KARACHI: It does not take a lot of thought to conclude that many artist collaborations on Coke Studio, of late, have been square pegs forcefully driven in round holes. However, part of the fifth episode of the ongoing season, Jhalliya is a suitable example of what this show can really achieve when it comes to collaborations.
How much do we love Javed Bashir? Let us count the ways. Within his territorial limits, he is the undisputed king and it is not long before he will stamp his authority on the industry at large. He dominates every song that he sings and there is no other way to it; he was made this way. Even someone as good as Ali Azmat got washed away when it came to a collaborative track alongside Bashir and we feel this is exactly the point where Masooma Anwar’s brilliance really shows.
This woman is a vocal powerhouse; we do not remember the last time we used this term so convincingly for a Pakistani female singer. Even Meesha Shafi or Quratulain Balouch is no match for her intimidating tone and control. Not once during the entire duration of the song does she fall short of matching Bashir’s exuberance.
The Islamabad-based singer, who happens to be a medical practitioner by profession, is no newbie and her composure rightfully explains. Long before her Coke Studio debut, she had already made inroads in Bollywood, lending her voice to the soundtrack of the 2012 film Cocktail. Bollywood may still have its Nooran Sisters and Richa Sharmas, Pakistan has not had a Masooma Anwar in a long, long time. They say the world is fascinating because it is complex. When it comes to art in general and music in particular, things are no different. Mehdi Hasan becomes Mehdi Hasan, for instance, because what he does is complex and his genius requires a lot of unpacking. Only multiple readings or aural experiences deepen our understanding in such cases.
The purpose of this digression was to illustrate that this, however, is not always the case. Jhalliya does not demand a lot from the listener and yet it pleases. The poetry is standard Bulleh Shah, simple yet profound. Additional writing by Sabir Zafar and Bashir himself is in line with the larger idea. The arrangement does not scurry in multiple directions and there is hardly any absurd experimentation that leaves you scratching your head.
Jhalliya is also the first occasion this season where Ustad Tanveer Hussain and his banjo do not seem out of place.
On the other hand, film-maker Shahzad Nawaz’s inclusion in the artist line-up this season had raised some questions of why and how and he finally made his appearance in the song, reciting more bits from Bulleh Shah. However, the song is so well done that further deliberation on this is futile. The lines hit home, he gels in well and that is all that really matters. Faakhir Mehmood deserves all the praise in the world for putting this together.
All told, Jhalliya does stand among the best, if not on top, of what the Strings era of this cherished show has given us.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 13th, 2016.