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Cokestudio 9, Episode 3

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Khaki Banda – Apart from the fact that Ahmed Hussain’s portions appeared to be loosely composed (at times), there is absolutely nothing that disrupted the experience of listening to this power song. The ease with which Ahmed throws his voice in the bylanes of melody is quite a contrast to the way Umair explores variation. Here though, Umair is splendid and controlled. Shuja haider has composed the song very well and a special word for Strings for producing the song so well! There are a lot of dips in the composition but none break the tempo of the song. The dips actually set up the song for a superb encore..I just loved the strings and drums in the song! Kudos!

Dilruba na raaziZeb‘s voice has a calming effect on the soul. In dilruba na raazi, she opens the song and leads you to a tune that is rich and adorable. With murderous strings from Tanveer hussain and some excellent houseband participation, we get a cracker of a tune, something we always expect when a new season of Cokestudio Pakistan is announced. Granted that Faakhir Mehmood‘s voice is slightly underpowered to handle a composition like this, but one cannot take away anything for the way he has tried. Not to forget, he is the one who has composed the song as well. Absolutely loved the song and before I forget, a special salute to Azhar hussain for the excellent Accordion play. How can you not start dancing in that slow Afghani style when this is playing?? (Guess what? You don’t even need to know the form of dance I am referring to…you will automatically get it…the tune is just *So* good!)

Tu hi tu – The ‘light’ song of the episode, the one song you would probably like to play on a long drive. I absolutely loved the tune of the song although but arrangement was too heavy all throughout. The power vocals of Hayat and Shiraz could have done with  a lighter arrangement and that is the reason the song didn’t hit me instantly. Perhaps it will grow on those who would like to give it a repeat listening. A good song, could have been superlative though.

Maula e kull – We all love Abida parveen and her powerful voice and style of singing. It is always a treat to hear her calling out to the powers that be. Trust Shani Arshad to give prominence to what we like about Abida Parveen, her voice. For first 5 mins, all we hear is the soulful voice of Abida Parveen with minimal arrangement at play. Just when you think this would be all, you are hit by a powerful yet understated music arrangement that throws you in the clouds and you feel the lightness of being…why? because you are floating on the voice of Abida who is busy calling the voice, the name, the power, the light that we are all destined to follow, even unknowingly at times. Experience your heart soar at ‘Hai dairyman kalandaram mastam’. I am soaring as I type this, Thank you Cokestudio Pakistan. Thank you Mahotarma Abida Parveen. I love you. All this and on top of it we see Tanveer hussain on a Sarod! Not enough words to praise the song!

We are 3 episodes old and I cannot help but feel the new composers are trying way too hard. They just don’t know where to keep it light and where to hit it hard. That said, this was easily the best episode so far and even though the occasional jarring arrangement breaks the cokestudio trance we are all used to, it seems to be getting back to the groove.

CokeStudio Season 7 roundup

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This post first appeared in The Asian age sometime in December 2014. I couldn’t find it anywhere so publishing it on my blog because some kind souls asked me about my thoughts on this season off late.

CokeStudio Pakistan doesn’t get the credit it deserves for throwing open a lot of subcontinent’s sound for experimentation and allowing everyone a peek in the same without having to pay for the music. Couple that with the more or less regularity with which the program appears yearly and you get a feast that is eagerly awaited by the lovers of music all across the globe. CokeStudio Pakistan has just finished its 7th season and there is a lot to talk about it. Beginning from a badly managed departure of Rohail Hyatt, who started CokeStudio Pakistan and made it what it is till season 6, there was a lot of catching up to do by the new producers, ‘Strings’. Here are some of our favorite moments from this season

Abida Parveen and Ustad Raees Khan appeared together to present us ‘Main sufi hoon’ and right from the time the first promo aired, we knew we were in for a treat. You really need special skills to go wrong with the music when artists of such caliber are at the helm, so it wasn’t a surprise that the song was done up nicely. Still, one could feel that the songs were over produced and to make matters worse, Ustad’s Sitar had a tough time cutting the noisy overalls in the presentation.

