For those of you who haven’t been able to tear themselves away from the dharnas on their TV screens, the first episode of Coke Studio Season 7 went online on the official Facebook page quietly, 24 hours ahead of schedule.
Public opinion on the changes in the studio was split into two factions – those that thought the ship would sink without Rohail Hyatt at the helm, and those who though that Hyatt’s tenure as producer was becoming tedious.
Coke Studio enthusiasts everywhere can heave a sigh of relief.
The four tracks that have been released so far manage to strike a balance between commercial appeal and staying true to what makes Coke Studio so unique at the same time.
If the freshness of the first episode accurately reflects the tone of the rest of the season, it is safe to say that Coke Studio is safe in the hands of its new producers Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia.
Mein Sufi Hoon
When Abida Parveen sings, it is the sounds of the universe that soar out of her throat.
Mein Sufi Hoon is food for the spirit, and as the song progresses it creeps into every fiber of your being until it fills your soul completely. Her voice makes the world go round, and the strings that Ustad Raees Khan plucks so masterfully are the axis around which it spins.
The song crescendos as the maestros race towards each other like two magnificent waves. When they collide, the result is magnificent and will carry you away on a crest of love for God, the universe and everything in between.
What it’s about: A sufi, who is lost in love but does not want to be found. He doesn’t know where he will end up, but he knows where he is not going.
Verdict: This song is otherworldly. You will feel your feet lift off the ground when you listen to this.
Listen to it: At the crack of dawn, when you want to feel invincible for the day ahead.
Tum Naraz Ho
Nescafe Basement comes to Coke Studio.
It’s not a negative given the last couple of seasons had begun to sound so similar that it became difficult to distinguish between them.
It is the arrangement that elevates this sweet track from the 1990 original – the heartfelt violins on the intro, the occasional lilt of the flute and a powerful guitar solo by Faraz Anwar that would be right at home in a rock ballad.
Sajjad Ali’s vocals are much more tender then when he originally recorded the track. It is clear that this track is one of his personal favourites from the look on his face as he sings the words.
What it’s about: A remorseful lover tries to cajole the woman he loves into forgiving him.
Verdict: "Tum Naraz Ho" is a beautifully arranged update on a favourite old ditty, and while nothing extraordinary, it is high on the nostalgia factor.
Listen to it: After a fight with your significant other. By the time the guitar solo rolls around you’ll have let your anger go.
Lai Beqadraan Nal Yaari
This Punjabi classic was the first song to ever be broadcast on PTV, back in 1964. Half a century later, it’s been given a new lease on life as an exercise in subtly fusing different styles and genres and making an arrangement work.
With the Cuban drumbeats, blues guitars and the occasional flamenco strumming thrown in, this version is anything but traditional yet stays true to the spirit of the original.
It is the masterful playing by Tanveer Tafu along with the traditional flute and vocals by the Niazi Brothers that firmly anchor the song as Punjabi in essence. The vocals are more impactful at the beginning of the song and lose their energy as the track progresses.
What it’s about: The lament of a trust broken and a friendship betrayed. The words of the song advise caution to the unwary and unwitting.
Verdict: This is what a travelling caravan of Punjabi gypsies would sound like. The music is infectious but the lyrics are forgettable, and this one is likely to be overpowered by the other songs in this episode.
Listen to it: While on the road. This song will make rush-hour traffic jams so much more bearable.
Sab Aakho Ali Ali
For those who had stopped listening to Coke Studio sometime into the 5th season, it’s time you started again, with this track.
"Sab Aakho Ali Ali" is one of those rare instances in a studio when everything and everyone is on top of their game, the universe aligns and magic happens. The arrangement is flawless, and Asrar is an absolute find with a rawness to his voice necessary for rock music, but enough technical training to do justice to the kalaam he is singing.
The song echoes shades of Junoon in their Sufi rock heyday, and it’s power is a throwback to Season 1 – the sublime version of "Garaj Baras" by Ali Azmat and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. Considering that "Garaj Baras" is easily amongst the Top 15 tracks on Coke Studio’s entire run thus far, any such comparisons harken good things for the rest of Season 7. Amir Zaki is an absolute boss, and here’s hoping he lends his prowess to more tracks this season.
Special props to the team on backing vocals, the song wouldn’t have been the same without Momin Durrani, Rachel Viccaji and Sara Haider. The styling by Ehtesham Ansari is also on point in this video.
What it’s about: A celebration of the qualities of Hazrat Ali
Verdict: Asrar’s Coke Studio debut is what this show is all about. High on the replay value, this is one song that listeners will still remember long after the season is over.
Listen to it: Whenever. This track works under any circumstances.