Omar Mukhtar has to be one of the nicest people out there, because he’s agreed to sit outside LSE’s Main Cafe with me, in the sweltering heat, for the sake of this interview. It’s 12 in the afternoon, the sun is breathing fireballs down our faces, yet not once does Omar ask me why I was unable to interview him somewhere with an air conditioner. (It’s because of the noise, promise). In addition to being a Nice Person™, Omar Mukhtar is also a very successful musician, who also happens to own his very own restaurant, all while managing university also. Clearly, he’s a magician.
Omar tells me he’s been into music ever since he was a child. He can play a myriad of instruments, including the harmonium and the Sitar, and was actually banned from singing till he was 6 years old, until his parents realized his destiny and relented.
“I’m the 3rd generation of business in my family, so my father didn’t want me to go into music. I used to love singing ever since I was a child, but then I was banned from it till I was 6. I used to listen to Atif Aslam and Ali Zafar’s new albums chup chup ke. But once they realized this is something I wanted to do, they were very supportive. My father bought me my first piano when I was 12, and then he got me a guitar, and once that happened, bass, I was on a roll. They’ve been supportive ever since.”
He compares his music style to Ali Zafar’s happy-go-lucky feel. However, for his next album, he says he’s going vengeful, a la Taylor Swift, and writing about every girl who’s ever broken his heart.
“I really believe in the whole ‘happy-happy’ schtick. But recently, I’ve been very into Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift, so my upcoming music will have a similar sound. Because for my next album, I’m going vengeful. It’s gonna be crazy; every girl who’s ever broken my heart, there’ll be a song about her.” he explains. “Mera bohat daffa dil toota hai,” he says with a laugh (Awwwww)
When pressed about his new album, he tells me that it’s going to be called ‘Ganjay Ki Entry’, and that there’s a whole backstory about it. “So like I said, the album is about every girl who broke my heart, and there were a lot. During one particular breakup, there was this ganja guy who entered my life, and turned EVERYTHING upside down, he ended my relationship with the girl about whom I wrote my first album, ‘Ram Pam Para’. So he completely twisted my life and my music.” he reveals.
About his songwriting process, Omar says its a very natural thing that you can’t ever force. It just happens on its own.
“So basically,” he explains, “I first compose the melody. And then later I add the lyrics. And even then, it’s never a case of me sitting down and thinking ‘Oh I need to make a song, I need to write something.’ Its a very natural process that you can’t force, it comes to you yourself. If I’m feeling something, the words will come automatically. Sometimes, I’m not even sure what the words mean,” he laughs. “Like in the song Saathiya, I’m to this day not sure what banjaara means, but it sounded right in the moment, so I used it. Its really just like a revelation sometimes.”
Out of all his songs, Nishaan has been his favorite.
“So Nishaan was one of the first songs I made and released. I originally released it with Walnut Studios, but the version on the album is my favorite version. Firstly, the story behind the song is very important to me. It’s about the girl from Ram Pam Para, and it’s about that thing that girls like to do once they’re in relationships, where they doubt the fact that you really love them.” he laughs. “So, my girl was very angry at me, and I wrote this song for her, and I love this line from it
dil ki baatein kis ne jaani hain,
hum ne kaheen hai, par ussnay na maani hain
Its a song thats very close to my heart, and I love it’s melody also. This is one song I can keep on singing forever.”
He talks about why his songs are all in Urdu, and why he doesn’t do covers, and how he makes all his own music videos himself.
“The thing is, to succeed in music, I think you need to write original music. You can’t go very far with just covers. And to succeed in music in Pakistan, I think Urdu is a better medium, because its more widely listened to. You can cater to the masses with Urdu songs, whereas with English ones, its a very small niche market you have.”
“As for my music videos,” he continues, “They’re all self made, with zero budget. My friend Salman is very into videography, so he’s my director. We literally just grab a DSLR, and use our friends as actors, and we just shoot. Over the years though, the quality of my videos have definitely gone up, we’re learning with time. This is one way mein apna acting ka shauq bhi poora karleta hu”.
Apart from singing and acting, Omar has a third venture too. He recently opened his own restaurant, by the name of Hakuna Matata, which he started and manages all by himself.
“I’ve been into the music business since two years, and that’s when I realized, that there are very few concerts, so you don’t have too many chances to earn. If you want to succeed, you need a constant supply of money, because this industry is very demanding. So I gathered all the money I had earned from my concerts, and I opened a restaurant near Ganga Ram, which isn’t an ideal place for a restaurant, but I just wanted to learn. I ran that restaurant for six months, and it started taking off, so I thought, hey, maybe I should open another branch. And a month ago I opened the second branch of my restaurant in Defence. It’s going great, Alhamdullilah.” he says, with a smile.
“When I opened my restaurant, it was just a while before the new semester was supposed to start, and I was so immersed in work that I remember telling my friends that I didn’t think I’d be coming back to university. They were all like no don’t be stupid, don’t skip school. My family too, was like hey we’ll help out in every way possible, and they all did. It’s been amazing.” he says.
“At the same time” he continues, “it definitely has affected my studies, but at this point, all I want is to pass, to graduate. I don’t really care about how well I pass, because I already know what I want to be doing in life, because luckily, I’m already doing it.
His advice for students wishing to be musicians revolves around two things: passion and originality.
“If you’re passionate about something, it rarely seems too difficult. If you truly want to do something, you’ll find ways to do it, no matter how difficult. Also, equally important, if you want to be a musician, start writing your own stuff. Create your own original music, that’s how you become known. Thats how you create your own unique sound. Also, start as soon as you can, because that means you get your pay-offs earlier too, which means no taanay from your ghar-waalay.” he says with a laugh.
When asked about what the future holds for Omar Mukhtar, this is what he had to say:
“For now, the goal is to reach Coke Studio. Thats my major goal for now. But one thing is for sure, you’ll be hearing a lot of revenge songs from me soon. So my new album is going to be angry and relatable, and that’s something you can expect from me soon, music wise.” he said.
Thank you so much Omar, for talking to us!