There was a certain rustic brilliance when we heard Niazi brothers perform Lai Beqadraan Naal Yaari and it was ably complemented by the backup vocals in the studio, who missed the mark quite often this season. In comparison, Kheriyaan was quieter and reasonably well produced.

Akhtar chanal Zahiri enthralled us in Season 4 with his powerful voice along with an efficient Komal Rizvi and this time this duo was joined by the talented Momin durrani  for Washmallay. Essentially a song of celebration, the song had everything right for it except those over the top theatrics by everyone in the studio. CokeStudio Pakistan is just not an audio property. There is much anticipation for the videos as well given the fact that a lot of effort goes into recording the audio-video.

Till Season 6, videos had a quiet elegance about them but in the season 7, it felt prey to over enthusiasm. It doesn’t mean that fun songs weren’t fun in the studio pre-season 7. Look up ‘dannah pa dannah’ from season 4 to understand what we mean. That said, Washmallay was quite nice and Momin durrani is an excellent addition to the Studio’s artist line up.

The Studio has always looked up for folk and traditional inspiration to present them with contemporary music changes and it has nearly always worked. With Phool banro, we got a taste of what CokeStudio really used to be in good old days. Humeira channa and Abbas Ali Khan mesmerized the senses with this song that was originally sung by Reshma.

Recreating old film songs with a touch of rock/pop isn’t something new for CokeStudio but when the producers recreated an old gem from Noorjehan, they took things to an altogether different orbit. Meesha Shafi’s Sun Ve balori was definitely a high point of the season with ample help from Omran Shafique on the guitars.

Recording a version of his original song ‘Nadiya par par’, Jimmy khan paired with Rahma ali to present us with an adorable 1950s sound filled with innocence and melody.

In ‘Mitti da pahlwan’ Jawad Ahmed showed us the mirror and made us reflect on the false pride most of us are filled with, when all we actually are vulnerable creature made of clay. The song didn’t sound overproduced  and remains one of the best from the season.

The producers had Ustad Raees Khan to their disposal to extract a solo and all they could do was present us with a barely 4 minute long hans dhuni which left us craving for more.

Pashto is always interesting as it is or fused. Naseer and Shahab presented us Za Sta Pashan na Yam with such ease that we didn’t miss a ‘typical’ rabaab from the setting and that is precisely what this duo aims to achieve, to open the definition of Pashto fusion that doesn’t have rabaab playing a prominent (or any) role.

In what is a commendable step by the new producers, the instrumental pieces (Bone shaker and Descent to the floor), were a good step and it was nice to hear the innovative jugalbandi in both the pieces.

Cokestudio Pakistan had already reached cult status when it was handed over to Strings and all they had to do was to keep doing the right thing. They have the resources and talent for it anyway. Sadly, with too many loose ends, the season didn’t come together as one would normally expect. Wasting 3 songs on Zoheb hassan didn’t impress many because the singer is way past his golden days. You can applaud his singing in a closed mehfil but certainly he wasn’t CokeStudio Pakistan worthy. We are yet to find the reason of neon lighting overdose on the sets and the logic behind overproducing every song. Subtlety is apparently out and that is worrying. Hope at least the music is produced better going forward.

There is less to thank Cokestudio Pakistan for and more to get worried, thanks to the Season 7.

CokeStudio Season 9, Episode 1

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Sasu MangayNaseebo lal and Umair Jaswal are in their elements in Sasu Mangay. I for one was so relieved to see Umair focussing on singing and not his distracting theatrics, and I quite liked his part. While I absolutely loved the way  Mahotarma Naseebo lends the colour of Rajasthan to the song,  what stood out was the superb twist to the composition (structure wise) and the fantastic house band including Amir Azhar…what a delight to see him back! I might not hear this on repeat but surely won’t skip it when it comes on the playlist. Well done Shiraz uppal, (music director) for getting the scratchy vocals of Umair and the power throw of Mahotarma Naseebo lal’s together. I strongly feel that the potential and the possibilities that Naseebo lal’s voice brought to the table weren’t fully utilised here.

