Nimo Patel

Musician, Humanitarian, Part 1 - A LifeTransformed to Serve

By Marjorie F. Eddington

Categories: Arts, Community Service

Nimo Patel’s life is focused on serving others, and he uses his music to spread kindness and love. His journey is amazing. He was a highly successful businessman, hip-hop musician, entrepreneur, comic-strip writer, and animation studio owner. He shares how he changed his path to use his talents to serve and bless others.

As a musician, you have the potential to influence many. How did you decide to focus on kindness?
It was rather organic. Little seeds were planted along the way. In 2002, I saw a performance in New Jersey by slum children from India. Then, in 2007, I went to India and ended up volunteering at the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmdabad, working with children from underprivileged communities. I thought it would be neat to let them sing the songs on their own album we were creating for release.

It became apparent, through my work with these kids, as well as with the women we serve, what it means to think of others more than ourselves; it is deeply fulfilling. I feel like I’ve learned that message more from them—seeing how kind, grateful, and blessed they are, regardless of their material conditions. That’s how that message came about—that message of kindness, of helping others. And how much it also fills your own soul and brings contentment—wow!

And your Empty Hands Music fills the soul, too. How did your musical career begin and your journey unfold?
I started music in high school. One of my first music videos was on calculus. After our AP exams, our teacher said we could do whatever project we wanted so long as it had to do with math. So my friend, who was a videographer and knew I was writing songs, asked me to team up with him. I even wrote a song for graduation for my graduating class.

Then I earned my business degree from Wharton, which is very cut-throat, academically competitive. During this phase of my life, I kept on creating more songs. Because I was a pioneer (there weren’t a lot of South Asian Indians doing hip-hop at that time), people started inviting me to perform and compose. So then I got connected with a few others like myself, and we started a group called Karmacy. We were the first South Asian hip-hop group in the world, and we wanted to share a message reflecting our dual cultural identity. It took off, and from 1998-2008, we toured, made albums, videos, etc. My music went parallel with everything I did. Even after college, when I was doing corporate-based strategic planning and business development work in New York, I continued to dedicate my free time to music.

And then 9/11 happened. I was living right next to the trade center in New York, and I was in one of the other trade buildings close by that was hit and half damaged. That was a big moment for me. The questions came naturally in a time like this, “What am I doing with my life? What am I doing in NY? Why am I here?”

And how did these questions affect your life?
A year later, I left the corporate world and moved to Los Angeles to be an entrepreneur in music. My music career unfolded quite beautifully, and I felt blessed that I was able to pursue my passion. As independent artists, we wanted to be professionals, to develop a plan, to market our music, etc. So a few of us dedicated full time to the business side of music. I liked using both my creative and business sides. But eventually, I found that I was not happy with how differently we approached things. I said I’d continue to support the music, but not put in 24 hours on the business side.

Were you still able to use your “business” side in other endeavors?
In 2003, I started a business with another group of friends. We created a weekly comic strip about south Asian Indian Americans, a spoof about having parents born in another country, immigrating to the United States, that dealt with the cultural norms and social situations we experienced. It was light and brought humor to those situations and to the issues of dual identity. It went viral. We soon gained a 300,000 subscription base on our weekly comic newsletter, which then became a media platform, and advertisers began approaching us. Then we got significant venture funding to expand our company to an animation studio, and I moved to India. My dream when I was younger was to be CEO of Warner Bros., so having my own animation studio was a dream-come-true.

Things were going great, but I didn’t feel happy inside. So that dampened my spirits—what have I been doing for the last 10 years pursuing my dream … and yet still feeling suffering. If my heart’s not fulfilled, what’s the point? There was something wrong; my compass was misaligned. I had a choice to start again, and my heart eventually decided to do so.

That questioning stayed with you even during your musical and animation success … and you listened to it.
All along, I was led to keep asking: If it’s more successful, what does that actually mean to me? Am I truly happy inside, or am I doing this because my ego is feeling great? It was a hollow journey. I was not feeling purpose in achieving my material goals.

So there was another awakening. I was 30 years old and heard the voice: If you make a change now, you can start a new life path. If you’re going to press reset, you can forget about the business degree and your resume of accomplishments and see a greater purpose to life. Are you open to being honest enough with yourself to say yes, to take this step?

How did you have the courage to take the leap, to change your path?
One of Gandhi’s sayings inspired me: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” So that was a trigger for me to find myself. Coming from Wharton, success means a certain thing, so I knew I had to rewire myself, or I’d go back into same kind of path and suffering I was feeling. I needed to go on an inner journey—discovering what it means for me to live on this planet and be happy and content and live in a meaningful way. And when we do that, we start uncovering answers to different questions. My answer was that it had to do with being of service and help to others. I could start chapter two. It was an unfolding. So I closed the animation studio in 2009 and moved to the Gandhi Ashram at the end of that year, beginning of 2010.

Do you feel God had a role in this change of focus—to serve others?
God did have a role. There is a higher power that leads us. There are and there were and there will be many things that we have control over and then many things that we don’t … because they’re not up to us. So, I can’t give myself credit for the awakening. It’s this higher power that enabled me to receive those blessings and then decide what to do with them. There are so many blessings: the first step is to recognize them, and the second step is to pay it forward.

Being kind, serving others, loving our neighbors—the values of which you speak—are so vital to our world. You’ve centered your life around doing them, putting them into action.

Next month, we will post the second part of the interview, which focuses on how Nimo is paying it forward and serving others with his music and his work. Then the third part of this series talks about God and music.