforts. Every time you collaborate with someone, you are collaborating with other evolutions. In this case, it was a learning experience for me just to share the stage with Ali Azmat, Haroon Rashid, Arif Lohar, and Asim Azhar. Each of them added their unique flavors to the anthem, making it enjoyable for all.
In addition to the various vocalists, we used 23 instruments in ‘Tayyar Hain’. During the making of the single, we unearthed so many stories regarding the depleted state of our musicians. We found out that there are no proper Tumba (a kind of drum) makers left in the country. It is things like these that make you appreciate whatever you have left. As a music producer in our infant music industry, it’s very important to know these stories and their importance, so that we can propagate the right sentiment through our songs, ensuring that these songs matter and impact a change.
Instep: Was there an inspiration behind the creation of ‘Tayyar Hain’ or did it just happen on the fly?
Xulfi: It all started when we got to know that we have to create an anthem for PSL 5. We took it as a beautiful opportunity. PSL is not just an excellent cricket Twenty20 tournament but a huge platform for music producers because everyone is listening to the songs, gearing up for the matches ahead of what can be termed as the biggest sports event to be held in Pakistan after a long time. I am a cricket fan and like everyone who follows the game, I know that the last decade has been extremely difficult for cricket in Pakistan. That emotion was the driving force that helped us come up with this anthem.
When we presented the song to the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), they liked the idea so much that they made it their campaign slogan.
Instep: Were you expecting the negative feedback the anthem received, especially from social media?
Xulfi: I have always been a propagator of positivity, but have learnt that you have to be ready for everything; this song also propagates the same philosophy. What I fail to understand is that when we released the song, within thirty seconds or a minute, we started getting negative comments as if people were waiting for the release.
That was strange for me because I expected the listeners to first listen to the song, and then post their comments, which is what logical listener(s) did. In fact, many who loved the track didn’t even understand where the negativity was coming from. We created the song with the right intent; gave it our 100 per cent and tried to present a strong ideology that was the basis of the song.
Why it was taken as negative is beyond me, especially when it is truly original, Pakistani and unique.
The effort, the artists, the instruments and the melodies in this number are purely Pakistani. The beat is hybrid, which is from our very own rooted grooves, and the beats that are played in the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, so it has that Latin festive vibe. Interestingly, both these styles have so much in common in their grooves that I felt their union would be magical. That’s how the ‘Tayyar Hain’ groove was created.
Instep: Out of Arif Lohar, Ali Azmat, Haroon Rashid and Asim Azhar, with whom did you enjoy most working with?
Xulfi: Every one of the artists mentioned above is a legend. I was so glad that they all gave so much time for the song. They all came in, listened to it, gave suggestions and absorbed the ideology. Everyone including Asim Azhar was ready to give more time and that was even more heartening.
I must mention here that when Arif Lohar sahib was in the studio, Ali Azmat was present with me and what a fun, inspiring session it turned out to be! New ideas were created and found their way in the song. I feel Haroon defines the pop music personality of Pakistan and
that personality shone through. Asim Azhar was
also fun to work with; he gave his best to the song. What I loved most about him was how he was respectful to all the legends present in the song and understood what an amazing moment this was. It’s very important for artists to respect and learn from each other because that’s how one grows as an artist and also as a person.
As for Arif Lohar, we wanted him to deliver the most powerful lines of the anthem because only he could have given the sentiment, the edge we needed – rooted in his style. While he was recording his parts, I was teary-eyed. When the song was conceived, I knew the final ‘Tayyar Ho’ has to be delivered by Arif Lohar. Imagine him delivering this line in the stadium! That’s the kind of thought and spirit that went into ‘Tayyar Hain’.
Instep: Don’t you think you are stretching yourself with the release of ‘Khel Ja Dil Se’ featuring Fawad Khan, Aima Baig, Haroon Shahid, Kashmir’s Bilal Ali and Bayaan’s Asfar Hussain?
Xulfi: I have been working on this song in parallel with ‘Tayyar Hain’, and those who know me will tell you that I take different opportunities as beautiful challenges, not tasks. ‘Khel Ja Dil Se’ is definitely not an anthem but a song dedicated to cricket and Pakistan.
It talks about how everything is possible if we approach it with our hearts. It’s a journey of effort that we all have had in our lives, making it a song every one can relate to.
– Omair Alavi is a freelance broadcast journalist who can be contacted at [email protected]