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CokeStudio 9, Episode 4

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Uddi Ja  – Mohsin Abbas Haider has a strong voice and he sung this song rather well. At the risk of being repetitive, the arrangement was a bit too much for me. The lyrics and composition were top class no doubt but it could have been a bit more subtle.

Aaya Laariye  – Meesha Shafi, Naeem Abbas Rufi and everyone else in the studio pretty much brought the house down with this one. What I kept wondering was where the brass band musicians were in the song? This is because the song has a pretty heavy brass band set but I was later told it was being played out of the keyboards. Rufi was a revelation to me though, loved his voice and the energy.

Paar Chanaa De  – Noori and Shilpa Rao gave us their version of this evergreen song and I came back disappointed. The track was over produced like anything and too linear in my view. Mohan veena and the overall string section was the only saving grace and poor Shilpa rao had to literally struggle towards the end of the song to be heard. Yet again, the tune that was lent to the song was good but the production was all over the place

Ala Baali by  Nirmal Roy & Jabar Abbas came across as a beautiful song with nice layers and excellent arrangement. I absolutely loved how Nirmal and Jabar complimented each other. The teasing arabic vibe of the song is just so good! They could have done away with the Punjabi part in between to be honest, but that said, superb song!

By no means a good episode and even though all is already recorded and done, I am worried about the remaining episodes. It was episode 4 today and the noise is already unbearable. I wonder what else is in store for us.

You can read my thoughts on previous episodes by clicking on episode number 3, 2, 1

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 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.

Dear Rohail Hyatt

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Dear Rohail Hyatt

As we can all smell a new season from your musical shelf is just around the corner, I hope…

I hope it will reinforce my belief in good fusion like it did when Saeein zahoor and Noori performed Aik Alif

I hope it will introduce me to newer languages like it did when sketches performed Mandh waai and left me teary eyed even when I couldn’t understand a bit of what was being said (‘Subtitles’ option came much later)

I hope it will make me meet a group of super talented singers like the chakwal group who will enthrall me by the sheer energy they bring to a song in a quiet, understated manner. Remember the kandyaari dhol geet?

I hope it will give me goosebumps like it does every time Tahir Mithu went ‘o ho alllah’ in pere pavan di saan.

I hope it will make me scream the way it did when Atif and Qayaas ran a riot of melody in charkha nolakha

I hope it will remind me to find the meaning within myself like the way it did when Arieb Azhar recited Na raindee hai

I hope it will take an old classic or two and treat them with the goodness that ONLY cokestudio pakistan can do. Remember mori araj suno? Remember dasht e tanhai?

I hope it will confuse me as to what was better? A superb composition throughout or the recital towards the end that took my breath away. Remember Kyun tu achcha lagta hai? Or the last few minutes of ‘mori araj suno’?

I hope it will bring back an old voice just like you brought ‘Lala’ Ataullah khan who gently reaffirmed the ‘still have it’ from ni oothan waaley.

I hope it will have another instrumental piece like seher that charmed the life out of me..

I hope it will show us that we can try venturing out to genres like a lullaby with a simple yet effective nindiya re..

I hope it will give yet another call to the almighty in the plain simple manner that quietly shakes us and wakes us all up…remember Allah hu?

I hope it will ask me to move along with the roads, hopelessly in love. Remember Chal diyay?

I hope it will educate me a bit more about nuances of the popular music forms like it did on Pashto…Remember Paimona or for that matter Larsha Pekhawar Ta

I hope it will take a raga like it took darbari and turned it by it’s head in Kuch ajab khail with a brilliant music arrangement. Some people heard music in the video, others plainly concentrated on why shafqat amanat ali khan was wearing shades in the studio..Kuch ajab khail kartaar ke indeed!

I hope it will wake up a lot of people to sheer awesomeness of a song that can be fused with anything (In this case a simple village song wherein the girls are being asked to get ready and visit a gathering nearby), still it can make you dance…Yes! I am talking about THIS!

I hope you get yet another lion or a lioness from Balochistan who can charm us like Akhtar chanal Zahri did with Dannah pa daanah. I refer to him as the Pied Piper from Balochistan.

I hope it will continue to have the lovely set of backup vocal singers who are undoubtedly the best we have ever come across. Rachel and Zoe just light up every song when they are around, just like all the musicians who are a part of the set up.

I hope it will make me float again like I do every time I hear Senraan Ra Baairya. Didn’t know you can make someone smile and cry in the same song keeping the old world charm intact and the fusion very contemporary.

Lastly, I hope it will erase one more line from these wrinkles (that divide us) like it has done every year so that we can sit and sway together to music because quite frankly, everything else is just a waste of time…

रागों की छनक से पूछ के देखेंगे कि वो पाकिस्तानी है या हिन्दुस्तानी..

So Sri Rohail Hyatt, over to you, Sir!

Coke Studio

The Reluctant Fundamentalist – O.S.T. Review

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The latest offering by Mira nair features various artists and the album has as many as 14 tracks.

