Tansen, the famous musician in Mughal Emperor Akbar’s royal court, is believed to have composed ‘Miyan Ki Malhaar’, a variation of the original raag Malhar, sung during the onset of the monsoon season.
To get a sense of Miyan Ki, look up Pandit Bhimsen Joshi’s rendition on YouTube. It’s replete with slow, highly intricate notes that eventually hit an electrifying climax of incredible virtuosity.
Ms Sadhana, who runs a blog on north Indian classical music, explains: “Miyan Ki Malhar can depict the joy and relief of the first rains, but … it can also depict restless longing in separation and unnamed fears. Ornamentations are used to great effect … to suggest the wind blowing, the thunder rumbling and lightning cracking.”
In the late Bharat Ratna’s voice, the restlessness and desperation is more than palpable as it likens itself to the overwhelming discontent ahead of the first monsoon rain. The singing, as with most raags, is meditative. It induces a sense of gloom and probably some unexpected flights into deep thoughts, thereby defying movement of time.
And that’s exactly what this Coke Studio ‘version’ of the same raag undoes, rather impressively. The music video, part of the sixth season of the Pakistani show, opens with an orchestrated sound of a cloudburst; and what follows is a celebration of the first monsoon shower that won’t be out of place on a dance floor.
The song is vastly different from a Hindustani classical rendition, which usually begins with alaap, then moves to jor or mid-song, so to speak, and so on. In the Coke Studio song, the musicians, without much ado, take a head-on plunge into the monsoon revelry.
The refreshing voice of Pakistani singers Ayesha Omar and Fariha Pervez – both strikingly good looking, by the way – is the mainstay of this composition that casts a spell of falling raindrops, animated clouds, the frightening flash of lightening, cascading breeze and the chirping of birds.
“Ghan garajat baadar aaye
Umad ghumad kar baadar chhaaye
Bijuri chamake jiyara tarse
Meha barse chham chham chham
Ghan garajat baadar aaye”
The lyrics vaguely remind me of Kishori Amonkar’s ‘Megha jhar jhar barsat re’ from Govind Nihalani’s domestic drama ‘Drishti’ (1990). But the classical song, written by Vasant Dev, is set to a different tune.
The Coke Studio production, on the other hand, seeks to create a cocktail of diverse musical forms, in keeping with the overall show’s raison d’etre. Electric guitars and drums transform ‘Miyan Ki Malhar’ into a composition that can be appreciated – and enjoyed – even by those who have no interest in Hindustani classical music.
The ending, however, attempts to resemble the rapid tempo of a classical song but the accompanying electric guitar, being played to match the pace of the vocalist, creates a somewhat discordant effect in an otherwise crafty composition.
The treatment of this fusion is much better in ‘Garaj Baras’, a collaboration of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Ali Azmat; but the two compositions appear to be constructed on varying tunes. Part of the Coke Studio Pakistan’s maiden season, the track is a mix of Khan’s classically rich voice and Azmat’s slick, pop intervention – a composition that works through the end successfully.