Asim Azhar has a talent for frequently trending on Twitter. Sometimes, it’s because the Pakistani masses have decided to take a special interest in his love life. At other times, it’s just because he’s released a new single.
Asim Azhar’s latest single ‘Tum Tum’, when I wrote this, had been viewed more than 3 million times since its premiere a week ago. It had also trended on Twitter since then, becoming fodder for plenty of discussions. People loved it, people hated it, fans raved and many others created memes. And all this meant that the song was viewed again and again on YouTube.
Millions of views on YouTube, of course, are considered by many to be the benchmark of a music video’s success. Twitter memes, on the other hand, indicate the opposite. Musical tastes tend to be subjective and the verdict on ‘Tum Tum’ is quite divided.
But whether you hate or like it, this brand new single comes at a time when very little new music is getting created in Pakistan. Ever since the coronavirus broke loose, online concerts have become regular weekend fare. Most local musicians have been coming online, live on Instagram and singing their best hits and revamped versions of popular songs: Ali Sethi, Shuja Haider, Ali Hamza, Ali Zafar and the Strings’ duo from their respective homes, Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia.
Sometimes, sponsored concerts have played out on digital platforms like Facebook and Instagram with artists playing their music from a particular brand’s page. But no one – except Asim Azhar – has constantly been working on new content.
First, while most of the country remained in lockdown, Asim released his video of ‘Humraah’, the song that he had composed and sung for Bollywood movie ‘Malang’. Asim’s rendition of the song had been removed from the movie’s soundtrack due to Indo-Pak tensions and an Indian singer had replaced him, The song has then been released around November last year. Asim released his own version, with a video, this May.
“I wanted to release the song, the way I had sung it, from my own platform and I knew that I couldn’t delay it any longer,” says Asim. “I wondered if I was already too late. Malang’s soundtrack had released some months ago. I was surprised when my video became such a hit.”
Following Humraah, Asim went on to his new project, the making of a video that he says is his ‘most expensive yet’. In ‘Tum Tum’, Asim has collaborated with four other artists: Shamoon Ismail, Talha Anjum, Talha Yunus and Raamis. In addition, the video featured Areeka Haq, a very popular TikTok star who hopes to venture into acting. Also seen in the six minute long video, Hania Aaamir and Mooroo. That’s quite a long, long list of names.
“I created a lot of songs all through last year,” says Asim. “It was a very tough year for me. I had been signed on with a record label based in India and suddenly, plans were falling through. There were times when I felt lost. What got me through was making music. I think I now have about 30 or 40 compositions ready, with me, and ‘Tum tum’ is one of them.”
He continues, “Last year, Talha Anjum, Talha Yunus, Raamis and I were just hanging out and they heard the song. They liked it so much that they said, let’s record this together and the next day, we did! Then, around six months later, I met Shamoon in Islamabad and he really liked the song. I came back to Karachi, he sent me his vocals and we merged them in. Areeka became a part of the project just a week before we shot the video.”
The announcement that Areeka was going to be part of the video had brought on critique even before the release. A lot of people evidently didn’t like that Asim was a collaborating with a TikToker. “That didn’t even make sense,” Asim laughs. “I mean, Dwayne Johnson is promoting his new movie on TikTok while we continue to be close-minded and criticize everything.”
By the time the video was shot, the coronavirus had already hit the country, but while the team observed SOP’s, it didn’t deter Asim and his fellow musicians from going ahead with the filming. “I stayed at home during the initial weeks of lockdown, until restrictions were relaxed to accommodate daily wagers. Then, I started going to the studio. Ultimately, even I am a daily wager. I can’t get paid if I don’t go to work.”
He says that ‘Tum tum’ is his most expensive video yet. It is also his first solo release from his own channel. Did he not feel deterred by the current economic uncertainty? “I have to keep working,” Asim says simply.
Of course, under normal circumstances, the release of these two singles could have possibly reaped many more benefits for the singer than millions of hits on YouTube. Brand sponsorships and concert deals could have been struck, bringing in revenue. But from a long-term perspective, even now, Asim’s collating new material for when things get better.
When – whenever – the coronavirus gets quelled and life returns to normal, the singer will be ready with a lineup of new music.
“There are phases in every artist’s like that can make or break him or her,” says Asim. “Last year was like that for me. I could have completely disappeared but I told myself that I had to go on. The toughest period of my life has taught me a lot.”
And at a time when many musicians have put their careers at a standstill, Asim’s work is also teaching a lesson. Life may have changed, we may not be liking the ‘new normal’, but sooner or later, the world will return to the way it was before. Perhaps, instead of getting stuck in a rut, it’s time to start preparing for the future. You can bet that people will want to listen to new music. Asim Azhar, at least, will have no problem with that.