Coke Studio 7: Catchy, but devoid of substance

Published: September 20, 2014
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Maestro misused: Though Khan sahab gets enough time to improvise with the sitar on Main Sufi Hoon, vocals end up dominating the song. PHOTOS: PUBLICITY

Maestro misused: Though Khan sahab gets enough time to improvise with the sitar on Main Sufi Hoon, vocals end up dominating the song. PHOTOS: PUBLICITY

KARACHI: Aamir Zaki and Ustad Rais Khan are musicians who are fonder of each other than we are of their music. While Zaki usually laments over how Pakistan couldn’t give Khan sahab the respect that India gave Pandit Ravi Shankar, Khan sahab believes that no one flirts with the western style of music in Pakistan better than Zaki.

The first episode of Coke Studio season seven, which features both the maestros in separate songs, is an important development for Pakistani music. Not only is it so because of their calibre as artistes, but also because this is the first time the two are featuring in Coke Studio. In fact, Zaki was previously refused a spot on the show after he auditioned for it.

The serenity of Zaki’s guitar solos in Asrar’s song Ali Ali speaks for itself; it’s simple and aggressive, but doesn’t undermine the overall flow of the song, striking the right note. This suggests that no matter how notorious Zaki may be for his mood swings, it’s always a good idea to get him on board.

This shouldn’t take away from the vocal powerhouse that Asrar is and how incredibly the string section merges with the groove to give an audio visual experience that keeps you engaged. Despite this being the first ‘hit’ track of the season, it’s disappointing that Zaki has not been utilised to his utmost potential.

Rohail Hyatt, the producer of Coke Studio’s previous six seasons once said in an interview, “The biggest challenge of working with so many great artistes is to make them feel comfortable, let them do what they want to and also get your vision across.” He added that not only the artistes but also the fans can be sensitive about what is being performed on the show.

The wisdom Hyatt brought to the performances seems to be missing this season, as Strings’ Faisal Kapadia and Bilal Maqsood take charge, and as was evident in Khan sahab and Abida Parveen’s collaboration on Main Sufi Hoon. Not to suggest that the duo has been disrespectful towards the giants of their respective music genres, but the final product fails to leave an indelible effect.

Despite the invigorating message of Sachal Sarmast, Main Sufi Hoon misses fine touches and can only be enjoyed as just another Abida Parveen qawwali. Though Khan sahab gets enough time to improvise with the sitar, vocals end up dominating the song. Keeping in mind the kind of veneration people have for him across the subcontinent, one wonders if he would have been better off doing a solo act. The song fails to do justice to Khan sahab’s skill set and experience.

The next song features the undisputed melody king of Pakistan, Sajjad Ali, with whose songs one can’t go wrong, simply because they are catchy. Tum Naraz Ho is one of Ali’s most soulful numbers, which gets the signature Coke Studio-ballad treatment, with the violin and flute dominating the sound. After an engaging start, the song falls flat, with even guitarist Faraz Anwar failing to salvage it.

Niazi Brothers bring us the folk classic Lai Beqadran Naal Yaari, but more than their vocal prowess, it is the Mandolin solo in the start that catches one’s attention, followed by the dance of backing vocalists.  It often seemed like the vocalists were trying to chase the melody. However, captivating visual effects elevate the song, which is otherwise a chase sequence between musicians.

Verdict: It is refreshing to see a conscious effort to diverge from Coke Studio’s signature sound, but mediocre quality of sound mixing and conflicting arrangement of instruments bring us back to square one.

Rating: 2.5/5

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Reader Comments (36)

  • Ali S
    Sep 21, 2014 - 12:01AM

    The original version of the Sajjad Ali song is much better (despite the dated production). The Coke Studio producers subdued the melody to make way for the flute and guitar solos (generally speaking, it’s a bad idea to replace the melody or hook with a solo in a pop song, especially if it’s as catchy as this one).

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  • Y.M
    Sep 21, 2014 - 12:28AM

    Extremely critical I must say. It was quite a good effort by Strings, considering that they have to fill in the shoes of the great Rohail Hayatt. I am sure coke studio will continue being a source of good music for all those listeners who are deprived of good music produced in Pakistan.
    Therefore Mr. Rafay, pleasee go low. Okay thanks =D

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  • Dear
    Sep 21, 2014 - 12:34AM

    Strings did a great job. CS impressive as always!

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  • Yasir
    Sep 21, 2014 - 1:18AM

    I completely disagree with you Rafay. When you listen to the audio of Abida Parveen and Ustaad Raees Khan sb’s track, just do it when you’re sitting and concentrate. The track takes you on a journey where music supports the magic that Ms.Parveen creates along with Raees sahab. None of those musicians over did anything, they kept stuck to the basics and worked around that to create spaces of creativity.

