In Conversation with the Badnaam One - Ahmed Jilani

He maybe (the face of) Badnaam but Ahmed Jilani is refreshingly honest about his work, relationships, and hardships he faced, as we discovered when we met the singer. Since smouldering his way to national acclaim through Pepsi Battle of the Bands, Ahmed Jilani is keen to make it big and create a name for his band by creating meaningful music. Badnaam Band is all set to release their new music and videos and it was the perfect time to sit down with the artist himself and talk about his journey.

1. From an IT Head to a musician, how did this transformation happen and what inspired you to change paths when you were at the peak of your career? 

I have been doing music since I was in prep class. I was a part of the school choir – thanks to my teacher Nadeem Salamat Ali who really liked my voice and asked me to join the choir. Then by the time I reached class 1 or 2 – I’m not very sure because it was in the late 80s – I gave my first public performance in Alhamra Open Theatre at World Music Festival. I still remember performing Allah Ki Rehmat Ka Saya with my teacher playing the keyboard. Then I kept doing music till I participated in the popular children singing show Aangan Aangan on PTV hosted by Amjad Bobby – a famous musician/composer of that time. I was the lead singer of the choir in the show and by the way, it is the same show where Hadiqa Kiyani also participated. I was a part of that show for 6-7 months but my father complained to my mother that I was not paying much attention to my studies obviously because of the late recording sessions. After that, I started focusing on my studies while continuing music simultaneously. So yes, music has always been there with me. I used to play harmonium and sing Ghazals in family get-togethers. Anyways, when I reached class 8, that was the time I thought of making my career because I was a kind of child who always set objectives and think beyond limits. I achieved all my objectives, got financially stable but somehow it didn’t work out for me. I was the head of IT in Telenor and at a very young age, I had worked in public sector, semi-government sector, and even the private sector. In short, I was living a very ideal life people can think of. But during this time, I realized that in order to survive in the corporate culture, you have to be very diplomatic and frankly, I am very straightforward. I still feel that my bosses would be very unhappy with my behavior but that’s how I am. I also started thinking at one point that who will listen to my music if I die? That really freaked me out and this was the time when I decided to pursue music and leave this job. I talked to my mother about this situation and she has been very supportive in all my journey. So, the transformation did not happen overnight – music has always been a part of me.

2. No transformation comes easily. What lessons did yours teach you about life? 

What I have learned is that life can be cruel at times. I have seen a time when I did not have to worry about my finances and even those times when I had only Rs. 37 in my account. But God has been very kind to me and blessed me with very supportive friends and mother who have been with me through thick and thin. My friends even financed some of my songs. They motivated me, supported me financially as well as emotionally. But when you have been at the peak of your career and you are going through such turbulent times, you break from inside – your ego gets dented even when no one is making you realize it. When your ego breaks, everything becomes easy and money doesn’t matter at that point.

3. Is your music a depiction of your persona or you have groomed yourself according to your music? 

Our music is a collective depiction of our band Badnaam.

4. You have seen some tough times during your musical journey. Did those experiences help you evolve as a musician?

Musicians are much more than just music. Music for me is like an expression and the experiences you gain in life, help you express those experiences. Everyone has to go through some rough patches and musicians are not an exception. My experiences certainly made me learn more about music and my expression evolved with it gradually.

5. Were the introspective lyrics of Aik Noktay a conscious effort or something that just happened? 

It was actually a poem written by Baba Bulleh Shah. Currently, we are also working on its video which will be out very soon.

6. What’s your process of making music? Do you make the melody first or work on the lyrics? 

We don’t have a set process but most of the times, the melody comes first in our songs. And yes, writing lyrics on a melody is a tough task. I believe that if you make the melody first, it will be much effective, pure, and strong rather than the one made according to the lyrics because there is no restriction of lyrics at that point.

7. You possess a very strong and authoritative vocal tone. Does it make it hard for you to experience your voice with genres other than Sufi-rock? 

Not at all. I have sung different singers in my childhood in the likes of Mehdi Hassan, Madam Noor Jehan, just to name a few. I started listening to rock music in 1992-3; before that, I used to sing Ghazals and other classical forms of music. So, I can sing this way and that way too (laughs).

8. Today particularly, when music has been tied to tragedy, why is it so important to make sure for people to come together through music?

Music should be about larger than life ideas and not events. Although it is not a bad thing, I feel it should be the other way around. Inspiring people to come together should not be dependent on any tragic event.

9. Who is to be blamed for the downfall of the music industry? Quality of music or choices of audiences? 

I think it’s the government to be blamed for. The quality of music in Pakistan is still much better subject to the facilities available to the musicians. The government should have systems to support musicians. In Pakistan, there is a 60% tax on public events. That’s why the private sector is also not able to support and invest in musicians. If we had strong systems, no one would have talked about banning Bollywood. There is no need to ban anyone just to promote your local talent – just provide the right platforms and systems for them. The quality will improve once the musicians start playing more in front of the public. They will learn, gain experience, evolve, and ultimately the quality will improve.

10. What is the best and worst thing about being Ahmed Jilani? 

Best and worst thing – I’m very straightforward.

11. What is the best part of playing live? 

You feel ALIVE. Playing live is actually the real deal. When you are on the stage, you are the king – you can say what you want, do what you want. I wish to be on the stage like forever.

12. Most of the musicians have shifted focus to acting. Do you have any plans of working in a movie or a TV serial?

No plans at all! I’m a very bad actor. I remember we did a video of a song Ishq Mein Tere in Azad Kashmir and we were sponsored by a tourism company. The director of the video told me that he’ll keep those shots with him to insult me at a later time (laughs).

Ahmed Jilani is a Pakistani musician from Badnaam Band

13. How is your relation with your fans? Do you interact with them often on social media? 

I talk to them a lot on social media and at times they even get confused if I am Ahmed Jilani.

14. Your greatest fear. 


15. What is your earliest memory? 
Haha, don't ask.

16. What makes you happy? 

Live music.

17. If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would you choose?

I don’t think about such things! But I would definitely bring back Nirvana.

18. What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Haha, I can’t tell you that.

19. If you could go back in time, where would you go? 

The time I am living in. I would like it to pause here.

20. Your favorite venue to perform. 

Not a favorite venue but Peshawar has been my favorite city to perform in. Also Multan. We performed at Bahauddin Zakaria University where I saw barriers and students were far behind the stage. I asked them to remove them and they told me not to make such wishes. After 3 songs, the students went crazy and they were dancing with those barricades in their hands. That was super insane.

21. Your greatest achievement. 

I have not achieved anything yet to brag about. But I really wish I could achieve something to call it my greatest achievement. At this moment, I want to be as big to give as much as possible to others.

22. How would you like to be remembered? 

The one who lived for others. Kinda like Robinhood.

23. What do you hate doing the most? 


24. Please give a small message for your fans.

I would ask them to Give. That can make this world a happy place.