The album starts with Kangna,a traditional qawaali performed wonderfully by Fareed ayaz and Abu Muhammad. The accentuated bass towards the end remind us that this is for a Film and not performed for anything else. Although the duo have sung this song for coke studio pakistan as well where the duration was in excess of 10 mins, this one ends in less than 6 minutes, melodious nonetheless.

Bijli aaye ya na aaye features the otherwise serious Meesha shafi. Severely let down on the lyrics the song survives because of the lovely throw that Meesha demonstrates. Peppy. The lyrics are so bad that they actually redefine the word ‘random’. However, this for sure will be closely walking with the narrative, of which I am sure.

Kaindey ney sung by Zahara khan is up next. Performed with just a guitar and Sarod by the side for most part, Zahara appears slightly out of sync at times in this average song.

Ali sethi hums Dil jalaney ki baat kartey ho extremely well and leaves you wanting for more because the track is barely 2 mins long.

Atif Aslam croons Mori araj suno and even though he tries very hard, thanks to the varied versions of this ageless composition that we have come across, this track falls short. But it does sound very theatrical.

Measure of me by Amy ray is the best song of the album. Slow, melancholic and very high on melody. The arrangement is so simple that you might even ignore it. The backup vocal arrangement is brilliant as well.

A young man has to take a stand performed by Michael Andrews is a track filled with a lot of tension thanks to the eerie arrangement and loads of violins used. Ends quickly echoing the tension in the head.

Jannissary again performed by Michael is a slow piano piece with continuous violins. Somehow reminded me of 1947 The earth, this piece. Nicely done.

Something happened – Bass and a lot of bass instills anticipation in what appears to be an anxious track. A track that is very rich on sounds. Faintly heard someone sharpening knife, someone running through a door and then it all descends to a pause. One of the best instrumental pieces ina long time. Highly recommended.

God bless America A very short track comprising of crowds cheering and a continuous beat that eventually fades out far too quickly.

Love in Urdu by Rizzle kicks is a delicately arranged all instrumental piece peppered with subtle Sarod and guitar. Not as beautiful as love in urdu would be but a soothing and simple track.

Focus on fundamentals paints a picture of tension, yet again. Aided in just right measure with violins and a dying bass line throughout. Eerie. Tensed. Dark.

Get us both killed has got a very dark tone throughout. The riffs remind you of a particular O.S.T. Which shall not be named here. 🙂 the tempo steadily rises but never peaks and thats quite eerie.

Too much blood has poured into this river With near absent vocals, this track keeps the dark undertone of the album alive. Aided by flute, the overall grave atmosphere gets a touch of sadness. The almost silent alaap is a touch of class in this track.

With Mira nair, we are sure that the music will be totally circumstantial and compliment the feel of the film. The reluctant fundamentalist is no different. Will I hear it as much as the O.S.T. Of ‘The namesake’? Well, No. The reason is simple. This O.S.T. stays so closely hugged to the film’s feel that you slip into sadness with some of the tracks of this film.

2 Thumbs up! If you are an O.S.T. Collector, do not miss this at any cost!

CokeStudio Season 5, Episode 5

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Dasht e tanhai – Meesha shafi starts this with a soulful touch (with minimal music) and the composition comes to life with the typical ‘CokeStudio-sque’ style with all the music hitting us barely 2 minute in the song. The comparison with the Iqbal bano’s version is an obvious ‘Go-to’ topic for this. I haven’t heard it in a long time and although the traces remained in my head, I didn’t (And I WON’T) compare the notes between the two. This beautiful composition deserves (like all the CokeStudio compositions) to be evaluated stand alone, in it’s entirety. Towards the end, the violin makes up for the ‘Goosebumps’ factor. This would have been tough for Meesha to sing along with this reasonably fast paced music arrangement. Still, she is Meesha and she does it with aplomb. This will grow on you if you don’t like it already. 2 Thumbs up!

Koi Labda  – The talented Viccaji sisters start this song along with Symt. Like the previous song by Symt, it appears perfectly rehearsed and very sharp as he takes us via various by shades of love and the way he leaves on ‘Har kisi nu mukammal jahan nahi milta’, Only Sanam Marvi could have picked it up. I couldn’t help feel that the portion of Sanam Marvi was recorded separately but I might be wrong. (As per the CokeStudio website, Sanam was brought later. I apologize for this) Sanam sticks to her familiar territory and Symt takes it over splendidly. My vote to Symt for this one.

Mahi – Bang! And then it dies! Farhad then holds the microphone for us. The song has a very slow start and the magnificent shehnai holds the listener close and lets Farhad take us through as he sings about the search for his beloved. From 2:44 minutes, the song picks up the pace and then it dies down almost immediately as Farhad takes to the drums and shehnai makes a heroic comeback in the song. Like Charkha Nolakha, this one also doesn’t have a definite hook and has a lot of music to its credit.  The voice that Farhad has isn’t (in my view) suited for loud alaaps and that’s the only blip on this otherwise above average song.

Waah Waah Jhulaara – The Superb Chakwal group this time get a solo song and they sing a beautiful song about how time takes everything from us. The super talented Viccaji sisters have a special role to play in this song as well. The magnificent joint alaaps and long taans that chakwal group takes is the stuff legend (and folk music) is made of. The music is kept at a minimum dominated by Guitar, Dholak and drums. The simplicity of singing style (that reminds me the way Aarti is done in temples) will bowl you over because of sheer impact this group leaves on your mind. Easily, the find of this season and I do hope we get to hear more from this group (Cokestudio or un-cokestudio wise).

