Hasan Raheem was in fifth grade when he experienced the tangible magic of live performances. Standing on stage and belting out lyrics to a popular dance track by the British-Indian band, RDB (an acronym for rhythm, dhol and bass), Raheem felt his heart surge with excitement as he watched the crowd leave their seats to bust a few moves. His legs shook as his nerves got the better of him during the performance. But as he held his father’s loving gaze, Raheem’s stage fright petered out. Instead, the birth of a compelling dream beckoned.
To state that Raheem ‘broke out’ into the Pakistani music scene in 2020, would be incorrect. Just like his music – subtle, laid-back R&B and rap, – the artiste delicately made his presence felt minus any bells and whistles gimmickry. Just plain, good old music featuring Raheem and his signature Gilgiti-inspired dance moves vibing in his music videos.
Originally from Gilgit-Baltistan (in Pakistan’s northern region), and the eldest of three siblings, Raheem reveals that his father (now retired from the army) and his mother (a housewife) ran a tight ship. While he admits he was a bit of a “rebel,” Raheem states that he remained committed to medical school and currently balances his time working with his patients (during his house job) and after work hours, making slick, catchy beats.
Penning lyrics and weaving together melodies on his semi-acoustic guitar (jokingly named Esteban), the artiste had – and continues to have – no illusions of grandeur of loud, instant stardom. Instead, his music-making was a slow-burning process that Raheem felt deliciously consumed by. There were ideas (lots of ideas), snippets of tunes and verses that he wove together in his room as the pandemic’s dread and the lockdown’s silence oozed into every alcove of one’s waking life.
Soft-spoken and somewhat shy, Raheem chuckles when he mentions that he rarely gives interviews and prefers making a “run” from the press. The media attention, while flattering, isn’t what he’s too focused on, at least for now. There’s too much music to be made.
Dressed in a cream-colored hoodie and a cap, Raheem is sweet-natured and laughs easily. But there’s an aura of nervous energy that surrounds him too, he seems keyed up as if he’s ready to hit the studio and begin recording some sick tracks with favorite producers, Abdullah Kasumbi or Talal Qureshi.
Winning the Breakthrough Artist of the Year award in music at the Pakistan International Screen Awards (PISA) in 2020, the artiste mentions how, after the show, he was approached by press asking him what he was nominated for. “I was like bro, I won,” Raheem states, guffawing.
But while he may not be a household name – yet – the press and local music’s old guard are beginning to take notice of this wonderkid who, as he puts it, is obsessed with R&B Soul.
Having released popular singles such as Aisay Kaisay (3.5 million hits on YouTube), Joona (2.1 million hits), Aarzu (1.8 million hits) and two new tracks (Sar Phira and Sun Le Na), the 24-year-old is both humble and grounded when he speaks about his music career.
“I usually write about things that tease me,” he says, hinting that words left unsaid (in his private life) are brought forth into his music. Perhaps it’s because Raheem is searching for a sense of closure through his music, or, on the other hand, maybe each song stands as a love letter to faces and experiences that he continues to carry with him.
“I pour my feelings into my music. I try to keep it as simple as possible so that anyone who listens to my songs can connect with them. I keep it straightforward so that everyone understands what I have to say,” he says.
“I think I’m learning and experimenting with my music every day. I’m a student of this art form. I try to sing and write in different ways…I practice constantly.”
Adamant on penning his own lyrics, no matter who he collaborates with, Raheem is fiercely loyal to his creative freedom and never allows it from being tampered with, or compromised.
He’s particular about his contracts too – be it projects for multinationals, live shows and music platforms. “I did make mistakes initially,” he says, “But I learnt things along the way. I keep things very real regarding specific contracts for different assignments.”
Having recorded a song for the latest season of Coke Studio, a local music platform, the artiste mentions that he’s also ready to release his album soon, apart from planning a national tour.
From eavesdropping on his father as a child, as his father hummed old Bollywood songs, a man who, Raheem affectionately states, has always had a “beautiful voice,” to performing on the school stage, Raheem has come a long way since his foray into mainstream music.
“I think the future of Pakistani music is going to be an amalgamation of genres. Right now we have a whole new Indie and Hip Hop scene, there are so many different sounds out there that in the next decade or so, I’m pretty sure Pakistani music is going to go global,” Raheem states excitedly.
“I see new talent in Pakistan and the stuff they’re making and it’s so much better than what we’re currently doing. But they need our support. When I started out, I was helped by peers like the Young Stunners, so I make it a point of paying it forward to those starting out. I go to their studios and help out with lyrics and melodies. I’m not selfish like that. We need to make a community where everyone comes together and makes great music. That’s what the music industry needs at this point.”
Speaking about local music’s old guard, Raheem says that at times it gets a little “hard” to convince senior artistes regarding the creation of new sounds.
“I’ve had to persuade some of the seniors that I’ve worked with that this is the kind of music people are listening to these days and that we need to step up our game,” he says, “If we stick with the old sound, it’s not going to better our industry. New artistes need to be motivated more and if they see us working with senior artists and doing cool projects, they’re going to be super psyched about working on their art. I really see our music industry growing.”
Late last year, during a live performance in Karachi, Raheem began playing the acoustic version of his hit single, Aisay Kaisay. But before he could start singing, the crowd took over. There it was again. That familiar feeling of tangible magic. The artiste could barely hear his own voice. Smiling to himself, he let the audience sing as he played for them. It felt like a full circle moment. A reminder of all that brought him to that very moment.
Under the Karachi sky, perched up on a container, Raheem was grateful no one could see the tears streaming down his face. “It was surreal,” he recalls, “I don’t even have the words for it.”