Getting booked to croon the National Anthem at a revered platform is an honour for any artist – or a bevy of artists, as in the case of Coke Studio 10. After all, the National Anthem symbolises an entire nation. It conjures and eulogises its history and traditions, represents the cumbrous struggles of its people – it’s a persistent reminder that we’re safe and free; it evokes a sense of reassurance as to how resilient we are and can be. In a nutshell it epitomises hope and embodies mettle. I can only imagine what it means to soldiers and veterans.
Hopping back to Coke Studio, and considering what the Sound of the Nation, as the iconic show is suitably referred to, is capable of, we expected their rendition of the National Anthem to radiate magnitude. Whether it’s fiddling with the arrangement of melodies or striving for the glory notes that only five-octave powerhouses like maybe Meesha Shafi could hit (it’s a bummer she’s not part of the show), one expected Coke Studio to put their own unforgettable stamp on the National Anthem. Alas, after experiencing their execution of the national song – I vaulted my heart and cupped my face.
Keeping in mind the noble intentions and the moral purpose behind Coke Studio’s version of the anthem, we needed more. Taking into consideration that we lost legendary music maestros such as Amjad Sabri and Junaid Jamshed, we needed more. Given that the Pakistani cricket team unpredictably aced the ICC Champions Trophy and the country harvested a natural ocean of love and respect that it’s not normally used to, we needed more. Taking into account the present political turmoil enveloping the country, we needed more. Sorry Coke Studio but you disappointed, to say the least.
From the shaky production techniques to the composition that failed to instill even the slightest of emotion, the ‘rendition’ was a chronic failure. My question is could it be more majestic? Okay, that was a rhetorical question because the answer is… Yes, it could be, it’s Pakistan’s National Anthem we are talking about, not a travesty of sorts. And undoubtedly, Coke Studio is capable of magic – so what happened?
Why couldn’t we just be offered a soul-tinged interpretation on the country’s song, boasting a beatific backing choir? It didn’t need the variant change that robbed from it its sense of vigour and passion that would ultimately evoke a memorable catharsis within listeners. The orchestra should’ve been knock-out grand; the reworked tune, more heartfelt – there were places where there certainly was room for higher notes which just weren’t hit.
A decade removed since Coke Studio’s birth, we understand the Sound of the Nation needed to validate that it still owns the requisite chops to deliver a stirring rendition of the national treasure – but then they produce this!
If you’ve seen the video of the rendition, you’ll comprehend what I mean when I say that it was more a comedy skit than the recital of the National Anthem. One word: staged. One query: what good is a heart if it doesn’t reflect in your expressions? It hurts to say that there was no sentiment on the visages of any of the singers. Ali Zafar was the only one I believed and was persuaded by but regrettably, he was gone in a split second. The rest were simply wax figures executing a song – any song – any random song. Except, it wasn’t just any random song.
The visual treatment given to the video was appalling and funny at the same time. Some singers were pretentiously being overzealous, others shared an uncanny resemblance to the Walking Dead. And then the abysmal editing. The video turned out so subnormal and deficient in feeling that it got many miffed – and understandably.
And it’s not that the Coke Studio platform hasn’t excelled in patriotic art before. Sohni Dharti from Season 8 and Aye Rahe Haq ke Shaheedo from Season 9 were both immeasurably effective, transporting chills down spines. This year’s though – far from inspiring. We weren’t asking for a picture-perfect, celestial melody (the song naturally houses a liberatingly therapeutic tune!) – we just wanted feels! We wanted a rush of blood gushing through our systems that jived with souls bursting with pride – a solemn pride that roared the Pakistan spirit.
Giving the team of Coke Studio benefit of doubt, let’s forget for a second that we’re talking about the National Anthem (though it’s extremely hard to overlook that fact) – but for those like me who prefer a little more gusto with their music and others who lean towards original classics, Coke Studio failed to raise the stakes, exhibiting a dearth of mastery of both vocal purring and clout.
In all fairness, I have heard the Indian Anthem composed by the legendary A R Rehman and it still moves me to pieces because of its sentiment-releasing splendour and his attention to the minutest of details. The music supernova’s stentorian rendition perfectly suits the wave of patriotism flooding through any nation, thereby gifting you those goose bumps – as for Coke Studio’s version, it didn’t even come remotely close.
Parting words: If you can’t pull off an A R Rehman with a National Anthem, it’s probably best to leave it untouched – and alone.
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