Xulfi accused of lifting Coke Studio’s ‘Tu Jhoom’ melody

Umerkot singer claims producer copied from a demo she shared with him over WhatsApp

Rafay Mahmood January 18, 2022

Coke Studio 14 kicked off on January 14 with a grand showcase featuring Naseebo Lal and Abida Parveen in one song. Tu Jhoom sees Lal and Parveen indulge in a conversation about letting yourself go and opening your heart to the world instead of chasing everything down.

The song not only went viral within hours of its release but also made the usually dejected Coke Studio fans say that the Coke Studio they lost is back. Tu Jhoom has been credited as written by Adnan Dhool, composed and mixed by Xulfi, arranged and produced by Xulfi and Abdullah Siddiqui.

Nirmala Maghani, an up-and-coming singer from Umarkot would like to differ to some aspects of the credits list. She has claimed that the melody of the song Tu Jhoom has been lifted from a sample she had sent to Xulfi back in June 2021, while eyeing a slot as featuring artist in Coke Studio 14. Xulfi didn’t reply to any of her messages, which she thought was expected from such a senior musician being suddenly reached by a singer he doesn’t know via WhatsApp. But the moment she heard Tu Jhoom she realised that one of the melodies she had sent has been used in the song without any acknowledgment.

“The melody is exactly the same,” she told The Express Tribune in a telephonic conversation. “I have been calling Xulfi since I heard the song and after a day he finally responded by saying ‘I didn’t even download your audio file,’ which isn’t true because all my messages were received with blue ticks," Maghani stressed the point that all she wants is recognition and due credit for her work and nothing else. “It’s about recognition of my work and being acknowledged for it, nothing else.”

Mentor to the rescue

Culture curator, composer and lyricist Yousaf Salahuddin (Mian Salli), who is a mentor of sorts to Maghani took to social media to display his angst. “The composition has been copied from Nirmala Maghani, who is a singer and composer from Umerkot, Tharparkar, she had sent to Xulfi for consideration in the then-upcoming season of Coke Studio,” he commented. “Zulfiqar (Xulfi) instead changed the words and sold this as his own to Coke Studio. This is highly inappropriate and legal action will be taken very soon.”

When reached out for comment, Salahuddin confirmed that he sticks to his word on social media. “It’s the same composition. Nirmala had sent this to me way before she had sent it to Xulfi and if you listen closely the Asthai (beginning) is exactly the same followed by minor tweaking of sur etc. In my opinion, this is not an original piece of work but I’ll let the court decide”

The screen recording shared with The Express Tribune sees a 20-second sample of a melody with different lyrics sounding eerily similar to the first part of Tu Jhoom, so much so that if you change the melody to meet Nirmala’s pitch, instead of Naseebo’s, it almost sounds the same. But naked, unseasoned ears can’t be trusted with such a tricky analysis so we reached out to musicians who explained whether the melody sent to Xulfi by Nirmala can be considered the same as the one used in Tu Jhoom on any legal or artistic grounds.

Expert ears

“Okay this is too close to ignore,” said an industry insider who is also a professional musician, requesting anonymity. “You see they can’t make any legal claim in terms of copyright because for Brown’s copyright law seven notes have to be the same and in this case, it's six out of seven notes that are the same. So there’s no aspect of a legal claim but there is a major question about artistic and creative integrity.”

The musician also went on to add that apart from the strictly theoretical part of the song the overall feel is also very similar but that is similar to a lot of other songs of a folk-inspired style. Another musician found it to be a ‘note by note rip off’ with exactly the same departure and landing.

“The melody is ridiculously similar. Having said that, sometimes we hear a melody in passing and it ends up showing up in one of our compositions without any conscious attempt, happens to all of us,” he said. “So while there’s no doubt that two melodies are exactly the same it all boils down to the intent, which we can’t tell just by comparing the two listening experiences.”

All about the timing

While the intention is almost impossible to decipher in such cases of artistic integrity, what is central to this entire issue is the timing. The screen recording of Nirmala’s conversation with Xulfi shows that she had sent the melody in June and the song was released in the next seven months, making Nirmala’s claim plausible if not believable.

When reached out for a comment on the matter, Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan (Xulfi) denies any such accusations. "I produce and collaborate in the spirit of inclusivity and my work with Coke Studio holds the same philosophy,” he shared in a written statement with The Express Tribune.

“I am grateful and humbled to receive many talented artists’ requests for collaboration from all over Pakistan, as have many producers before me. However, I can’t say my work for CS borrowed from such shared samples I received,” he said.

“I do hope to have the fortune of listening to Nirmala Manghani’s songs in person and to possibly come together for collaboration ahead: our young brilliant artists across Pakistan are our future," concluded the statement.

Sources have told The Express Tribune that an independent inquiry is also under discussion between both the parties, so is a legal action that will likely end up in a settlement. It is also quite likely that the money boys and anti-Xulfi clan in the business have already jumped the Save Nirmala bandwagon.

Here’s hoping Nirmala gets the respect, recognition and remuneration she deserves if her claims turn out to be true and so does Xulfi.

In the meanwhile you can listen to the sample sent to Xulfi and Tu Jhoom and make up your own mind:

Nirmala Maghan's sample:

Tu Jhoom

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