    You should definitely give credit where it is due. Days of Mr.Hyatt are over, he was very much inspired by Pink Floyd and always wanted those haunting elements in his production. You take out any track (Abida’s work with him, or any other sufi singer who appeared in his days) all those melodies had the same dark essence and never took off at any point. Whereas, this particular production/track goes through different moments, you’ll know once you listen ‘carefully’.

    Moreover, to answer your completely illogical point. This song is far from an Abida Parveen qawaali. I fail to understand who would allow you to write music reviews.The persona of the track truly justifies Ustaad Raees Khan Sb’s playing, which complements Abida Parveens singing. He picks his moments and does complete justice to the track, and no, the vocals definitely do not dominate his playing. Please understand that in a capacity of a ‘featured artist’ on HER track, he did fine and played along.

    I really hope you will not post reviews like this after every episode and claim/state that this season is missing Rohail Hyatt and all. Because in you can already feel a breath of fresh air in the first few tracks of the season. Warna har gaanay mein dholak he baji hoti.

    Shukriya.

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  • OldSport
    Sep 21, 2014 - 1:45AM

    Don’t want to read this.
    For me
    This episode was one of the best, if not best.
    Peace!

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  • Hussain Syed
    Sep 21, 2014 - 2:13AM

    You know what’s never refreshing? Seeing a “critic” pretend that he knows about music critique… I wish ET could hire a person with an actual background in music rather than this wannabe pseudointellectual. I want to see an actual critique.

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  • Saad Durrani
    Sep 21, 2014 - 3:09AM

    I think Rafay misses the bubbly auto-tuned pop stuff in the voice of Ayesha Omer. “Mein Sufi Hoon” is a great experimental track where Sitar is being used almost like a strings instrument in a rock band. I welcome this lunacy as it breaks the traditional use of Sitar.

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  • Haathi
    Sep 21, 2014 - 4:16AM

    An OK start to the season. Everybody seems too self-aware, as if performing for the cameras. That’s the thing that has been hurting Coke Studio India. But it would hopefully get better as the season goes forward.

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  • Sep 21, 2014 - 4:26AM

    A bit unfair to compare anyone with Rohail Hyatt. He is an unrivaled genius to his peers internationally – here in New York as well as elsewhere. To be fair to Strings they did not disappoint. The fear was that in their attempt to be different from Rohail, they might bungle
    the whole thing. Well, that not happen. We are all very relieved. So far so good.Recommend

  • Ubaid
    Sep 21, 2014 - 7:33AM

    I think strings kept the spirit of the show and did justice with the first episode. You can’t compare Rohail with them and we as audience are enjoying the new season so far.Recommend

  • vinsin
    Sep 21, 2014 - 8:36AM

    Sitar is a Hindu instrument.

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  • muhammad taqi
    Sep 21, 2014 - 9:21AM

    Dude, learn to appreciate.Recommend

  • Isna
    Sep 21, 2014 - 10:07AM

    This person Rafay Mahmood hardly appreciate/like anything just look at all his previous work. I wonder if criticisng everything makes one a great critc writer in his consideration. I like the first episode of CS7. Well attempted by strings.

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  • SSS
    Sep 21, 2014 - 10:23AM

    I wonder if the writer watched the same show and heard the same music as me. Don’t understand why he is so critical of the 1st episode in this article. Admittedly Strings had big shoes to fill sfter Rohail Hyatt and they certainly didn’t disappoint. They have succeeded in recapturing the lost spirit of Coke Studio Pakistan.

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  • true
    Sep 21, 2014 - 11:00AM

    Its unfair to Rais Khan sb .I agree, very low of Strings to do that

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  • Fizza
    Sep 21, 2014 - 11:29AM

    Rohail lost his charm like 5 seasons ago. This episode is an absolute treat to the soul! Abida Parveen’s track is absolutely mesmerizing. Abida Parveen pulls your soul out and Ustad Raees Khan shakes it towards the realization of our Lord and then u come back to this earth.
    and Please For the love of God stop living in the past and stop comparing Strings to Rohail. Recommend

  • Aman Ullah Dahi
    Sep 21, 2014 - 11:30AM

    String deserve huge round of applause, as a production team they did awesome work… Sajjad performance was best and so calmly he sung and above all faraz anwar presence rock the song… nice work, all the best for the remaining team… Recommend

  • Mir Jamshed Ali
    Sep 21, 2014 - 4:27PM

    Garbage, the sound, recording, the mix, the musicians, all sub standard compared to earlier seasons. Being produced by a duo who themselves have never produced their own music is an injustice to such a great brand. Bring back Rohail, please.Recommend

  • Hamzah Mahmood-Rao
    Sep 21, 2014 - 4:55PM

    Very poor article. Wonder if this guy really is a critic or just another person off the street who thinks he can produce better music than everyone else (maybe he should go produce coke studio)

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  • farhan
    Sep 21, 2014 - 6:18PM

    @vinsin, Sitar may be a hindu instrument. However,you’re for sure an idiot.

