There was once a boy, in a land far away, who was introduced to ketchup by his loving mother. The flavour and texture and colour got him. He began to love nothing else in this world as much as he loved ketchup. And he couldn’t get enough of it. A time came when every night in bed, he would pray that anything and everything he eats, tastes like ketchup.
They say prayers of little children never go unheard, or so it seemed when his wish was finally granted. How that ended, you can make out without much effort. What I can tell you is that the boy soon learnt that too much of anything is never good. But this was a story in my primary school textbook designed for children being prepared for a world full of possibilities. That boy’s world was fictitious. The world of Coke Studio is not.
Coke Studio is back. Aahad Nayani’s hair is gone and also is the possibility of hearing something new, not that the two are linked. Passively listening to the first episode of Coke Studio 10 for the first time, I could not tell one song from the other. I could not tell what the singers were saying at many places. I could not tell why many of the instruments sounded like they were made of plastic and cardboard. I could not tell if it was a Ramazan jingle by a packaged milk brand or a Coke Studio song. I could also not tell if the producers really were serious. Okay, that happened when The National Anthem of Pakistan came out.
It has been 10 whole seasons. Hundreds of songs have been made. Producers have changed hands and a popular culture phenomenon stands tall, yada yada. What’s notable is that it took Coke’s direct and indirect competitors all these years to fully understand that despite being done to death, the formula is still worth banking upon. At the end of it all, what we have at our hands is a fantastic Battle of the Brands. What a time to be alive, really.
As Strings churn out more and more music, their mediocrity bothers me less and less. However, what I have become convinced of is that one cannot live someone else’s dream. Coke Studio was Rohail Hyatt’s brainchild, although a certain musician who took him to Sindh High Court would disagree, and as unfair as it is, the comparisons are only natural. Coke Studio then was subtle. It was experimental yet enjoyable. Less was more. Today, it is none of that.
The ‘Sound of the Nation’ is trapped in an echo chamber. It is at an advanced stage of redundancy and disrepair and while the visibility and money are great for those making appearances, the music is more formulaic than Nido. And one cannot have Nido all their life.
Javed Akhtar was once speaking about Urdu at a Jashn-e-Rekhta session. Pointing towards Intizar Hussain sitting in the audience, he said the master storyteller is present amongst us and yet I am the one pontificating on stage. Then, he summed up the irony by asking: “Had things been fair, would this world not have turned into heaven?” Muntazir is proof enough that it surely isn’t. As I write these lines, it is the #1 trending video on YouTube in Pakistan. We have been given a star pair that is all smiles, looks great.
The song, is forgettable at best. The star pair of Danyal Zafar and Momina Mustehsan, however, is not. Danyal sounds nothing like his elder brother and this dream debut has landed him an opportunity that even Ali Zafar did not have. Right choices and some solid original music and he has an exciting music career ahead of him. As of now, what is scary is that songs like Muntazir will be made available for free downloads.
Shuja Haider’s Allahu Akbar begins to make some sense after a few plays and a lot of that has to do with the kind of quality that Ahmed Jehanzeb and Shafqat Amanat Ali bring to the table. The instrumentation here is bearable and that makes you less tired of the listening experience. At first, it was difficult to make head and tail of the song but on the whole, it was a more fulfilling listen than Muntazir.
Khaki Bandalacked in terms of both lyrical content and the two lead singers did not go along well. Allahu Akbar does not lack in any of that. The strings section does not overstep. Amir Azhar’s solo and fills with what seems like a nylon-stringed guitar and also with the mandolin gel in well.Allahu Akbar is just a reminder of why Ahmed Jehanzeb and Shafqat Amanat Ali are among the best we have. This track is certainly a cut above Muntazir.
Not long ago, Assamese singer Papon who has of late garnered quite a following, came out with a version of Ranjish Hi Sahi for the Indian version of MTV Unplugged. He stepped into what for him had been uncharted territory and experimented with one of Ahmad Faraz’s ghazals, admired even by the poet’s detractors, made immortal by Mehdi Hassan. For many, he blasphemed by playing around with the original composition, that too only slightly, to fit his own style. I too hated it at first but Papon’s tone has a way of winning you over. Ali Sethi’s tone – not quite.
Jaffer Zaidi has tried to keep things simple with the arrangement and that was the sensible thing to do. Ali Sethi tries and tries well. However, I’d rather he had recorded it with Saad Sultan at the latter’s studio. Hear some of their collaborations and you’ll know exactly why I say so.
Sahir Ali Bagga’s debut track for the show, Chaa Rahi Kaali Ghata, is the pick of the episode. Hina Nasrullah holds her own with impressive composure and one hopes Amanat Ali can resurrect his music career with this appearance. Shehroze Hussain’s sitar brings the arrangement to life. The song’s outro was perhaps the highest point of the entire episode. I replayed the track numerous times. Not because I had to. But because I wanted to.
Although some highly anticipated performances from this season’s lineup are yet to air, it is very much a possibility that the 10th season sets in motion the undoing of Coke Studio.
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