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.