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CokeStudio 9, Season Finale

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Sab Jag SoyeQuratulain Balouch and Shuja Haider do their best to give us a different song that has been cleverly composed but they somehow fail to make any mark. I have always liked QB but somehow for songs like these, her voice comes across way too heavy and weighs the composition down, pace wise. Having said that, I would pay in dollars to hear Shuja sing. His voice is clean and absolutely a treat. How I wish this was just his song!

Tu Kuja Man KujaShiraz Uppal & Rafaqat Ali Khan presented us with a song that is fitting to be a part of a finale. Rafaqat ali Khan sahib’s voice and singing is so clean and soulful, it will make you whistle. Just hear him go ‘tu  ameer-i-haram’ and you feel all is good. Shiraz uppal deserves all the bloody praises in the world for giving this composition the love it deserves. Ustad Nusrat fateh ali khan would have been so proud at this re-imagination of his classic. Amir azhar, the humnawa gang, the entire bloody studio…everyone top class!

Nimma Nimma –  Shani Arshad has a voice that is soothing and vulnerable. Mad respect for him to have chosen a song from this genre. What takes you by a pleasant surprise is the way Shahab hussain starts the song, what a master stroke! Listen how the playful Tanweer tafu compliments Shahab in the opening of the song, like a child who is negotiating twists and turns. Although even in this song I felt that overproduction was doing its best to spoil it all, the sheer innocence of composition, lyrics and singing makes you forget all that. Simply superb!

O Re – has Noori giving us a simple, unambitious song that goes a level higher thanks to that brief mischief by Ustad Tanveer Tafu. Apart from that, there is absolutely nothing that would make want to play this again. You know why? Simply because in almost every song of theirs, Noori was always there, jumping and trying to show how great they are. There was zero mystery about their song and even if we are to forget the mystery, this track could have passed away like just another song in an album, let alone being featured in a finale. Nothing to write home about. Sad.

Dil Kamla – by Faakhir Mehmood and Natasha Khan has an easy feel going for it. Even though the tune constantly risks being too linear, loved the singing and arrangement, that has been Faakhir’s strength this season. Natasha is such a revelation though. Faakhir has already voiced Dilruba na razi and he was fabulous in that to say the least. There is just such a quiet confidence the guy oozes. Coming back to the song, not ‘finale worthy’ but certainly not bad at all.

Rang – Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Amjad Sabri – Emotionally overwhelming, vibrant and soul enchanting. That is all I can write about it. God bless music. God bless you Sabri sahib. We didn’t deserve you. You deserved better.

Season 9 ends.

I kept wondering where was Jaffer in finale?

You can read my thoughts on previous episodes here – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

CokeStudio 9, Episode 5

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Thoughts on CokeStudio 9, Episode 5

Jhalliya by  Javed Bashir, Masooma Anwar & Shahzad Nawaz has such a confident start and that voice of Shahzad! Pleasantly surprised at the solid and controlled voice of Masooma, what a find (for us Indians, that is!). This is a good song by all means, still not something that we expect in season 9 of CokeStudio Cokestudio Pakistan. The goodness of the composition has gone out of the window because of shoddy bollywood type lyrics (what’s with ‘piya’ gap filler?). What a pity, still a decent song and by God Shahzad…what a voice, hope there wasn’t so much music when he was speaking. Give me Shahzad’s voice instead of (increasingly predictable and boring) alaaps and tarana from Bashir.

Sadaa – Something gave me an impression that Rahat fateh ali khan was playing a ‘catch up’ to the tune. There is nothing bad with the song. I liked the tarana towards the end more than anything.  I wish there were more variations composition wise. Rahat fateh ali khan is so good, wish he was used better here though.

Shamaan Pai Gaiyaan/Kee Dam Da Bharosa Rachel Viccaji and Kashif Ali have given us the best song of the episode by paying their tribute in a way that would make the original composers so proud. Don’t waste time reading this, head to cokestudio.com.pk and listen to this right away! The composition, singing, variations, back up vocals…everything just on the spot. Take a bow team! 