Seher – In one of the firsts, CokeStudio Pakistan recorded this track (without Farhan Rais khan) (source – cokestudio.com.pk) and Farhan Rais khan was invited later to play to the track.  It’s pure Sitar magic and with the bad habits infused in our minds (thanks to below average intellects of people calling anything as ‘fusion’ these days), this track takes ‘fusion’ to another level altogether. Never loud. Never ‘on display’. Quietly soothing and insanely beautiful. Did I forget to mention the backup vocals by Viccaji sisters in this as well? This is a ‘forever in the folder’ sort of a track. You just can’t delete this from your music library. Simple.

My picks – Wah Wah jhulara, Dasht e tanhai, Seher and Koi labda

With Season 5 coming to an end, Rohail Hyatt demonstrated (without featuring himself in any song, mind you) that good music is what it is all about and good music is all what it should be about.

More power to CokeStudio Pakistan!

As we here in India try our hands with multiple producers (and 250 odd musicians, aptly advertised!), It’s time we stop comparing Pakistan and Indian versions of CokeStudio because in my humble opinion, CokeStudio Pakistan is a ‘Go to’ case study. We can better it, we can ruin it but we can never match it’s sound.

We have got to find our own style and then we can compliment this excellent body of work by Rohail Hyatt which is available to us:

FREE. FOREVER. Yes.

THE Coke Studio Season 5, Episode 2

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Afer a superb Episode 1 it was obvious for us to wait for the episode 2 and it’s out now! Lets see the contents of this melody goodybag!

Ishq aap bhe awallaChakwal Group & Meesha shafi – Yes, Meesha shafi is back but this time it’s not just about her, its about the mind blowing Chakwal group who accompany her! The beat is very ‘Chori chori’ like in the beginning and that’s where the similarity ends. The group singers break into an excellently coordinated song. Revolving around a love struck girl who is filling water from the well the irony in this version is that the female singer (Meesha), doesn’t get ‘solo singing time’! Ok, we would have liked that a bit more, Rohail! Note. it. Excellent song! (Meesha is audible from 2 mins onwards, still).

Peere pavandi saan – The extremely talented and melodious – Tahir Mithu starts this track with such a clean alaap that you will probably drop everything you are doing to listen to the song. Then the song takes off and how! Backed up superbly by Rachel and Zoe, this track is the drug of this episode. Easily. The track although a sad song is treated exquisitely by the musicians. Repeat repeat! That’s all.

Rabba Sacheya – Atif Aslam – Starts with a very ‘Na Raindee hai’ atmosphere, Rachel and Zoe accompany Atif and navigates the suffering of humanity through the woods of religion and similar vices! The words (punjabi) are very strong and the music arrangement is appropriately subdued. Even when Atif stops for a moment or two, the music doesn’t try to dominate, rather it continues with the uniform and subtle pace. Atif adopts a very ‘word by word’ style of singing and takes the song to it’s conclusion along with the excellent Rachel and Zoe. A very different song but something that irritated was Atif’s ‘firang’ style pronunciation of  some words. May be it’s just me, but I didn’t like it. Average song on first hearing.

Larho Mujhe – Bilal – Ok, arresting (somewhat childlike) style start of the song is pleasantly different. Of course Bilal is not one o the most ‘classically trained’ singers around, still he very wisely chooses to stay close to the tune and doesn’t indulge in any hysterics. Result? – Superb song! Goosebumps. Yes. Lyrics? Beyond class! At times very ordinary, at times hard hitting! In between there is a superb (trance like?) mixing of vocals that just accentuates the whole feel of the song and takes the song to a higher level! This song should be publicized more, heard more. Superbly done!

Khabaram Raseeda – Fareed Ayaz, Abu Muhammad & friends – Anyone familiar with these singers knows that the song will start with a lot of alaaps and will be the longest song of the season. This song borrows the premise and lyrics from Hazrat Amir Khusro. This is just a near 13 mins treat, hopelessly romantic. The music arrangement mellow non intrusive. The old style of singing is a delight with the singers commentating on the various lines they sing. Charming!

The episode 2 keeps up with the melodious pace of episode 1 and doesn’t disappoint in anyway. I am getting tired of mentioning this that the backup vocals (by Rachel and Zoe) have to be applauded much more. They are an inseparable part of many songs but in this season they are continuously (And almost quietly) raising the level of every song more or less.

The choice of songs, singers and the overall set up continues to be earthy and pure, unlike some other lesser mortals who would make a big deal on ‘injecting’ an alaap or two and would go ‘Oh My God! What an experiment!

Only an institution as evolved as CokeStudio Pakistan can experiment and succeed in varied genres. I just hope that next episode is aired sooner and the goodness rubs on some lesser mortals in India as well!

Rohail, you make us lesser mortals – Greedy!

Must visit – Cokestudio.com.pk for everything related to CokeStudio

Song links below from this episode

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