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CokeStudio Season 9, Episode 6

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Lagi Bina / Chall Mele Noon Challiye  by Sanam Marvi & Saieen ZahoorJaffer Zaidi.  What a clean rendition by Sanam Marwi to start the song. I had goosebumps when the padharo share des part made a quick appearance. She is closest to Abida parveen in terms of never losing a note even when she goes high or low. You know why Bullah danced when he danced? Probably because he heard a fakir called Saien Zahoor sing. Now on to Sain Zahoor – it is impossible not to be moved by his voice and here even though his parts are not composed with a soaring call to allah, you cannot help but sway when he takes a jibe at the ‘mela’ that is life. I am just blessed to be alive in the era of Zahoor. Mashallah song!

Tera Who Pyar/ Nawazishein Karam by Asim Azhar & Momina musteshan – Shuja Haider  – It is probably not a good thing for me to write but the sinking feel that the song gave me in the first 3 minutes, it made me sad, very sad. A beautiful medley of two songs (originally by Shuja himself). A song that probably dying lovers would sing as they leave this world for another. I loved Asim because you could actually hear the pain in his ‘nawazishein karam meherbaniyan’…God bless you kid!

Anokha Laadla by Damia Farooq & Basit AliFaakhir mehmood   Quite impressed with the tune and the way raga based fusion is romancing with rich instruments like accordion
And Sitar with a murderous guitar in the background and almost all throughout. Basit is so good! I haven’t heard anything from him so I would assume he is new. It is so reassuring to see new talent pay their respects to classical stuff with a hint of guitar here and a hint of grunge there. Mighty impressed by Faakhir’s composition. Damia could have been a bit more relaxed. She sounds stressed, may be because her parts are slightly more challenging.

Meri Meri –  Rizwan Butt & Sara HaiderShani Arshad  – Criminal injustice was meted out to us by keeping this song short. Sara Haider is too good and so is Rizwan butt. However, I felt Rizwan would have been better reciting the lines or perhaps choosing a different tune. Sara, whatever she got excelled in that. I absolutely adore the tune and the arrangement of the song, if only it was longer..

Not a single song came across as overproduced in this episode and that is such a relief…I have zero complaints now because I am too busy waiting for the last episode of the season next week, in which we will see Sabri saheb sing….for the last time.

This was a good episode overall

Previous episode review links here – 1, 2, 3, 4,

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 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

#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’

Review #CokeStudio8 Episode 6

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Previous Episode review here – 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Ve Baneya  is a song that is fused brilliantly with an old song of Reshma. All of us have a film song for which we have bought an entire album at some stage in our lives. Mulazim Hussain’s part reminds you of that song. He is a good singer and the ease with which he sank his teeth to his part speaks volumes about his talent. Not once would you miss the feel of the song and that is just brilliant. Fizza Javed owns the song  by simply staying close to the classical brief oh her part. It is a part so nice, I wish she got more songs this season. She reminded me a bit of Humeira Channa though. I am surely looking forward to more from her in the days to come. Sajid ali and Arsalan keep the setting simple yet stick quite close to the song and create an armosphere which will have you swaying to this simple yet effective song.

Hare Hare Baans by Shazia Manzoor and Rizwan-Muazzam was the most anticipated song for me for the simple reason that I am yet to get out of the magic of Sakal Bann. (I still feel that is the best song of the season and would remain that way). Add to that the honey dipped voice of Shazia Manzoor and the wait was just unbearable. Fair to say, the song did exactly what I was expecting it to do. The voice and rendition of Shazia hits the bulls eye with ease. Rizwan-Muazzam and party are probably a gift to us listeners who like to listen to pucca music and not get carried over by cacophony. Easily one of the best songs of the season. There is a subtle tribute to piya tose naina laage re I feel in between 5:29 to 5:32 mins in the song, but then I am not a raga knowing chap, so please excuse me if you feel otherwise. Songs like these make it easy to wait for the next season of CokeStudio Pakistan…Thank God for that!

Jiya Karay – Truth be told, I was never a fan of anything except Purani jeans by Ali Haider. I remember while growing up, I used to have serious reservations listening to the voice and somewhat average gayaki of Ali. Still, I remember smiling ear to ear when I saw him in the artist line up. Nostalgia, may be. In this song, he teams up with Sara raza. Age doesn’t seem to have done anything wrong to Ali Haider because he sounds exactly the same (and goes slightly out of tune the way he used to!). Sara raza is the star of the song in my view. What is undoubtedly the star of the song is the arrangement. Be it the splendid Sitar from Shehroze or the harmonica or the flute by Abid ali and Sajid Ali. The song has a beautiful retro feel to it and even if I won’t play it again and again, it will surely become  a song that you won’t skip if you are on a long drive. Not giving a solo song to Ali Haider tells us that Strings learnt from the massive embarassment of getting Zohaib Hassan last year and giving him a lot of songs, including a solo. Old stars look and sound even better when they acknowledge and model their sound/work around the limitations age brings with it.