Main Raasta  by Noori Momina Mustehsan and Junaid Khan is a rock song with real energy (unlike fake star singers who dumb down music with their autotunes). After paar channa de (which was spoiled by the cacophonous ending), I was quite scared to see yet another song where Noori might refuse to stay in background, but in this song, their participation just adds the perfect grunge that you expect from a kickass song like this. Insanely talented Junaid and Momina, we are watching, give us more stuff will ya?

Overall a satisfying episode thanks largely to Rachel, Momina, Shiraz uppal, Noori, Junaid and Kashif ali. With two episodes remaining and Stars like, Mr. Sabri, Sain zahoor and Sanam marvi’s songs waiting in the wings, I hope the season ends with a splash.

You can read previous episode reviews by clicking on the episode numbers below

1, 2, 3, 4

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 9, Episode 2

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Bholay bhalay saiyya – starts with the autotuned (or whatever the hell it is called) voice of shani Arshad. It didn’t put me off because experiments are important aren’t they? I am quite keen to understand how the song was conceptualised. In a bid to sound a bit too ‘desi’, the nasal calls of ‘saiyyan’ look plain silly and we know Meesha Shafi can do much better than this. That said, I absolutely loved the crisp production of the song. Apart from a minor part when Sitar enters the composition, there isn’t an instance where the arrangement is over powering the designated sound in a song. Now coming to the video. Those who say ‘why are people concentrating on video?’ are probably unaware that Cokestudio is just NOT an audio property. Had it been the case, we wouldn’t have seen so many ‘red mushrooms of nescafe and what not’ try to copy the way Cokestudio videos are made. So yes, I found the video absolutely silly and repulsive and by GOD the heart called out for the subtle days of Rohail Hyatt. Did I like the song? Yes! Will I go looking for the song in a playlist? Absolutely not!

Afreen Afreen – has been re-imagined by Faakhir Mehmood and boy has he aced it! Rahat fateh ali khan is in top form as he lures you to sleep with his sugar dipped singing and what adds to the sing songy feel of the song is the beautiful singing by Momina Musteshan…I wish she sings another song in the season and I wish she had more sing time in this song. The arrangement of the song is delicate and God those strings! There is a strong sentiment of ‘how dare they change the song of the great NFAK’, I don’t subscribe to it. If we cannot play with classics, then what are we? Play, change, interpret, use, mix and open everything for being retold to the generation that ‘listens song on youtube’. Not everyone would come around to the soulful yet classically heavy grand compositions of our times. So take them, mix them with whatever is contemporary and leave others to explore the original gems…Trust me, you will do a big service to the classics which would otherwise remain un-heard and would be in a folder that would be named as ‘Maa-Papa ko pata nahi kya pasand hai iss type ke songs mein’. Loved it, loved it so much!

Baliye (Laung gawacha) – composed by Noori  and sung by Haroon Shahid (HS) and Quratulain Baloch (QB) has infectious energy all throughout especially the first part of the song when Haroon plays with an interesting tune. I didn’t like QB and HS interplaying each other’s lines. It was almost comical to hear HS sing ‘mera laung gawacha’ and it was tiring to hear QB sing HS’s lines right before her solo part comes in. Nothing sexist intended, just that it diluted the attitude of the song and turned a supposedly rock song (the HS part) into a mushy romantic song which was awkward. QB’s part is the one that could make me explore the song again. I wonder when the hell will she get her solo song? I am yet to hear a more controlled song from her than ‘Ankhiyan nu rein de’. Some might find the Noori band’s sing-along as cute, I find it silly and just a failed attempt to hold the urge to hog the screen…alas! not everyone can see others taking a centerstage. Funny thing – Do we remember Rohail Hyatt? Could we see this on-screen circus when he was there? Think. Overall, a song high on energy (full points to the band and composers for that) and extremely dull on melody and content.

