Kaifi Khalil created waves in Coke Studio Season 14 when he collaborated as a vocalist on the song ‘Kana Yaari’ with Pakistani rapper Eva B and Tambura player Abdul Wahab Bugti. Khalil wrote and composed the song, with the exception of Eva B’s verse. He went on to become a YouTube sensation after ‘Kana Yaari’ received 3.2 million views within three days of its release.
Kana Yaari’s lyrics and out-of-the-box thoughts drew attention. We rarely hear Balochi music, so seeing it featured on a platform like Coke Studio was a huge step forward.
Kaifi Khalil is the son of late Baloch musician Rajab Ali Surizehi. This is how Kaifi was first introduced to music. After his father passed away, Khalil took odd jobs to keep himself and his mother afloat. The mother and son duo live together in the Lyari area of Karachi.
He had never had a real education and was introduced to Karachi’s MAD school for music by a friend, where he received free formal music training. At MAD, he worked with a number of notable artists under the guidance of some of the country’s most well-known artistic directors, including Nida Butt and Hamza Jafri.
In 2015, he started his own YouTube channel and uploaded his first video in 2016. His first song was a cover of “Mani Tawe Dost,” a Balochi tune.
Up until the release of his song on Coke Studio, his channel had around 75,000-80,000 subscribers. Other singles released by Kaifi include Baali Guraab (2021), Kadi Kaye (2021) and Mast (2022).
Khalil was given many platforms to perform on by the I AM KARACHI organisation, which aims to promote socio-cultural activities in Pakistan, and he was also given the I AM KARACHI HOPE award in 2016.
Kaifi Khalil discussed how the opportunity with Coke Studio came about and how it altered his life in a recent interview.
“Main ne 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.”
You’ve probably heard stories about people’s lives changing overnight. That’s the case with Khalil, who received a message one night that developed into a call from none other than Xulfi (music producer Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan) himself, informing him that he was selected as part of Coke Studio’s Season 14 lineup.
“My excitement skyrocketed I cannot describe this moment. I couldn’t sleep, a friend of mine was with me but he was asleep,” he said. Perhaps if his friend had been awake, it would have made Khalil reconsider his next move.
“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 decided to keep the release of his new song a secret from his loved ones and he said it was all worth it when he saw his mother’s reaction. “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 see myself on the TV screen,” he said, pausing to chuckle. “And when I ask her to turn it off, she gets annoyed.”
“I intend to continue living 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,” he said.
We all know how our lives changed the moment Kana Yari was released, and Khalil’s life took an unexpected turn as well.
Khalil discussed how it all has changed since his Coke Studio experience. “There already were a good amount of people who listened to me,” he said, referring to his YouTube channel with over 79,000 subscribers that he has been active on long before his big break. “But now even more people recognize me. ‘Kana Yaari?’ they ask, pointing at me. ‘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 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.