Janay na tu – sung by Ali khan and composed by Jaffer zaidi Ali Khan himself,  the song has a delicate and adorable ‘nindiya re’ feel in the opening. Riding on the smooth and almost effortless singing of Ali Khan, the song is a treat! This is how a ‘soulful romantic song’ is done. What provides a melodious layer to a rather simple tune is the string section along with the new set of back up vocalists (except Rachel, she is a Cokestudio Veteran now!). Way to go Ali! It might not be ‘bewajah’ from the last season but wait till you see this one ‘inspiring’ a Bollywood song soon (not that it is a criteria).

Aaja re moray saiyyan – is composed by Noori and sung by Zebunisha bangash.  The sound is over produced and at times it felt like Zeb’s voice is trying hard to be heard amidst cluttered arrangement. Having said that, even Zeb falters, especially towards the end (finally! she is human it means!). It is a happy song and while I am not one of those who think ‘Cokestudio should only do songs that make you go crazzzzzaaaaaaay and spread junoonnnniyat’, I would have liked a bit more fine tuning in the song. if you sing this song in a group, you will enjoy it because the tune is very nice. Here, it fails to deliver. Easily one of the weakest compositions to ever feature in CokeStudio post Rohail Hyatt. Royal has spoilt us rotten! He raised the expectations so much that we have all come to be believe – ‘Nothing can go wrong even by mistake in CokeStudio Pakistan. It is too important a platform to err, even by mistake.’

Aaqa – Whoever thought of getting Abida Parveen and Ali Sethi together deserves all the praises. Ali’s free flowing soft vocals with the powerful Abida Parveen sets it up nicely. The composition is rock solid and for that Shuja haider deserves a pat on the back. Ali Sethi and the humnavas are in top form. There is a free flowing quality to Ali Sethi’s voice and that is why it is a bold step for him to try a composition like this. A fabulous ode to the almighty that will resonate long after the season is over. I wish the ending was managed better, it gave me an ‘over produced’ feel. Simply put, you do NOT come in the way (even in the form of an over excited music arrangement) when Abida parveen is concluding a song.

Overall an underwhelming start to the season 9, hope it gets better from here.

My picks – Jaanay na tu and Aaqa

CokeStudio Season 7 Episode 6 – Review

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After a break, CokeStudio Pakistan’s Season 7 resumes!

Chaap tilakWhen names like Abida parveen and Rahat fateh ali Khan appear in the same song with CokeStudio Pakistan’s iconic backdrop, you do expect a lot. This is of course, if Rahat fateh ali Khan is not in his ‘done to death Bollywood singing avatar’, but I digress. I won’t lie, the opening piano notes gave me goosebumps. Abida Parveen and Rahat fateh ali set it up quite nicely with their powerful yet soulful opening act. The backup vocal group called Humnawa adds to the sense of occasion. Even though the song lasts for about 9 minutes, I could have done with a couple of minutes more because after the mounting the song got thanks to the opening, it fades all too soon. Oh yes, the part at about 7:26 minutes when Mahotarma Abida parveen joins Rahat fateh ali khan is beautiful and for me, the high point of the song. A parting thought – may be strings could have given this song to Abbas Ali Khan instead of Rahat fateh ali khan. I don’t mean to imply that Rahat fateh ali isn’t good in the song but towards the end, you do feel that both Abida parveen and Rahat fateh ali khan’s voice isn’t complimenting but competing with each other and the song drifts albeit for a moment towards noise. This could have been because texture wise, both the voices hold the same character, in my view. Not the greatest covers of chaap tilak, this.

Descent to the Ocean floor – Usman Riaz weaves magic in the ‘neoclassical’ offering by Strings and it is actually quite nice to see an out and out instrumental piece once a while. The notes on the piano convey a feeling of descent which is at first quick and bouncy but settles down once the descent is complete. The strings section adds to the aesthetics of the song along with the twinkling Xylophone and free flowing backups by Rachel and Sara. At the risk of sounding extremely greedy, I would have liked this to be a longer track. Splendid job!

