The seventh edition of Coke Studio Pakistan (CSP) has begun on a lukewarm, disappointing note. Coming as it is after the unexpected departure of its founding-producer Rohail Hyatt, the man who brought back Pakistan’s traditional music from the brink of extinction.
The current season is being produced by Pakistani pop band Strings, seen in the first episode of CSP as performers. The change of guard comes at a time Pakistan’s leading music platform was beginning to show signs of fizzling out, many feel.
“Coke Studio was spectacular up till Season 3 but after that, it lost out on its element of surprise. We plan to bring it back,” Strings’ Bilal Maqsood was quoted in a Dawn article.
Indeed, Maqsood and his band member Faisal Kapadia have big shoes to fill.
Now onto Season 7’s performances.
The biggest disappointment of Episode 1 is the biggest star attraction of the show – the collaboration of legendary Sufi singer Abida Parveen and sitar maestro Ustad Raees Khan (or Rais?).
In “Main Sufi Hoon”, Parveen launches into a celebration of the Sufi worldview – the mystic’s ecstatic vagrancy, whose path is not known to ordinary mortals and who is in search of God. Unfortunately, the ecstasy is missing in this familiar cocktail, heard in Parveen’s previous visits to CSP.
Khan, on the other, is reduced to a second fiddle. Towards the end, I expected a ferocious jugalbandi between the two greats and the band, but the composition ends too soon, leaving too little to be remembered.
But, within the Sufi framework Lahore-based artist Asrar is here to fill the gap and redeem the first episode, somewhat.
In his debut on CSP, the mendicant-looking singer steers a folk song in a Western context that has shades of groove and harks back to the rock n’ roll era.
However, as you hear the song, you feel the initial euphoria over its novelty wearing off, leading to same old tunes of drums and electric guitar.
Did someone just say CSP won’t be the same without Hyatt?
The current episode is mild to the power of n, fails to break boundaries of expectations or precedents set in earlier seasons, even though the overall show seeks to be experimental.
The mildness takes the form of a remix – yes, remix – when Sajjad Ali returns to CSP in his rendition of “Tum Naraz Ho”, a love song from his own album “Love Letters”.
His is a beautiful and melodious voice, with a soft, caressing quality to it. Faraz Anwar’s accompanying flute adds to the overall lyricality of the composition. But, I wonder, what happened to Ali who previously vowed us with compositions such as the memorable “Kir Kir”?
Sure, it’s a love song, but it’s better off as a film track or a remix. It’s lightweight. In terms of melody, I’d rate Kaavish’s moving lullaby “Nindiya Re” much higher (Season 4).
Lastly, there’s another remix – yes, one more, sorry – that of a historic Punjabi song “Lai Beqadran Naal Yaari”. This Tufail Niazi song was the first to air on PTV, when the station launched in 1964.
CSP debutants Niazi Brothers sing of a jilted lover’s plight in a quintessentially Punjabi – balle balle, that is – style.
At best, the song adds nothing vastly new to the original, except that it is sung and packaged in a technically advanced era. The lilting sound of the mandolin is beautiful, but doesn’t lift the song.
The underlying quality of the previous seasons was the ability of the band to spring surprises, especially in the conclusion. In effect, creating new music. The inspired songs, too, stood out in their fusion, creating a semblance of originality. The music had a maverick streak, personifying fire and insanity.
The present season, it appears, may be trying to find its bearings under the new producers. Nevertheless, the beginning smacks of a confusion between remix and fusion, and a hangover of the previous editions.
(You can follow me on Twitter @Ankush_patrakar)