While the fourth season of “Coke Studio” Pakistan has concluded, a similar venture across the border still has three more episodes before the end of its first season.
We have seen a lot of diversity in India’s “Coke Studio @ MTV”; from very traditional percussive instruments, to a mix and match of Bollywood songs and some phenomenal vocal talent reflected in the country’s folk music. With the seventh episode of “Coke Studio @ MTV”, the show’s producer Leslie Lewis and his studio members ventured into the genre of qawwali with the Sabri Brothers’ rendition of “Hamein To Loot Liya”.
Qawwali takes its roots from Persia and Middle East and the genre has deeply penetrated into the subcontinent’s music. However, it has merged differently in different parts of the subcontinent — something which can be clearly seen in the two qawwalis presented at “Coke Studio @ MTV” and “Coke Studio”.
Producer Rohail Hyatt introduced two qawwals Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad in “Coke Studio 4”. The duo’s version of Amir Khusro’s kalam “Kangna” introduced a whole new genre to the show. On the other side of the border, Leslie Lewis brought the Sabri brothers (without their frontman Amjad Sabri). Though the artists initially appeared in the first episode, their formal debut as qawwals came with their recent performance “Hamein To Loot Liya”.
There’s a huge difference as to how the two shows featured qawwalis. While “Coke Studio” matched the vocal brilliance of the singers with the support of the house band, “Coke Studio @ MTV” ended up changing the qawwali into a more commercial, catchy, but an uninteresting rendition of Ismail Azad’s song from the 1958-film Al Hilal.
The vocals in a typical qawwali are so powerful that any fusion act needs to ensure the music follows the singer’s lead. Gumby, along with the other members of the house band, did a brilliant job by following the vocals of Abu Mohammad and Fareed Ayaz, even when the qawwals were improvising. In an interview before the show, both the qawwals expressed their concern for not changing the structure of something as holy as a qawwali.
However, in the case of “Coke Studio @ MTV”, the vocals were too weak to maintain a qawwali feel. Despite using a popular track, the performance did not leave a great impact because of the musical arrangement. The banjo solo at the beginning of the performance established a premise for an item number. The three backing vocalists entered the song with claps, but they couldn’t make a positive impact on the song.
“Coke Studio @ MTV” has presented some remarkable performances in the last few weeks, but the recent episode turned out to be a disappointment.
From the quality of the qawwali performed at “Coke Studio @ MTV”, it was clear that a textbook formula of changing a song to a catchy number does not always work, particularly with a form of music like qawwali which holds a spiritual attachment for many singers and listeners.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2011.
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