Okay, slight disclaimer; I know Coke Studio 11 is far from over yet. But, as someone who had been pretty disappointed with the Studio of late, I need to commemorate them. I’m never really afraid to admit when I am wrong, so this article needed to happen. Because I was dead wrong when I accepted that the best of Coke Studio had passed.
Their eleventh season is a slap across the face of those of us who had lost all hope. And, I hope I can say this, it is a promise that they have left their un-glory days behind. Let us all utter a prayer that the various unintentionally bad collaborations and unfortunate revamps never make a comeback.
But, as I promised, this post is meant to gush about the present, not dredge up the past. So, even before the season ends, here are five Coke Studio 11 songs that I LOVE!
Ghoom Charakhra by Abida Parveen and Ali Azmat
This list is in no particular order, which means that I love all of these songs; equally. But I must begin with one that is more than just a great production, it is a stroke of genius. In all the seasons of Coke Studio, how did nobody pair Abida Parveen and Ali Azmat?
This rendition of a truly memorable Sufi gem has all the gravitas I want in an Abida Parveen number. But, it also has the edge of Ali Azmat performing live.
Shikwa/Jawab-e-Shikwa by Fareed Ayaz, Abu Muhammad and Natasha Baig
Now, I am a newly minted fan of Fareed Ayaz, Abu Muhammad Qawwal and Brothers. Completely enraptured. And hence I knew that one of their so far released Coke Studio numbers. But I had a tough time deciding between ‘Mera Piya Ghar Aya’ and ‘Shikwa/Jawab-e-Shikwa’.
Both performances were expertly rendered by Qawwals who have been doing this for generations.
But the latter just edged out for a single reason; Natasha Baig. Oh how I was nervous for her.
It is never fair for anyone to be pitted against singers who have been honing their craft since before any of us were born. But oh my did Ms. Baig hold her own! Her vocals are the stuff of dreams.
In fact, everything about this performance was so very finely orchestrated. Allama Iqbal’s immortal and complex poetry needs a doughty pedestal to truly shine. And everyone involved in this rendition gave it just that.
Main Irada by Haniya Aslam, Rachel Viccaji, Ariana and Amrina, and Shamu Bai
This has been a very interesting era to be a Pakistani woman. It has been a bit of a roller coaster, met with unfathomable highs and inconceivable lows. And I am secretly glad that Coke Studio attempted to give this time period an anthem. Can any of us ever forget the phenomenon that was ‘Rona Chor Diya’? The simple answer is no.
And to be fair to the parties involved, I am not suggesting that you compare ‘Main Irada to its predecessor. What I am saying is that this song is a celebration of both womanhood, and every kind of woman.
Again, everything about this song is perfect. From the vocals, to the composition, to the lyrics and the lighting (yes everything) it all worked.
And all the ladies, Haniya Aslam, Rachel Viccaji, Ariana and Amrina, and Shamu Bai, are truly wonderful.
But if I could single out just one for a minute, and I know it isn’t fair. But, Shamu Bai’s voice is like a gravely force of nature. She is a little star, and I cannot wait for her to truly take the music scene by storm.
Dastaan-e-Moomal Rano by The Sketches, Bhagat Bhooro Lal, Faqir Zulfiqar and Haniya Aslam
Okay so let’s talk about Sindhi literature for a minute. Very few people know much about the traditions, themes and subject matter that make up Sindhi classics. And if it is in fact news to your ears that ‘Sindhi classics’ even exist, then congratulations on your bubble. And maybe don’t go back into it.
The story of Moomal Rano is one of the romantic folk tales that are widely known across the region. Its exact origins are unknown, as they were probably oral. But a written version that is quietly highly regarded appears in Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai’s collection of poetry. That incidentally is the cornerstone for a lot of contemporary Sufi Sindhi music.
Now, why am I telling you this? Well firstly, because it’s fun to learn. But also, because this is the legacy that The Sketches, Ali Hamza and Zohaib Kazi squeezed into ten minutes. There are times when you have to stop and appreciate artistry; this is one of those times.
What adds volumes to this version is the inclusion of truly Sindhi elements. Bhaghat Bhoora Lal, who has been on my radar since Cake, is truly in his element. As is Faqir Zulfiqar, who’s stint with the Narr gives this performance an authenticity.
In fact the inclusion of non-mainstream instruments, shall we say, adds a lot of depth to the song. It is also great to see Haniya Aslam flex the breadth of her musical talents.
Rap Hai Sara by Lyari Underground and Young Desi
Okay, now this one was much anticipated. All of us here at The Kollective have been complaining about how Coke Studio hasn’t shown Pakistani rap some much needed love. I’ve complained about it. Nusair has written about it. It has been a constant gripe that we’ve had.
So, when we discovered that not only would we see some local rap talent, but that too in the first episode, we were excited. But also apprehensive. Under my breadth, I kept saying, “these guys better bring it.”
And it was, indeed, brought.
Lyari Underground injected the gravity of their experiences into Coke Studio, giving it that missing ingredient. And then Young Desi happened, and none of us were ever the same again. I am so looking forward to everything that any of these guys will ever do in the future.
Coke Studio Reborn?
To say that this season of the Studio took me by surprise would be an understatement. And yet, should any of us have been surprised? When you have Ali Hamza and Zohaib Kazi, of an entirely rebellious ilk, at the helm, convention shouldn’t have been expected.
For the BTS feature for ‘Rap Hai sara’ in fact, Mr. Hamza basically announces that he’s going to “break all the Coke Studio rules.”
With their opening to the season, they announced that things were going to be altered, drastically.
On the one hand, yes they were giving us a national song in the lead up to 14th August. But listen closely. ‘Hum Dekhenge’ has always been a bit more revolutionary than patriotic. It set the tone for a series of truly rebellious numbers.
I can’t say that I liked all of them. But, as much as it surprises me, I’m back on the Coke Studio band wagon. I am, once again a fan (sorry Nusair). And I sincerely hope that this time, I can stay on board.