Mann Kunto Maula is composed by the talent powerhouse Jaffer ali zaidi and predictably, the song has a smooth start, a start that is perhaps too perfect. I loved the way Ali Amat has started the song in a pop mood. The way Bashir enters the song is plain calming to the soul. After that the song goes southwards in terms of energy. It is perhaps the most underwhelming Mann kunto maula you will hear thanks to the dip in the energy…but right about 7:16 mins in the song, the energy comes back and how! I wish they would have just made it a simple ‘mann kunto maula…aum tum ta na na na re’ tarana on repeat and it would have worked wonders. Liked it, didn’t love it.

Quite a depressing episode and thanks to the onscreen circus of what appears like lightsabers in the hands of a drunk chimpanzee, there is way too much distraction and subtlety has possibly been forcefully evicted from the studio.

Pick – Afreen afreen

 

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 8 round-up #CokeStudio8

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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.

#CokeStudio8 – Episode 7 Review

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Previous Episodes review here – 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Armaan –  With the powerhouse performance in Khari neem in their bag, It was hardly a surprise to see Siege get another song.  Alycia Dias gave them company this time round though. A resurrection of sorts of their old song, Siege is on the top of their game with this one.  The treatment is what takes the cake apart from Alycia’s powerful yet melodious delivery. This reminded me of good old pop songs of old days which never required a ‘music video’. I won’t be listening to this again and again but if it does appear in the playlist, I won’t skip and that is mainly because of the way antraas are done and that jugaldandi of sorts at about 4:00 mins in the song.

Ajj Din Vehre Wichh  – is a song that is composed beautifully but watching and listening to this you cannot help but feel that Ali Zafar was quite unprepared. The ChaCha Ghalib’s lines in between come off disjointed because Ali reads it out the way bad politicans read their speeches. This is a pity because the song has everything else going for it otherwise. An intimate tune, minimal arrangement and as I said, super lyrics. When the promo for this episode showed Ali Zafar‘s name, I wasn’t particularly thrilled. Not because I don’t like the singer, but I felt having 3 songs from an artist in one season is a bit tiring. I have the same opinion on Atif Aslam in this season. Merely goes on to show that the producers were pandering to ‘clicks’ than ‘variety’. Anyway, Just a thought – Ali Sethi would have sung this better and it would have been his second song of the season. Did not like.

Dil Jaley – I came across Malang party thanks to my music list interactions with someone who I am sure is reading this and smiling. Anyway, for the reasons unknown, I missed ‘making noise’ about them earlier because I simply loved their official version of this song which they came out with about 3 years back or so. Right from the word ‘Go’, the song captures your attention with that addictive guitar riff that transforms into a mellow yet very present loop. To my ears, the first part of the song didn’t sound much different from their original version but for the wonderful backup (watch out for the backup singers towards the end!), but then came the excellent improvisation that gives a blues feel and makes the aggressive song fluid in its character. My pick of the episode…boy we have GOT to hear Malang party more and more! Give us more songs Malangs!

Aaj Jaane ki Zid – I am sure I am in minority (and won’t be surprised if It is just me in entire world who thinks so) but I feel that one of the most embarassing efforts of A.R. Rahman is when he tried to sing ‘Aaj jaane ki zid na karo’. It just didn’t work, even superficially! Here, the songstress tells us why She is Malika-e-ghazal. Farida Khanum. If you have heard her original rendition and if you have heard it growing up, chances are your eyes will well up with this fantastic version. Nothing more to add. Thank you Farida Khanum. Thank you for giving melody to our emotions.

Funny slide before the song says – We would like to thank Farida Khanum saheba for gracing CokeStudio, it should have read We would all like to thank Farida Khanum to grace us all by choosing music.

Yes they have excellently made a slide show of her pictures to play during the song. Still better to take a deviation for a living legend like Farida Khanum  than for  a flunky making a music video about bulleh shah mere ghar aaya kas ke mujhko galey lagaya! Ugh!

Tumko apni kasam jaanejaan…baat itni meri maan lo…

Strings, Thank you for this episode that had 1 bad song, 2 good songs (Malang party and Siege) and one Ghazal which I am incapable of ‘reviewing’

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