Coke Studio 7, Episode 3 and 4: The bad and the saving grace
The perfect dinner table is one where each dish is well thought-out and lovingly prepared and the overall combination ensures that there is something for everyone. A perfect dish, on the other hand, is a combination of savoury with some hint of sweetness, sourness, and crunch made with sophistication, so that each morsel entices and excites the palate. It also tells the food connoisseur of the thought and technique that went into the preparation of the dishes.
It is pretty much the same with music. A perfect song sets the mood and tone and transcends to a beautiful melody and takes the listener on a journey of highs and lows with interesting instrumental pieces kneaded into the melody itself. Each part of the song, such as the mukhra, antara, astai, sanchai and abhoga are well thought out that blend the singer, the instrument, the lyrics and the feel seamlessly.
When one hears a song on Coke Studio, one expects an added layer of excitement that comes from successful experimentation that delights the ears and the intellect alike. While the well laid out table of Coke Studio offers a mix of classical, folk and pop music, it has repeatedly been unable to add an extra ‘zing’ or surprise or pleasantness to its classic and folk numbers. Its only forte, for now, has been tackling pop melodies – and that too has had its hits and misses.
Episode three was the weakest thus far, with three out of four songs failing to impress. For the most part, it seemed the backing musicians were just asked to ‘go along’ with all the songs. The Coke PR is in full swing, calling the treatment of most songs as ‘minimalist’.
However this adjective fails to justify the other adjectives that come to mind – lazy and unimaginative!
Sajjad Ali and Fariha Pervez: Jhoolay Laal
A perfectly complementing vocal pairing – two singers and radiating souls from whom a whole generation has learnt a lot about music. An old song of Sajjad Ali’s and a staple at most of his live shows, the best part about the music was inclusion of the baja. Cleanly recorded and well played, it was a joy to hear its inclusion. Strings have included the harmonium in their own songs before, so it was about time one heard it on Coke Studio as well.
However, even after all these aspects, the song remained bland and was unimaginatively arranged.
Great song? Yes.
Great singers? Definitely.
But did it get a ‘wow’ treatment at Coke Studio? Definitely not.
Meesha Shafi: Sunn Ve Balori
This was the only saving grace for Coke Studio this episode. A tightly woven song with well thought-out arrangement, pushing the boundaries of all the musicians involved, this song was a treat to hear.
Although many may think vice versa, the arrangement of the song made Meesha Shafi sound decent. Part-time singer, part-time actress, and part-time model, Shafi has zero vocal range, training or versatility, but it is to the credit of the overall arrangement and production of the song that they took an old melody, spun it around and created a song that generated interest. Love it or hate it, at least this is what Coke Studio should be all about.
Ustad Tafu should have been given a longer solo or more of interplay with the guitar or the drums. There were a lot of ways in which he could have contributed to the song, by adding thaykas and bols and made the song even more interesting. But, in all fairness, none of the producers or musicians – apart from those in the string section – even came close to understanding the taals like Ustad Tafu did, so maybe it was for the best.
A little etiquette to the marketers of Coke Studio – when you have an ‘ustad’ gracing your stage, the least you can do is credit his name before Omran Shafique!
Jimmy Khan and Rahma Ali: Nadiya
One singer who’s just one-song-old, paired with another singer who’s zero-songs-old, thrown in and mixed together with some different instruments and presented to the listeners on a gilded tray of Coke Studio – what did they expect? The gilded tray didn’t do much for the song.
At best, if you haven’t heard Jimmy Khan’s song before, or aren’t familiar with the ‘gaari ko chalana babu’ melody, here is your chance to hear it again. But except that, the song is nothing more.
Abida Perveen: Dost
Abida ji presented another arifana kalaam (Sufi melody) in a mishra. With the blessings of Hazrat Zaheen Shah Taji, and the supremely blessed voice of Abida ji, the song pulls many a heart strings. However, descending to the horizontal plain of musical exploration by Coke Studio, this song presents another disappointment. The song ends as it begins, devoid of any musical arrangement, highs and lows, bridges, tehai or alaaps to speak of. Bland again.
Such was how the third episode ended, leaving listeners yearning for more from almost every song. However, episode four – thankfully – was somewhat of a contrast to episode three.
Asrar: Shakar Wandaan Re
Opening with a qawwali, the episode presented a truly imaginative arrangement. Jaffer Zaidi got the space to improvise, giving us the feel of the accordion and Tanveer Tafu played with just the right joy and skill to uplift the song. Asrar was best at higher octaves and carried the song superbly in the end. However, I still fail to understand what Shallum Xavier was doing in the song.
Just a question for the producers – what stopped them from preparing a similar arrangement for Javed Bashir’s qawwali in episode two?
Javed Bashir and Humera Channa: Ambwa Talay
Hearing Humera ji in Ambwa Talay, one is transported immediately into a different zone. A beautiful and emotional song for ‘rukhsati’ in raga pilu, it is sung with complete justice. It has an almost AR Rehman-ish feel (remember Roja?); the shehnai is just perfect for this song.
However, the melody missed some imaginative classical string counters in the little spaces within. Tanveer Tafu on the guitar could definitely have added another dimension to the song. But for this scribe, it’s the best song to come out of Coke Studio.
Zoheb Hassan: Dheeray Dheeray
Zoheb Hassan’s Dheeray Dheeray was enjoyable, but spare a thought to the genius of Biddu whose slick composition and production has ensured Nazia and Zoheb’s songs are as fresh today as they were 25 years ago.
It was a fun, nostalgic song, till suddenly the clarinet made its entry. What was that? By dressing up somebody in a suit and cap, playing a soulless clarinet without even the full 16 notes, one wonders if this was an attempt at jazz or a joke.
Barring this rude interruption, the song was a revisit of the good times.
Usman Riaz: Bone Shaker
A true follower of Kaki King and Preston Reed, Usman Riaz’s performance was a repeat of his performances for the past two years. Given his prowess at western classical compositions, it would have been bigger had he showcased those talents, rather than showcasing a repeat of finger picking percussive guitar skills.
Usman was ably supported by veteran Babar Khanna and Sajid Ali, but the overall impact of the song was a little disjointed, with more the feel of a jam by wonderful musicians than a well thought-out instrumental.
Coke Studio and the team saved itself by bringing in singers they couldn’t go wrong with. But it’s a thin line – unless reinforced with wholesome musical knowledge and innovation for all genres of music, Coke Studio may flounder. A verse from episode three’s Dost aptly captures the expectations we have from Coke Studio:
Woh ‘ishwe wuh ghamze
(Those heart-stopping glances, those mischievous graces)
Woh naghme wuh jalwe
(That rapturous music, that dazzling unveiling)
Talab kar rahe ham aafaat kya kya
(What wondrous calamities we are seeking!)