You can find my earlier post on the 10 best songs of CokeStudio Season 8 here. And if you don’t want to read this long post, simply click the playlist below. Simple that way. Thanks a lot Ankit bhai for putting the playlist together.

Here is the list of all songs I liked from this season and all ‘things’ I didn’t like.

With the Season 7 not cutting much ice with the music fanatics who were disturbed to see Rohail Hyatt’s departure, the show’s new producers – Strings, had their job cut out. They had to economize on the over-expressive presentation and clamour in the studio and focus on what CokeStudio Pakistan is best known for – Fusion of the known with unknown and revitalizing old classics. The season 8 has just concluded and here is what we think was good  and not so good with it.

Artist line up – You could sense from the artist line up promo that producers were quite confident. The house-band was more or less similar to the last year’s show but with some welcome additions like a child Sitar Prodigee Shehroze. Having Farida Khanum, Shazia manzoor, Mai Dhai, Ali Azmat, Ali Haider, Ali Zafar, Arif Lohar, Atif Aslam, Ali Sethi and host of other exciting new names meant there would be a right mix of mellifluous outings with some euphoric sounds peppered generously.

The Season started with a bang with Mai Dhai and Karam Abbas presenting us with a thunderous Aankharli Pharookai which was an attempt of recreating desert sounds with the unique CokeStudio Pakistan Signature and it worked. The Sur Kshetra music reality show winner Nabeel Shaukat Ali mesmerized us with this flawless rendition of Bewajah which is a ghazal-sque composition treated with pop sensibilities. The runner up from the same reality show Mulazim Hussain is also a good voice to look forward to because in both his outings in the show, he came across as someone who has a good range blessed with excellent voice. His Ve Baneya would be no doubt one of the best songs of this season as he complimented a polished Fizza Javed to give us an old classic that was fused brilliantly with an earthy folk song.

Staying with the folk brief, it was an absolute delight to hear Siege recreate Mai bhagi’s thari cult classic ‘Khari neem’ and transform it into a song that retains the desert charm but with a solid flamenco influence and violins to die for! Staying put with folk fusion, Rung jindri had a strong tune that needed a set of solid vocals to catapult the song to the orbit we are all familiar with when it comes to CokeStudio Pakistan. Thank God for Arif lohar and those backup singers who did just that.

Jaffer Zaidi is much more than keyboard and accordion player. We heard him sing a motherly lullaby years back in CokeStudio and he made a comeback behind the microphone this season with possibly the most understated sung song in Nyun la leya which might not be everyone’s cup of tea but has a haunting presence. Speaking of a haunting experience, although it wasn’t a special song ‘music wise’, but you hear chiriyan da chamba and chances are you would be affected by the song for a very long time. In addition to steady singing by Suraiya Khanum, the recitation by Anwar Maqsood stirs your soul and makes you wonder what caused the lump in your throat

Apart from doing cover versions of old classics and folk songs, there are always attempts at creating something new in the studio. Bakshi brothers, who sound like a bundle of talent gave us Khalis Makhan which navigated our senses back to good old days where ‘likes’ were real and happiness was more than ‘lol’. It was a comforting to see Malang party sing their hit single Dil jalay and mix it with wild guitars in the studio. Shazia manzoor, in the company of arguably the best qawwals of today from Pakistan, The Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali Group, gave us a beautiful awadhi song in Hare hare baans. Ustad Hamid Ali’s Piya dekhan ko might sound too simple for CokeStudio Pakistan but it remains a favorite from the season because it is simple and very well presented. Meekal hassan band finally got inside CokeStudio and did rather well in both their songs Sayon and Kinaray, with kinaray being the calmer of the two. It would be no less than a crime to not hear Sharmistha Chatterjee’s voice in some Indian projects.

Now on to the songs which in our view have defined the season.  In no particular order, we begin with Atif Aslam paying a worthy tribute to Sabri brothers by reimagining the cult classic Tajdar-e-haram and in the process, giving us his best song till date in all the seasons of CokeStudio to date. The sheer energy of the song is divine, to put it mildly. We then move to Umran Lagiyaan that is fused with Chan Chan Chakan and even though Nabeel Shaukat ali does well, the song belongs to the magnificent Ali Sethi whose voice and singing is captivating and fluent, what a rare quality to have these days! Ali Zafar disappointed us in 2 out of 3 songs that he did for the studio this season. Rockstar is the song in which he soars! Penned as a pun on himself (read – rockstars!), probably this song is the most innovative song of the season and delivers what Ali Zafar will have a tough time to beat for a long time. Lastly, in what is the song of the season for us, The Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali Group brought the house down and inched us closer to heaven in their powerful sakal bann. The sheer energy and correctness of the rendition transcends everything else done in Season 7 and Season 8 by strings and reminded us of the ‘yet to be toppled’ 16 minute rendition of ‘Kangna’ by Fareed Ayaz & Abu Muhammad which was a part of the Season 4 when Rohail Hyatt was at the helm.

There were other not so good attempts as well ranging from Umair Jaswal pouring in too much emotion in a song that didn’t require any, or for that matter the highly auto tuned sounding Asim Azhar. Ali Zafar and Atif Aslam were quite ordinary in their other two songs. Specifically talking about Ali Zafar’s ‘Ae dil’ song – the ‘take it away’ part from Ali Zafar and an attempt to put in too much into one song just killed the feel and continuity and left me quite confused, although pleasantly surprised to hear Sara HaiderThe ‘Ajj din’ song starts so well that you will probably have tears in your eyes and then it all goes south when Ali Zafar comes across unprepared as he reads out Ghalib..and reads it badly. Quratulain balouch still hasn’t got a solo song and that is plain sad. Two biggest disappointments were Ali Azmat and Ali Haider. While Ali Azmat’s song sounded too pre recorded and devoid of any real energy, Ali Haider kept going out of tune like he used to during his prime. That said, Samra Khan, Alycia Dias and Sara Raza were very good.

It was heartening to see the phenomenal presentation of Farida Khanum’s Aaj jaane ki zid na karo by the songstress herself and this would remain the high point of all the musical movements forever.

Lastly, the houseband including guest musicians were brilliant throughout the season. Tanveer Tafu, Sajid Ali, Arsalan Ali are probably the best thing to happen the houseband which was splendid even before these wonderful musicians joined them.

One of the many duties of regional music movements like CokeStudio is dissemination of their creative riches to the world at large. Even in the age of streaming content, there remains a big challenge whether the listener would lend her/his ear to  someone who she/he doesn’t know. Music movements like CokeStudio act as an assurance for people to try out new sounds/artists.

CokeStudio Pakistan has been consistently doing it and it is assuring to see Strings getting it right on more occasions than their last outing in the Studio. They come as a respite to music lovers in the subcontinent who are sick of lousy music videos and hollow musical attempts  with no sincerity that end up looking like click baiting celebrity vehicles, taking listeners for granted.

And remember – all this is distributed free, legally.