Kadi aao ni – All the fusion movements in the present day are about bringing mukhtalif artists/sounds and creating something which was not fathomed so far by most of us. With this song, Mai dhai and Atif Aslam came together. The promise of something exciting was always there. Just like Strings avoided the temptation of going berserk with Rizwan Muazzam in a simple babul song in hare hare baans, they have done a good job by keeping the pop feel in tact and keeping the wonderful Mai Dhai relatively subtle than her previous outing in the studio. The song has a pop feel to it but if you ask me, I would probably not listen to it again and again. Part of the reason is below average lyrics (Atif’s part). It is strictly average. Atif is good especially towards the end but somehow it didn’t come together very well for me. That said, I am in love with the first 14 seconds of the song and that wonderful harmonium which very quietly moves along the voice throughout the song.

Over all an average episode with 2 songs making the cut and going on the loop (Ve Baneya and Hare hare baans) and the remaining  two just about hummable but nothing much at that.

Now we have just one episode left and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who all will make an appearance in that. Still, am unable to figure out one name (or several names depending on the line up per song). The probable line up looks likes this

Malika-e-ghazal Mohtarma Farida khanum

Alicia Dias with siege

Malang party 

Who else?

Review – CokeStudio Season 8, Episode 4 #CokeStudio8

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Episode 1 review here, Episode 2 here, Episode 3 here

Rabba Ho – Trust Strings of season 8 to have a million variation in a song that is less than 7 mins. So far it has worked and this song here is no different. Mulazim Hussain reminds me of Sonu nigam and with all the positive vibes (not comparing so cynics, calm your tits please!). The rhythm structure is beautiful especially the way the stanzas are done. Don’t you just love Mulazim when he adds a bit extra ‘hoo’ (with a smile) after that longish alaap of ‘rabbbbbbbbbaaaaaaaaa’? The string section is top class and kudos to Shehroze Hussain on Sitar. Tanveer Tafu can basically play anything. I wonder how much time Tafu sahab takes at the ATM machine. He must get busy playing a tune on the damn ATM card itself! A song that is penned beautifully, composed tactfully and delivered passionately…mashallah!

Khari Neem – We saw what Strings can do with a perfectly simple vintage song when they turned this song by its head and gave us an impressive result here. This time, they got Siege to go crazy along with the entire houseband when they presented their tribute to this song. Fit to say they pretty much brought the house down. This sort of singing might not be everyone’s cup of tea, to me the song is a perfect blend of passion and rhythm. Flashes of brilliance from everyone else in the studio makes up for such a happy song! Those claps, the string section, percussion, everything and everyone top class! The last minute and a half of the song just elevates the proceedings and leaves you there…awestruck! Siege, Please sing one more song for us this season, will you?

Piya Dekhan Ko – True to the expectations which creep up at the slightest promise of two good artists performing together, you will see loads of musical dialogue between Ustad Hamid and Nafees and it is beautiful! The arrangement minimal, the feel just right and the presentation filled with old world charm of raga based compositions, this could be the simplest song of the season yet it will not fail you. A song perfect for light listening as well as dancing. Yes! Dancing!

Ae Dil – Beautiful keyboard starts the song and then it occurs to you that Ali Zafar is singing in English. I am not a fan of english efforts on the Studio. Sara Haider (Who we remember over emoting and jumping in Season 7) sings well and even though the  composition is good, the ‘take it away’ from Ali Zafar kills the song because the song is not a ‘take it away’ genre if you know what I mean. The guitar is amazing but it tries too hard to hold the song which is good in pieces (read – Sara’s portions). Ali Zafar is good but somehow we expect much more from him and you do feel that the english part actually compromises the feel of the song from the beginning itself which jeopardizes the continuity in one’s mind. It is not a bad song, just that it sounds broken, especially with the ‘original song’ kept in context in the beginning of the video. Great chemistry between Sara and Ali.

Overall a decent episode where you can listen to 3 out 4 songs on the loop and to be honest, the 4th song isn’t all that bad, just that it is good in portions.

Thumbs up to the producers, this season is turning out to be a revelation!

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