This story begins with a plane crash. On February 3rd, 1959 a six seater Beechcraft Bonanza airplane carrying a 22-year old Buddy Holly crashed into a field outside of Clear Lake, Iowa. Among the casualties were the bodies of Ritchie Valens and JP Richardson. Of the three, Holly was an immense star with more accolades and record sales to his name than most 22-year olds at the time. Holly was a superstar, a heartthrob and on his way to ousting Elvis Presley and taking on the throne as the youngest King of Rock ’N’ Roll.
The day was etched in history as ‘The Day the Music Died’.
For many American musicians this became an undying phenomenon that would resurface year after year in different mediums. The most renowned of them all was Don Mclean’s hit number ‘American Pie’. It was a figure of speech written by Mclean as an avid fan of Holly’s music that would later catapult him to unforeseen stardom. But in no way was the entire truth, for a lot of good music came after Holly and probably the undying intrinsic quality of music itself let it thrive on.
Coke Studio: The Context
In Pakistan, there was never a Buddy Holly nor did one die in a plane crash. In Pakistan, no day can ever be marked as the day the music died. For here the music barely lives and dies in a matter of minutes. This unpredictability reduced many stars to nobodies and propelled many nobodies to stardom. To tap into this wonderful mess Coca-Cola introduced Coke Studio, a musical platform which worked on a simple agenda: eastern and western fusion. The charge was given to the incredible Rohail Hyatt, one of the pioneers of Pakistani pop. Hyatt, as he had done with Vital Signs, took the Coke Studio brand name to a massive level. Coke Studio became the biggest, boldest and the most widely watched program in Pakistan with YouTube hits of over ten-million.
To further embolden the program Hyatt went on and brought in musicians from all over the world to produce fusions that seemed realer and sounded authentic. This was the part where he messed up and was booted out of the mess that he had created. The dismal number of views had Coke’s biggies worried. This was where Strings was brought in as the producer and director of the Coke Studio brand name with complete creative liberty.
Strings spearheaded the failing machine and managed to break the momentum moments before the crash. The views were not many still and with the banning of YouTube in Pakistan and Vimeo serving as the only online video hosting service a further blow was imminent. Coke found out a pristine way of dealing with the problem and pooled in new music directors with Strings still donning the producer’s jacket. Not much good has come out of that.
Let’s begin with the good.
1. Naina Moray by Javed Bashir and Akbar Ali Ft. Aamir Zaki
The song includes Javed Bashir, a classically trained vocal powerhouse and Akbar Ali of the same classical music ‘gharana’. It is a classic Coke Studio rendition of Bade Ghulam Ali’s ‘thumri’ which makes it all the while more difficult to execute immaculately. Kicking off with Bashir’s raspy vocals with the house band coming in moments after. At this point the song sounds like a run of the mill kind of rendition until Akbar Ali starts singing in a mild tenor and starts with his vocal acrobatics which at points leaves Bashir awestricken.
The song progresses to a nicely executed chorus with the Sarangi doing an incredible job at bringing in the much needed sullen touch to the song. Soon after, Aamir Zaki’s guitar solo kicks off with an especially wailing guitar that makes one melancholic and introspective. It also adds to the song that rich flavor that Junoon’s songs had. Time to get those views spiking.
Katay Na Katay by Humera Arshad, Rachel Viccaji and Aima Baig
You’d better get listening to Rachel Viccaji as soon as you get the chance. This song is an all-female vocalists’ number that powers its way through to your heart. The song starts off with Viccaji and Baig dueling to sound better than the other where Viccaji clearly takes the win ending her notes on high pitched squeals that sound right off an American Idol performance. That’s where Arshad comes in with her eastern classical tune and the song instantaneously turns into a desi beat with tablas and all. The entire song is a mix of the east and the west and has a pumped up kick to it.
Tinak Dhin by Ali Sethi, Ali Hamza and Waqar Ehsin
A catchy tune that does justice to every vocalist present in the song. Even though Ali Hamza was never the vocally sound of the Noori brothers, he did compose the song and put in a catchy beat to top it all. Ali Sethi’s soft voice accented the softer parts of the song (he managed to bedazzle the audience with his silver colored hoodie as well) followed by Waqar Ehsin’s Sukhwinder Singh like vocal tone and the high notes would get your heart skip a beat. It’s basically a fun song with lots of good vocals except of course Ali Hamza’s.
Here are those songs that seemed out of place and just plain ruddy.
The National Anthem
The beginning of this year’s Coke Studio had the entire ensemble singing the National Anthem. Although the effort was justifiably well put, the arrangement sounded so bad it had one guessing if it were really the national anthem they had us singing in morning assemblies. The gaps were inappropriate and the places that were allotted to the handful of musicians were not quite right for their respective vocal qualities. An all-time low even for Coke Studio standards.
Sayonee by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Ali Noor
You saw that coming! Sayonee was directed by Salman Ahmed himself as part of Coke Studio music directors’ team. When Salman Ahmed is not busy competing in push-up challenges with important political figures he’s busy ruining his image from the Junoon times. Sayonee reeked of bad choices and timing. It also had one of the worst arrangements this year. Ali Noor kept trying too hard to stay original and yet sound like Ali Azmat and Rahat just went berserk with the chorus that sounded nothing less than unpleasant squeals. The song garnered much notoriety and hit the headlines of the biggest newspapers and had Ali Noor giving off statements like the song was only meant for Azmat’s voice.
Jaan-e-Bahaaraan By Ali Zafar
Rockstar Ali Zafar needs to be stopped once in a while as opposed to his constant claim ‘Na Roku Mainu’ ( Don’t stop me). His flamboyance which he likes to present as true artistry becomes questionable when he stops losing his grip on song choices and his vocal capacity. Dressed up as Peter Pan this time around the arrangement had a Turkish texture to it which sounded ill-placed and unnecessary. Zafar’s vocals didn’t shine through as he tried to soften them as per the song’s demand. The song was an overall disaster that looked and sounded like a bunch of kids working at a circus.
Coke Studio’s celebratory completion of a decade in Pakistan’s diminutive music industry falls short of depth and more importantly good music. Before everything, the idea of redoing old classics should hit the shredder to keep the sanctity of those age long classics intact and unabashed. Once that is done a more original approach could then be realized with newer talent. The introduction of fresh blood this time around did garner mixed views from the public but it also broke barriers that Coke Studio had famously fenced up. We hope to see a fresher look next year.