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#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!

CokeStudio Pakistan – Season 7, Episode 5 – Review

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Mujhe Ek baar – The wonderful Abbas Ali Khan who enthralled us in Phool Banro earlier this season returns with a modern ghazal treated somewhat too much. The qalaam is superlative but the overall track sounds overproduced. The singing is top class and I am in love with the element of finality with which this track starts. The guest musician here is Shallum Xavier.This is an qalaam by  Hazrat Baba Gulzar Sabri and Abbas voiced this first in his album Tamam alam mast.  Hear it a couple of times and you can’t help but feel Abbas’ voice had to really fight through the cacophony that follows him throughout the track more of less. Disappointing.

Kheriyaan – Sajid ali teams with Niazi brothers to lend pain to the ever so beautiful ‘Heer’. You don’t have to consult ‘word meanings’ to understand the immense pain of the song. Barely 2:23 mins in the song, you will know what I am talking about. So much pain, such ease of singing…beautiful! If you do feel like knowing more about the song go to cokestudio.com.pk where the meaning of the song can be found under ‘song info’. I still don’t understand why there are no subtitles? That aside, I recommend you get a taste of this beautiful composition. 

Pehla Pyar – Jimmy khan goes solo for this song (which is penned by him as well) accompanied by the guest musicians Omran Shafique and the magician with a flute, Sajid Ali. It is wonderful seeing Omran sing along at times, Give him a microphone already! The singing is sweet and the overall feel of the song is innocent. Backup Vocals by Sara, Momin and Zoe are synced well with the song. In a song that is less than 4 minutes, one does come to expect some magic (given the kind of musicians at work here). It is what we can call a bonfire song. The song is hummable but not ‘CokeStudio Pakistan level hummable’.

Mitti da Pehlwan – Jawwad Ahmad, accompanied by Omran, Jaffer hussain gives us the most powerful song of the episode. The voice of Jawwad sahab and the singing style is laced with nostalgia. Everyone of us has grown up listening one or two artists who sound what could be described as musical equivalent of pure gold. The song talks of the arrogance in mere mortals who think they are invincible whereas they are just fragile creatures of clay. As if Jawwad sahab was not enough, we saw the backup vocalists give their best so far in this song. Omran Shafique has been the best guest musician so far in the show and he raises the song many folds with this part here as well. A winner song!

Only 2 songs stand out in this episode and I hope we are done with all the weak songs for now. Thank God for Niazi brothers, Jawwad Ahmad, Sajid ali and Omran Shafique!

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!

Oh Soundcloud! Hey Soundcloud!

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From converting simple button pusher into an almostareview sorts, Internet has helped us in more ways than one.

Off late there have been too many links of superb musical experiments that have been passed along to everyone around me. This is my effort to put on record, which ones are my favorite.

1. Where it all started – I am too backward when it comes to exploring things and sounds on internet. Thanks to Amit who sent me this song. It’s a simple take on an old classic and somehow there is a lot of emotion in this one. Check it out here if you wish to. To me, this is the attempt that pushed me into buying a guitar for myself. My favorite part? The humming towards the end and a superb guitar throughout! Thank you Amit!

2. There are attempts and then there are full ballistic super professional presentation! Our man @krishashok is all about good stuff and –this track is just like that! The background, arrangement and superb singing by @rvijaynarain I cannot get enough of this track.

3. It’s time for some goodness from Pakistan. Meet Shahi Hasan. Every track on this channel is quite good but it will take some getting for me to move beyond Tajdar-e-haram full version. Check it out and preferably on a good music system or a good pair of headphones.

4. Some channels haven’t been very active since sometime but their existing uploads have given us a good reason to cheer and wait for more. Saad follows is one of the many channels that fall under this category. Do check it out

5. Last but not the least, have you checked out Meera’s channel? Go hear the Sooha Saha done by her. Lyrics Nazis might not like it much. Hear it and tell me if you also don’t feel like picking up the microphone/voice recorder and give singing a try.

As you can see, I am totally poor at soundcloud’s treasure hunting. If you have some links, pass on may be?

Queen Between – Susheela Raman

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This review was first featured here

Susheela raman is not a new voice thanks to her sticky voice that doesn’t leave you well after the song ends. Her recent offering is ‘Queen between’.

