Everything has changed about Coke Studio, and judging by the avid response on social media platforms, Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia of Strings have struck a chord with their core audience. With the third episode airing today, Strings are now taking their listeners down memory lane with two classics from Lollywood.
Sun Ve Balori
The first throwback comes in the form of Sun Ve Balori. Originally sung by Madam Noor Jehan in 1970 for the soundtrack of Anwara, the 2014 version has been sung by Meesha Shafi. “We wanted a vocalist with a really raw, rural, and powerful voice,” says Bilal, “Meesha was the ideal choice.”
This is a more rocked up version that also prominently features a string section, which provides a contrast to different parts of the song. From being gritty and edgy, the guitar solo with the violins and cellos accompanying it transforms the song giving it a softer, moodier element to it as it progresses. It’s definitely an interesting take on the classic.
The third episode of Coke Studio is a throwback to the glorious heritage of Lollywood
What adds greater authenticity to the 2014 rendition of Sun Ve Balori is the fact that Strings brought in the man responsible for the original version. “Ustad Tafu had written this song almost 40 years ago for Noor Jehan,” relates Bilal, “We just called him up for his permission to use the song and his blessings. He had originally written the song for his son who was born with blue eyes. We asked him if he would be a part of it as a tabla player and he happily agreed.”
This isn’t where work on the song ended. “Everything was done organically,” says Bilal. “Every part of the song tells you a different story. Everything is structured around that. The original song gives you a certain vibe which we’ve tried to give a modern twist to.”
Under new management, much of the work is collaborative. “How we usually work is that I come up with a basic idea and form a basic chord structure on that. And then everyone comes in and gives their input into it and the song is adapted accordingly,” Bilal says, before adding: “I had the arrangement for this song in mind for a very long time.”
The second tribute to Lollywood is a medley of Nadiya and Gari ko chalana babu from the soundtrack of Anokhi (1956), performed by Jimmy Khan in collaboration with Rahma Ali. Jimmy Khan has been a prominent member of Lahore’s underground music scene for a very long time and has even released some music online. We finally get to see him being featured just as prominently on screen.
The production has stayed true to the song’s filmy roots as the song has a very vintage Pakistani music movie soundtrack feel to it.
While Jimmy Khan is a familiar face, Rahma Ali is an unknown entity... but perhaps, not for long. “Rahma Ali is Iman Ali’s sister,” said Bilal, referring to the Khuda Kay Liye lead actress. “She originally auditioned for one of my father’s productions, Pawney 14 August, and he recommended her to us,” he added. “She also sang one song for the soundtrack of Moor which we’re doing.”
Under Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia, Coke Studio has this year stepped away from what was becoming a rather predictable sound. While staying true to the original structure, the Strings duo has brought a larger set of newer artistes and musicians while also adding a few of the more established ones that never made it in the previous seasons.
They have done away with a ‘fixed’ house band set-up, with each song featuring a more ‘customised’ set of musicians deemed suited to playing to that particular song. It wasn’t just the artistes who sang that were the stars of their songs, the guest musicians who were brought in for a particular episode shared the spotlight with them.
Consider Jhoolay Lal, sung by Sajjad Ali and Fariha Parvez. “The thing with Sajjad Ali is that it is very difficult to match his voice,” says Bilal Maqsood, “Either he can go really high or really low.”
It was Sajjad Ali who suggested that the producers ask Fariha Parvez to collaborate with him on this happy, rather consistently upbeat song. “If you notice in some parts of the song, Fariha is singing higher than she normally would.”
The episode concludes with none other than Pakistani icon, Abida Parveen on a Sufi music composition called Dost.
“According to her, she hasn’t done anything like this before,” relates Bilal. “She sang a lot of songs when she came in for the rehearsals. Once, while she was leaving, she said, ‘I’ll sing this one last song as well’. She sang it and we instantly knew we wanted it.”
Unlike other songs in the episode, musically this song is ‘clean’ and devoid of too many instruments adding layers that perhaps are not needed.
Compared to the other songs, this one has been left very simple instrumentally. The magic comes from Abida Parveen’s powerhouse vocals.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 5th, 2014