Coke Studio 7 comes with strings attached

Ep. 1 fared well and stumbled a little but gave much to celebrate. Could there be a better way to celebrate strings?

Shehlah Zahiruddin September 26, 2014
What an opening! The much-awaited Coke Studio season seven begins with the hope of fresh music, sounds, return-to-roots and much more.

Strings have teamed up to become the sound producers of a huge franchise even though they have no prior music production experience. It was but expected that, apart from picking all the right people, their overall presentation would be a ‘celebration of strings’, given Bilal Maqsood’s love for the guitar. Episode one fared well and stumbled a little as well, but gave much to celebrate.

Ustad Raees Khan and Abida Perveen: Mein Sufi Hoon

Who can go wrong placing these two maestros together?

It was a joy to see someone with the stature of Ustad Raees Khan in Coke Studio and what better way to celebrate ‘strings’ than to celebrate the sitar! Abida ji’s and Ustad Sahab’s juxtaposition in front of each other was a brilliant visual placement and was well-captured by the camera. However, coming to the song itself, one needs a superb maestro level producer to really be able to arrange and pull off the performances of such experienced stellar musicians.

Photo: Coke Studio Facebook page

The two giants remain largely ‘separated’ throughout the song. Ustad Sahab’s Alaap was followed by Abida ji’s singing which was then followed by Ustad Sahab’s solo and then Abida ji’s (and the drum’s) crescendo. The sitar should have been given the space to ‘talk’ to the song directly. A continuous memorable short sitar melody should have been woven into the song such that without it, the song would seem empty. There were many places where there could be a ‘nok-jhok’ between the vocalist and the sitar which would have created more balance in the song, but we never got to experience that beautiful possibility. Overall, the two flowed beautifully in parallel, but never did meet. And that is where it fell short.

Sajjad Ali: Tum Naraz Ho

Before regaling his songs, one should commend Sajjad Ali’s style. The man just looked dapper! The casual top unbuttoned black shirt gave a hint of how comfortable he was with his surroundings and the ease with which he was going to own the song.

Photo: Coke Studio Facebook page

The overall “Coors” stringed sound was a great start to the song. Sajjad on the flute was a perfect complement and of course we all love him – even when he whistles! But again, there were moments when the song could have gone a notch up – the harmonies were largely wasted. Instead of humming and singing the same lyrics in different pitch, the harmonies could have vocalised ‘sargams’ instead – something that he himself is very good with.

Strings gave tribute to ‘strings’ by bringing Faraz Anwar in this song – a fine, skilful musician and guitarist of Pakistan. However, his hurried ligardos and hammer-ons did not do anything for or in the song. Though his technique was spot on, Faraz’s solo was largely forgetful.

Niazi brothers: Lai Beqadraan Naal Yaari

Another fresh and great choice for Coke Studio! Loved the way they worked the mike, performed, entertained and sang! The opening mandolin piece by a scion of the Taffoo family, Ustad Tanveer, was a great inclusion.

Photo: Coke Studio Facebook page

Just like Abida ji brought the Sufi heart of Sindh in her song, the Niazi brothers brought the robustness and the celebratory mood of Punjab to us. Again, flautist Sajid Ali was perfectly in sync with the song, as was Ustad Tanveer’s mandolin interjections with Babar Khanna’s dhol; even Faraz delighted in his little riffs!

The Niazi brothers are capable of far more vocal versatility and it would have been even more delightful had they experimented a bit more. But I guess the mere thought of tinkering with a folk song popularised to international level by your father can be a bit daunting! But then again, isn’t this what Coke Studio is about?

Asrar: Sab Aakho Ali Ali

It is heartening to see Coke Studio embrace freshness and Asrar’s uninhibited vocals were a great addition to the line-up. His first properly produced song seemed to be greatly enjoyed by all musicians as maybe there was no ‘pressure’ to measure up.

Photo: Coke Studio Facebook page

And how lucky is Asrar to get Aamir Zaki as the guest musician on his song? Zaki’s first solo was soulful and restrained; he completely owned the song in the end. This is master musicianship and I hope all other musicians were taking notes! Could there be a better way to celebrate strings?

The Coke Studio line-up is great and the first episode has brought with it great promise. Strings itself is a part of the line-up and while Ahad Nayani is superb, the guitarist seems redundant. Ahad’s bermudas maybe someone’s ‘styling and personality’ idea, but it does not make music look, appear and sound sublime. And Asrar would be well advised neither does smoke doth a true Sufi make.

Here’s to hoping that Coke Studio also encourages instrumentals, and musicians aren’t just mere accompanists to vocalists. There are many like Ustad Tanveer, Aamir, Ustad Raees and Faraz who can carry off entire shows on their own. So I am looking forward to seeing the gap between vocalists and instrumentalists being bridged in the rest of the season.
Shehlah Zahiruddin
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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Parvez | 5 years ago | Reply | Recommend My friend who loves music has never heard of Luciano Pavarotti.......
Coach khi | 5 years ago | Reply | Recommend Gp65, you've "never heard of Sajjad Ali"???? Seriously????
Gp65 | 5 years ago Well, I am an Indian.he hasn't sung much in India. You may not know Pandit Bhimsen Joshi or Hariharan but may appreciate them if you hear them
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