It’s an interesting potpourri of  her English songwriting with the Sufi Qawaali and Rajasthani music. Her collaborators on the album are: Pakistan’s Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwal  and Rajasthan Maestros Kutle Khan and Nathoo Solanki, as well as longstanding accomplices French Cellist Vincent Segal and Producer/Guitarist Sam Mills.

The album starts with the magnificent sharaabi that features foot tapping fusion between Susheela Raman and the qawwals of rizwan-muazzim troop who bring the house down with their bits. The recitation of the Urdu couplets in a ‘not so urdu’ style might put the purists off but it fits in the overall structure of the song very well. The use of Khartaals is wise and melodious. Corn maiden has Susheela all over. With ease, Susheela gives a song that has restlessness written all over it. The song towards the end is euphoric and mesmerizing, unlike anything we have heard in a long time in India. Riverside starts with a melancholic guitar and good amount of ‘nagara’ drums for company. The singing is top class and the backup vocals by Kutle khan add quite a rustic feel to the song. The lyrics by Mills/Susheela are deep throughout the album and demand your attention especially in this song. Sajana has the qawwal group coming back to offer us and Urdu-English offering. You cannot miss the exquisite claps throughout the song, a song that conveys longing for the beloved. Susheela compliments the qawwals ably and her calls of Sajana might actually surprise you! The qawwals in between recite couplets which lend the much expected pathos to the song. Northstar is a lightly composed song and gives you a feel of someone singing it on the roof of her house watching the sky. The song has a calming effect on senses and leaves you insightful. The Queen between has a theatrical sound to it with the arrangement (accentuated by excellent backup vocals at places) that is grand and execution that is spot on! Karunei is a tamil song that features morchang. The song is more like a recitation and keeps the soul of the traditional karunei intact. Taboo is an approx 12 min offering that features the qawwals along with good bass and cello arrangement. The stillness of the entire composition creates an eerie atmosphere. The structure of the song is different than anything we have heard in ‘non-filmi’ albums in a long time. The singing is top class by Susheela and watch out for the backup vocals!

Overall a brilliant album in terms of trying something new. We cannot recall anything similar being tried by any band in a long time and that’s why it is all the more important that more people listen to this. It’s a new sound with which we must be a bit patient to begin with and give due credit to Susheela raman, Rizwan and Muazzam troop, sam mills and everyone else who has come together to present us this album.

Thumbs Up!

Complete album credits

1. Sharabi.
susheela raman: vocals
rizwan-muazzam qawals: vocals, harmonium, handclaps
sam mills: guitar, bass, keyboards
nathoo solanki: nagara drums
kutle khan: kartal, backing vocals
aref durvesh: tabla
vincent segal: cello

2. Corn Maiden
susheela raman: vocals
sam mills: guitar, bass
nathoo solanki: nagara drums
kutle khan: morchang, kartal, drums, backing vocals
aref durvesh: tabla
rana ram bhil: vocal textures

3. Riverside
susheela raman: vocals
sam mills: guitar, bass, bebot
nathoo solanki: nagara drums
kutle khan: drums, backing vocals
rana ram bhil: vocal textures

4. Sajana
susheela raman: vocals
rizwan-muazzam qawals: vocals, harmonium, handclaps
sam mills: guitar, bass
nathoo solanki: nagara drums
kutle khan: kartal, backing vocals
aref durvesh: tabla

5. North Star
susheela raman: vocals
sam mills: guitar

6. Queen Between
susheela raman: vocals
sam mills: guitar, keyboards
nathoo solanki: nagara drums
kutle khan: bapang, drums, backing vocals
vincent segal: cello
rana ram bhil: vocal textures, narh flute

7. Karunei
susheela raman: vocals
sam mills: guitar
kutle khan: morchang
aref durvesh: tabla

8. Taboo
susheela raman: vocals
rizwan-muazzam qawals: vocals, harmonium, handclaps
sam mills: guitar
nathoo solanki: nagara drums
kutle khan: morchang, backing vocals
aref durvesh: tabla
vincent segal: cello
charlie jones: bass
rana ram bhil: vocal textures

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