Yaad – Javed bashir gets another song in the season and honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to the song, not because I don’t like Javed Bashir, but I get tired if I listen to the millions harkats he takes in a simple song. The back up vocals are again manned by humnawa. The song has a (pardon me for saying this) bollywood song DNA. Thank God for Tanveer Tafu and the melodious harmonium by Arsalan Ali. Watch and listen how Tanveer saheb weaves the instrument almost all throughout the song without interfering in the effect of the song. The song did not work for me otherwise.

Jaana – Zoheb hassan tries so hard! That is all there to say. Wisely, strings pairs his song along with the master Amir Zaki so that the glitches in the singing are camouflaged well enough. While it was a relief to hear Zoe Viccaji, it was excruciating to get yet another song from Zoheb hassan because he has already done a lot in the season and perhaps the producers should have given someone else a chance? The song has a pop character and the weighed down start that Zoheb hassan gives, settles down thanks to Zoe but the song is below average on the whole because for once even the lyrics shout out their mediocrity.

Probably the most disjointed episode so far with just one track by Usman Riaz standing out and the other featuring two stalwarts just about making the cut. This is not the CokeStudio I used to look forward to.

Now we know why Strings do not give out the songs in the promo and cover it up with an amateur, accented voice over. Talking of the entire ‘in your face’ title ‘sound of nation’ – what is so ‘sound of nation-sque’ in the voice over, I wonder!

CokeStudio Season 7, Episode 3 – Review

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Sunn Ve BaloriMeesha Shafi kick starts the episode with this song and the way it begins, you would be hard pressed to think if you have heard so much attitude off late in any song? It is not surprising because Omran Shafique is on Guitar with Ustad Tafu (who incidentally, composed the original Noor Jahan’s song of which, this is a re-creation) on Tabla. Omran makes you want to get up and rush to the nearest shop to pick up guitars. Meesha is top class and so are the accompanying musicians. Not a speck goes wrong in this song. This will go down as one of the highlights of CokeStudio Pakistan across all the seasons.

Statutory warning – Wear seat belts, yes ‘belts’ before you hit ‘play’. This song will make you flyyyyyyy!

Nadiya – When you are done with bringing the house down with Sunn ve balori, sit back and relax with a song so soothing it can put you to sleep. Give it up for Jimmy Khan and Rahma Ali for bringing so much freshness to a song that has 50s-60s film era sound woven deep. Extra points to the producers String to set the song the way they have. Rahma impresses a lot, especially because she  doesn’t ‘show’ that she is singing an old fashioned song by going nasal or any such drama. Jimmy has an innocent voice and I would wait to hear more from him. Such fluid singing, easy overalls and the beautiful setting reinforces our faith that everything isn’t wrong after all with Season 7. Two thumbs up for Hamza Jaffri on Ukulele and Arsalan Rabbani on Melodica for creating an endearing atmosphere of innocence which we all correlate with the times that have gone by..

Jhoolay lal – What a wonderful start! Rubab, flute and guitar sounds ethereal to say the least and we hear Sajjad ali with Fariha Pervez paying a somewhat differently styled ode to Jhoolay lal. Owing to the lovely start, one does feel that the song will take off in a typical cokestudio pakistan fashion and the chap on Harmonium (Arsalan Rabbani) makes you believe that it will happen. What this song lacks is the failure to do so. You will not be blamed to think that the song was not well prepared by the singers, especially Fariha Pervez. The sound towards the middle (and in all antras)  is over produced and borderline cacophonous. This song is brilliant in parts, the sum of it, unfortunately is severely lacking. Considering the previous two songs, this song doesn’t even sound worthy enough to be included in the season itself! Major disappointment.