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  • Omer
    Sep 21, 2014 - 8:57PM

    Okay here my take at this article and coke studio (if it was a person)

    Rafay: Coke Studio 7: Catchy, but devoid of substance

    Coke studio: what do you want !!!!

    Recommend

  • doniya
    Sep 21, 2014 - 10:37PM

    Off the topic, i personally like rachel viccaji’s blue gown she is wearing in Niazi Brothers video.

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  • femgem
    Sep 22, 2014 - 12:23AM

    “This suggests that no matter how notorious Zaki may be for his mood swings”

    this is horrible journalism. Why would you attack a musician’s personal disposition like that when youre supposed to focus on his music and his musical style

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  • Gp65
    Sep 22, 2014 - 4:06AM

    I really thought that the Abida Parveen song was won that would touches the soul. I am nt familiar with Ustad Raees Khan’s work and so do nt know if he is the same calibre as Pt. Ravishankar. Maybe he is maybe not. But even to determine if he had that magic, one would need a 3 year old classical music solo sitar conert and I hardly think that Coke studio is the platform for that. Wthin the parameters of his role i.e. as supporting Abida Parveen, he did a great job I thought. Why is that disrespectful to him?

    Overall, i liked the somgs I have heard on Coke studio 7 more than the ones in Coke studio 6. Still why compare. This was good music. Enjoy it for what it is. It would be silly to compare Kishore Kumar with Ghulam Ali they are both great and both different. Ditto with Rohil Hyatt and Strings.

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  • me pakistani
    Sep 22, 2014 - 8:18AM

    What a episode? Amazing.Its treat to watch Naizi brother’s after an ages . Strings are strings n they proved it once again. Rohail hayat is to good but now its time to give a chance to others.well abida jee n khan shahab are perfectionists.sajjad ali sung beautifully.Asrar is a fresh n uniqe voice n has long way to go. Totally disagree with this article . Looking forward to the next episode. Good luck CS n strings.

    Recommend

  • Gp65
    Sep 22, 2014 - 8:54AM

    @Gp65:
    Not 3 year old solo – i meant 3 hour long solo. Sorry.

    Recommend

  • Mudasser
    Sep 22, 2014 - 9:31AM

    Mr. Writer, please change your TV set

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  • Sep 22, 2014 - 9:38AM

    A distinctively Pakistani sound. Suffice to say that Pakistani music is in good hands.
    Thanks.

    Recommend

  • Anjum Amin Siddiqui
    Sep 22, 2014 - 10:06AM

    the best way to be recognized is “make yourself opposition” and that is what exactly writer has done

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  • SAC
    Sep 22, 2014 - 10:19AM

    10% of Rohil Hyatt coke studio concept.

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  • Saad
    Sep 22, 2014 - 11:12AM

    I maybe a rookie in folklore music, but i haven’t heard a sitar played so well in my life, he was amazing and made his presence in Abida Parveen”s Qawali. I dont know why you guys are criticizing the very few gems left in our nation seriously. Total and genuine respect for Ustab Sahab

    Recommend

  • Sarah
    Sep 22, 2014 - 12:38PM

    Rafay dude. You have yet again failed to impress me with this article of yours.
    It’s an opinion piece. I should take it only as an opinion piece. So here is my two cents.
    I feel you are not really into music. You have just picked this newsbeat because there arnt that many music writers in Pakistan. Fair enough. I wouldn’t have known you if you were writing about something else.
    If you feel there is no substance in the first episode of coke studio, you should also know that your article is also lacking or is ‘devoid of substance’.

    Recommend

  • Hussain Ahmad
    Sep 22, 2014 - 6:31PM

    I loved this episode and downloaded all the songs.. All the songs are beautiful refreshing..

    Recommend

  • Hassan Bokhari
    Sep 23, 2014 - 10:22PM

    Mr. Rafay wrote this review literally hours after the release. Not even the biggest Music Producer can do a complete review in this amount of time. Especially for this kind of music. Seems like either you heard it once and decided to write about it or you re the greatest Music Producer that no body knows about. The latter being sarcasm if you missed that Mr.Critic

    The article is nothing but a cheap way to get activity on the webpage. The people have spoken , and they love this season so far. Especially After the first episode such a tremendous response that has been missing for a couple of seasons.

    Theres fresh new blood in this season that you can clearly hear and feel.

    Recommend

  • Arfa
    Sep 25, 2014 - 8:49AM

    It was great listening to the lovly songs, but Rohail H is a genius and Strings have a silver platter served platform to maintain. They didn’t think to start it or create something original. You can’t go wrong with music maestros and talented musicians. So good job but not great.

    Recommend

  • Rehan
    Sep 27, 2014 - 10:36AM

    This dude was on rohails case and now he is bashing strings. What an idiot he has no ear for good music.Recommend

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