KARACHI: Last week, Coke Studio season 11 commenced with a tonne of hype. ‘Naya Pakistan’, naya Coke Studio and naye producers meant there was lots of hope.
The first episode received mixed reviews, with Shikwa/Jawab-e-Shikwa getting the most praise, even though Main Irada was an all-round better composition. Baalkada marked a first for transgendered artists on the platform, while Rap Hai Saara showed the hidden talent of Lyari Underground and Young Desi.
The second episode released on Friday night, offering four new tracks. Now, let me put into perspective the ideology Ali Hamza and Zohaib Kazi are following. They said they, first and foremost, wanted to tell human stories. And two episodes in, one can see that.
The problem is that Coke Studio has become so focused on making social and political statements that the element of music has been compromised. The producers set out to fix the Sound of the Nation and thereby, might be distorting it further.
1. ‘Ghoom Charakhra’ by Abida Parveen and Ali Azmat
The episode began with Ghoom Charakhra, the highly anticipated duet of Abida Parveen and Ali Azmat. Fortunately, it is one of the better structured songs of the season so far. It starts off with the haunting tones of the ‘Hang’ instrument as the house band slowly weighs in, giving cue to the chorus of ‘Allah Haq,’ led by Azmat. Parveen joins with ‘alaap’ and everything is set into motion beautifully.
The only problem with Ghoom Charakhra is that there was no need for Azmat there. Anyone could have done his part and you wouldn’t even have noticed. The composition doesn’t allow him to make any impact. In fact, he sounds uninspired himself. It’s not that Ghoom Charakhra is the worst of Coke Studio but that it isn’t as iconic as it should have been, considering the two superstars involved.
2. ‘Rasha Mama’ by Zarsanga, Gul Panra and Khumariyaan
We move on to Rasha Mama by Zarsanga, Gul Panra and Khumariyaan. The Pashto track features the famed ‘Queen of Pashtun Folklore’ Zarsanga and a new age Pashto singer, Panra. The former starts the song with Khumariyaan’s signature rubab. They carry on until the three-minute mark. Then, Panra croons the same verses in a more upbeat, contemporary style and you’re left wondering ‘why?’
It’s a great idea on paper: Portray the evolution of Pashto folk by juxtaposing the old and the new. But there is literally no connection between the two halves of Rasha Mama because it’s not one song. It’s two songs played back to back with no bridge in between.
Such a fragmented composition with no payoff or sense of structure makes it not a failure on part of the singers or musicians but the producers. Also, it’s an equally horrendous crime to waste Khumariyaan’s talent and not give them even a moment to shine.
3. ‘Gaddiye’ by Asrar and Attaullah Khan Esakhelvi
The third track, Gaddiye featuring Asrar and Attaullah Khan Esakhelvi is definitely one of the better ones. It doesn’t sound as forced as the others, which have pigeon-holed two or more artists into a composition that doesn’t work. Yet, despite its strengths, it is as forgettable as they come.
4. ‘Runaway’ by Krewella and Riaz, Ghulam Ali Qadri
Runaway, Krewella’s Coke Studio debut, ended the episode. The American duo of Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf collaborated with Riaz and Ghulam Ali Qadri in a soothing melody.
This fusion of folk and soul is a brilliant idea and almost works to the tee. But something about the song doesn’t quite gel. Again, the fusion seems forced. On its own, Krewella and the Qadri brothers’ are flawless. But my ears kept trying to adjust to their contrasting tones when they sang together. While the contrast is usually for the better, it didn’t quite work here.
Hamza and Kazi are surely bringing a change to Coke Studio. They get full points for innovation. But overall, the sound isn’t mature enough yet. I can’t decide whether it’s because the producers are trying too hard or because they are more concerned about implementing their ideology, even if that compromises on the music.
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