Dost – The most ‘by the book’ ghazal that Mahotarma Abida Parveen has sung on CokeStudio Pakistan. Yet again, Sajid Ali on flute and Mr. Khanna on tabla are  brilliant. Most people of our generation will have bragging rights when we tell the future generations that we lived in the era when Mahotarma Abida Parveen used to perform. Even though the composition is largely ‘ghazal like’, a greedy me was waiting for Mahotarma Abida Parveen to take those powerful alaaps. That said, I still don’t understand how and why my eyes welled up when I saw Abida Parveen raise her hands towards the end of the ghazal. A sign that you, the listener is connected to the ultimate powers that be via Mahotarma Abida Parveen. Like Gulzar Sahab once said (while introducing the album ‘Abida Sings Kabir), आबिदा कबीर की मार्फ़त पुकारती हैं उसे , हम आबिदा की मार्फ़त उसे बुला लेते हैं.

All and all a fantastic episode and kudos to the producers and the entire team for raising the bar with every episode. Hope this doesn’t stop!

Take a bow, CokeStudio Pakistan!

CokeStudio Pakistan Season 7, Episode 1

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Yes, I gave in to the temptation to write about CokeStudio pakistan, Season 7, Episode 1

First, some background.

If you have time to kill, you can check previous posts in this blog about CokeStudio pakistan. I have been blamed as being a bit ‘too pro pakistan’ when it comes to CokeStudio Pakistan. I have my reasons whenever I say that CokeStudio pakistan > CokeStudio India. Apart from offering us various experiments which married folk with contemporary, recitals, rap and what not, CokeStudio Pakistan has always been all about subtlety.

And then Season 7 happened.

Starting with Sab akho ali ali by Asrar, I was shocked at the outrageous display of clumsiness. In good olden days, we used to see a smile at best being leaked by the musicians/artists even if all they wanted was to jump on the floor and what happened here? Almost everyone (including that irritating drummer) was busy emoting as if they are rooting for the most fake excitement award at the Oscars. Coming down to the song. The guitar parts are excellent and Asrar is just top class, as usual. The thing with CokeStudio Pakistan is that it used to showcase the best song from an artist and take it a notch higher. In this case, well lets just conveniently agree that this isn’t Asrar’s best.

Then Comes Sajjad Ali with Tum Naraaz ho,  a song that is simple and easy to hum, with excellent flute throughout. Kudos for the composition and 5 thumbs down with the over the top emoting by everyone, especially the back up singers! Why am I being nosy about the visuals? In good old days, the videos used to come across slick, well rehearsed and a proof that everyone has worked on their bit to make the song what it is. The visuals, the jumpy overalls of the band at play just disrupts everything! It is not a bad song, just that it isn’t the greatest song choice to be performed at CokeStudio Pakistan stage.

Then we get up close and personal with Niazi Brothers as they give us Lai Beqadraa Nal Yaari, a superbly paced song with everything just at the right place. Somehow, the moment the song starts, you are sure that this is going to be one hell of a song. The arrangement, the flute by Sajid ali and even the over the top drummer behaved himself in the song! Yet again, what lets this song down is the atrocious display of fake excitement, अमर ब्रास बैंड lighting and the ‘low cost’ emoting displayed by the band. Seriously, what on earth is wrong with the back up singers? The back up singers did a fantastic job singing wise in this song without a doubt though.

Probably the best was saved for last. I believe that  God descends wherever a good fusion concert takes place. Not surprisingly, when Abida Parveen and Ustad Raees Khan decided to sit and fuse a beautiful qalaam about the path and journey of a Sufi, heavens stopped and took notice. This is what we remember CokeStudio pakistan for. Goosebumps on every note and a powerful blend of two मुख्तलिफ elements. Here, the pleasing Sitar is aided by the ever so powerful Abida Parveen! In an otherwise blemish free composition, the only thing that irritated was the bad drumming. Not stealing away any credit from the producers, but it would take amazing talent to have legends of this stature and make a bad song. Thumbs up!

All an all an average episode that is severely let down by the over the top theatrics and poor choice of 2 songs out of 4.

When the season 1 started, the producer had no benchmark to go to..and then history was created. With Season 7 starting at this note, I hope it gets better than this as the days go on. It is NOT a T.V. Drama, dear new producers…Music is what sets everything right, so please focus on that,  Will you?

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