Despite all the chaos that engulfed Karachi on Sunday night, Coke Studio’s season 4 was unveiled to the music-loving masses. With musical acts like Mizraab, Jal, Akhtar Chanal, Sanam Marvi and Bilal Khan featuring in Pakistan’s most popular musical act , the expectations were very high but only a few of musicians lived up to them.
Coke Studio has now come of age and with musicians like Asad Ahmed and Omran Shafique in the house band, much more could have been done with the songs. The quality of backing vocals has tremendously improved with the sisters Zoe and Rachel Viccaji.
Coke Studio has managed to create a sound of its own which can be identified by listening to even a single guitar riff, but this time around the excessive use of vocal tuners for all the vocalists apart from Marvi and Chanal gave the songs a very synthetic feel. Here’s a closer look at each act in the first episode of the season:
Bilal Khan — ‘Tau Kia Hua’
Hailing from Lahore, the talented artist scored the major chunk of his fan following through Facebook and YouTube, even before his video was officially released. His acoustic style of playing and the simple, yet catchy song writing was what came through in Coke Studio, but it seems there was a very little input from the house band. The backing vocalists were placed at the right places in the song, but all the other instrument players seemed to fulfil the purpose of a proper orchestra, and nothing more than that. His raw sounding acoustic music was given a more ensemble feel, but the rest was his own singing and song writing abilities. (7/10)
Mizraab — ‘Kuch Hai’
Although all the Mizraab and Faraz Anwar fans will hate the performance because the band is capable of doing much better, this was the best performance of the first episode. “Kuch Hai” is one of the most musically appealing songs from their album Maazi Haal Mustaqbil, and the brilliant arrangement of the song and vocals by the featuring artist Manan gave it a very wicked feel. The song grows on you as it progresses into different phases with vocals shifting from Anwar to Manan, and some great transitions through the violin. The song has a Middle Eastern feel to it, and the overall make up of the song is very progressive. It seems that the house band worked the hardest on this on. Great guitar playing, but too restricted for someone like Anwar, who is a much better performer at live gigs. (9/10)
Akhtar Chanal and Komal Rizvi — ‘Daanah Pa Daanah’
What could have been the successors to a successful duo like Arif Lohar and Meesha Shafi will end up being the waste of one of the finest folk tunes of all times, “Daane Pa Daanah”. Rizvi not only ripped the song and melody apart, but even made the song sound irritating as soon as she entered with her vocals. Having grown up listening to this Brahvi song, one feels that the house band did injustice to the song by wasting the legendary Akhtar Chanal , who is one of the most respected musicians of Balochistan. Rizvi may have tried her best, but perhaps the problem may lie in the fact that she is not used to the Coke Studio live recording environment, and thus ended up sounding like an untrained singer. Then comes the diction: Brahvi is not like Sindhi or Punjabi which one can easily adapt to. Perhaps someone like Fariha Pervez or Hadiqa Kiyani would have been a better choice to replace the vocals of Shazia Khushk, who is known for this song. Secondly Coke Studio needs to realise that “Laal Meri Pat” is by far the most overdone piece of poetry, so why going for it? All in all, it was waste of a great folk melody. (6/10)
Jal — ‘Ek Arzu’
Known for their distinct blend of pop music in Pakistan, the band attempted an experimental version of a new unreleased track “Ek Arzu”, and later on converted the performance into a medley. Basically Jal didn’t sound very different, which is quite pleasing for any music listener, but it did not sound like Coke Studio. Sometimes it sounded like a Bollywood number, at some points, Vital Signs, but on the whole like just another song by Jal.
Farhan has improved his singing, but the overuse of vocal filters killed his originality. From “Ek Arzu”, the song moves into a classical phase with “Teray Ishq Nachaya Kar Thaiyaa” and finally enters the more rock and upbeat part where “Dum Mast Qalandar” is performed. Farhan does a good job, the melody is worth humming, but the overall song isn’t extraordinary. (7/10)
Sanam Marvi — ‘Sighra Aaween Saanwal Yaar’
This was the best vocal performance of the whole episode, and in fact the only performance in which the music seemed to be designed for vocals, instead of the other way around. Marvi renders the poetry of Sachal Sarmast and Sultan Bahu with utmost brilliance and the music allows her to display her vocal prowess by reaching different highs and lows. She is a great singer, but her song “Pritam” in the previous season was far more musically appealing than this one. A singer of calibre deserved a far better comeback. (8/10)
Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2011.