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Coke Studio Episode 2 review: The wedding special shines

Updated September 29, 2014

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Humera Channa & Abbas Ali Khan in Episode 2 - Photo Publicity
Humera Channa & Abbas Ali Khan in Episode 2 - Photo Publicity

It is an extremely welcome change to have some Pakistani music to listen to. It’s just the second episode and Coke Studio is already a highlight to look forward to every Saturday.

This weekend has been all about weddings – from George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin’s Venice nuptials, to preparations for the looming PFDC Bridal Week.

Coke Studio is perfectly in tune with the soaring wedding fever too, as half the tracks released this episode are traditional wedding songs (and both about bridegrooms no less).


Chehra

It’s wonderful to revisit songs that the older generation fondly remembers from their misbegotten days of youth and which my generation faintly remembers from their childhood; with fresh ears and wrapped up a little differently. Coke Studio is introducing them to a whole new generation, and making these artists relevant again.

Does it always work? Not quite in this case.

Yes, the song is sweet, and supremely nostalgia inducing, but that’s about all there is to it until the 4:50 minute mark, where Amir Zaki picks up an electric guitar and unleashes a solo that will have you suspecting that he too perhaps pulled a Robert Johnson and made a deal at a crossroads. I really wouldn’t put it past him at this point.

Zoheb Hassan is an absolute icon of Pakistani pop music, and he became one not by being an exceptional singer, but an intelligent one. The arrangement here doesn’t do him any favours and makes his limited vocal range obvious. Both emotively and vocally, this song falls a little flat.

For those adolescents and teenagers who are just becoming aware that there was ever a duo called Nazia and Zoheb Hassan, you should know that they sold over 60 million albums in their heyday, between 1981 and 1989. To put that into perspective, Beyoncé has sold 60.2 million certified units since 1997, The Black Eyed Peas have sold 54 million to date, and the Spice Girls barely broke 40 million. Wrap your head around that.

What it’s about: A smitten lover whose world spins only when he can see his beloved’s face and smile.

Verdict: Skip to the 4:50 mark, that’s where the song really starts; then listen to the original afterwards to hear how honest and earnest Zoheb Hassan is capable of sounding.

Listen to it: When you’re tired of listening to ‘Mera Pyar’ for the umpteenth time.


Phool Banro

The mark of a good song is that it puts a smile on your face. The mark of a great one is that it makes chills run down your spine, and "Phool Banro" gave me a serious case of goosebumps. A beautiful old Rajhastani wedding song, one doesn’t need to comprehend the words to understand that it a song of love and immense joy.

Originally made popular by the legendary Reshma, God rest her soul; Humera Channa’s ethereal voice sits exceptionally on the delicate rhythm of the arrangement. The song benefits from the addition of a male vocal, especially given that the lyrics mention an uncle who is imparting advice to his dear nephew on the eve of his wedding.

Abbas Ali Khan’s alaaps lend a dynamic nature to the song that might have otherwise become a little monotonous. Arsalan Rabbani’s xylophone elevates the airy arrangement, almost sounding like delicate crystal glasses clinking together, adding to the essence of celebration that the song encapsulates.

What it’s about: The words Phool Banro literally mean ‘Darling Bridegroom.’ It is about a boy who is making a rite of passage into manhood through marriage, and is being regaled by his family with tales of his naïve youth at his wedding.

Verdict: This one is all set to become the wedding entrance song of choice for brides this upcoming wedding season.

Listen to it: When you want to feel lighthearted, and in love.


Washmallay

Another song about a bridegroom, "Washmallay" is a traditional Balochi folk wedding song which is performed as a tukhbandi, i.e. in a series of ‘strung along verses’ which means the song is improvised as it goes.

Balochistan is a land that is seeped in musical culture and tradition, and it must have been daunting for the vocalists to take on a song that is such an integral part of their way of life. Komal Rizvi and Momin Durrani’s vocals are energetic, but one realises that the pronunciation leaves much to be desired once Akhtar Chanal begins his narration.

Washmallay literally means ‘Dance and sing’. The beat of "Washmallay" is certainly infectious and will have you itching to do just that. It’s not entirely traditional, but is more layered, catchy and will get stuck in your head. You’ll find yourself humming the song when you least expect it.

What it’s about: A bridegroom’s family sings in celebration of his wedding, wishing him health and happiness.

Verdict: This one is for the 'Burger' Balouchis out there. While the Western influences in the arrangement might be difficult to do a dochaap to, it is a fun enough number.

Listen to it: When you’re having a bad day. It’s difficult to sulk when listening to a song that is literally about happiness.


Charkha

The inclusion of "Charkha Naulakha" at this stage in the season is a bit baffling, given the beloved precursors that exist of this Bulleh Shah classic – one by the incomparable Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and one produced by Rohail Hyatt and sung by Atif Aslam and Qayaas for Coke Studio Season 5. It was perhaps counterproductive to invite direct comparisons with Rohail so early on in the season, when it hasn’t quite found it’s footing yet with the listeners.

Is the Strings version more ‘traditional’ and in keeping with one expects from a sufi kalaam set to music than the previous CS version?

Yes.

Is Javed Bashir a more technically adept and, by that definition, a better vocalist?

Perhaps.

Is it better than the previous version?

That is more than open to debate and going by some of the comments on the videos, it is a heated one.

As a standalone version of "Charkha", it is stellar. Unfortunately, it won’t be seen that way, as direct comparisons are inevitable. Javed Bashir is a force to be reckoned with and more than does justice to the kalaam he sings with such passion, but the Season 5 version had a haunting, magical quality about it and an energy to it that is not easily forgotten. At least, it hasn’t been forgotten yet.

What it’s about: This poem penned by Bulleh Shah talks about a spinning wheel. As it spins, a woman reminisces about a dream she had where she met her beloved.

Verdict: It was perhaps much too soon for a reboot of this song.

Listen to it: If you are a fan of Nusrat’s version, or thought Atif Aslam had no business singing "Charkhah Naulakha".


Episode rating: 3/5