Coke Studio 10 begins
Karachi; (above right) Ali Sethi’s ‘Ranjish He Sahi’, produced by Jaffer Zaidi, is the high-point of the first episode while Amanat
Ali’s (below) ‘Chaa Rahi Kaali Ghata’ is as unpleasant as it is monotonous.
The first episode was unveiled at a swanky, star-studded press conference in Karachi.
After an inauspicious start with the National Anthem, the tenth season of Coke Studio, the most contested property to have emerged from Pakistan’s musical landscape, has finally landed on our digital and TV screens.
Like every year, the appearance is marked by not just music but a whole round of opinions, some valid, some echoing past years, others either enveloped in absolute marvel, pure ambivalence and outright outrage.
Celebrating 10 years of existence – in some ways no small feat given how quickly corporate music platforms tend to appear and disappear – the first episode was unveiled at a swanky press conference in Karachi this past Friday.
Apart from somewhat congratulatory speeches from Coke representatives about how the show revived the music scene over the course of the last decade, its following beyond borders that extends to several countries, the ceremony counted in attendance several artists who feature in the new season including Sajjad Ali, the Noori brothers (Ali Noor and Ali Hamza), Shuja Haider, Ali Sethi, Jaffer Zaidi, Faraz Anwar, Danyal Zafar and Momina Mustehsan.
Strings (Faisal Kapadia and Bilal Maqsood), who took on reins from Rohail Hyatt in season seven, return to the role of music directors and took the stage at the press conference to speak about the process of Coke Studio.
After being greeted by a thunderous round of applause, Kapadia and Maqsood spoke about how producing a season of Coke Studio is a layered process with many elements to it while the spirit of collaboration remains intact.
“Coke Studio, what you see on TV, is a single take, it’s just one take,” said Faisal Kapadia. “The amount of practice and hard-work put in by all the musicians and singers is just mind-blowing.”
Kapadia went on to note that it takes 21 cameras to shoot the visuals and every song is restarted and played from the beginning if anyone misses a step. “All the musicians and singers who perform; kudos to you guys.”
The first episode
As the producers, Strings (Faisal Kapadia and Bilal Maqsood) said at the press conference, the show’s sound is a genre in itself and while new ideas are embarked upon every season, there is also a conscious effort of making sure that the Coke Studio sound is maintained.
What it means is that while multiple producers feature on this new season (like the year before), the sound has not embraced a direction that is fundamentally dissimilar to preceding years.
The reality of Coke Studio is not what it is but rather what you expect from it. Many don’t appreciate the amount of covers done each year and that hasn’t changed. In the first episode that contains four songs, two tunes are covers. Others find the sound repetitive and derivative. To some extent this is true as is the case with Sahir Ali Bagga’s debut as music director. His production of ‘Chaa Rahi Kaali Ghata’, sung by Hina Nasrullah and Amanat Ali, harbours on the sameness that has gripped the show for some time now. A cover of a traditional song that was once popularized by Late Begum Akthar, the song finds Amanat Ali in some strange vocal dimension, which doesn’t help matters. Nasrullah could’ve carried the song in solo capacity; Ali sounds completely unpleasant. It’s a song that elapses into nothingness.
What is often forgotten is that Coke Studio has created hundreds of songs and whatever is produced at this point has to at least match the standard that was set in the earlier, far more experimental years.
Apart from Bagga’s debut, the first episode also brought with it the contentious debut of Danyal Zafar, whose entrance in the show has conjured a debate about the diminishing value of merit within the production.
Joined by Momina Mustehsan, who is the breakthrough star of last season, the two young artists sing a song that is written and produced by Strings. The good news is they share great chemistry that translates well on screen. Mustehsan has never sounded this good and the pairing makes much more sense than last year’s overrated ‘Afreen Afreen’. Unfortunately, in terms of the musical dexterity, this song is not the most interesting. The lyrics are banal and it sounds very much like a light Coke Studio ‘pop’ tune, if you’re into that sort of thing.
After ten years, it will take a lot to sound fresh and that mission is accomplished by Jaffer Zaidi, whose evolution into music director, after several years on the house-band, is a beautiful thing to watch, particularly as he pays tribute to the late Mehdi Hasan in the first episode. Aided by Zaidi‘s minimal structure, Ali Sethi sings ‘Ranjish He Sahi’ with a lot of grace. Sethi’s inflections have so many emotions running through it that it is hard to not applaud it or feel moved by it.
Shuja Haider’s spiritual ‘Allahu Akbar’ featuring Ahmed Jahanzeb and Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan is larger-than-life, dramatic qawaali track that goes into some unexpected places. Jahanzeb and Khan are accomplished singers and this song gives them a lot of room to display that ability. The music borders on the garish side and that’s off-putting.
With several episodes on the horizon, there is still room for redemption. In the end though, while Coke Studio is obviously bigger than any one person or idea, what is perhaps needed after ten years of maintaining the Coke Studio sound is an exploration of the unfamiliar and the unpredictable.