“He sent us a very basic vocal track,” said Bilal Maqsood, “He didn’t want us to do this one but after listening to it, we thought we could do a lot with it.”
He was referring to Shakar Wandan, an original song by Coke Studio’s breakout artiste, Asrar, which is featured in the fourth episode of this season.
The singer has already taken the Pakistani music industry by storm with his powerful vocals and singing style that reminds one of a cross between Ali Azmat and Arieb Azhar. Dressed in an orange robe and a shalwar with beaded necklaces around his neck, Asrar dresses the part of a malang to the T.
“We saw him in a morning show,” related Bilal about how the Strings duo came to know of Asrar’s musical talent, “He was just sitting there playing his music. I thought this guy could do wonders. The first phone call to an artiste that we made went to him — that ‘we want to lock you for this season’.”
There is a very celebratory feel to Shakar Wandan. One was told that the lyrics of the song are less in Punjabi and more in Marwari — a language that traces its roots to Rajasthan. Accompanying him on the banjo is Tanveer Tafu who has been playing the instrument for almost two decades as a part of various soundtracks for Pakistani films.
Intent on striking a balance in not only the musical genres but also the kind of artiste that is featured in each episode, Bilal related that, “The idea is that a newcomer is featured next to a more established artiste and that we provide a healthy mixture of classical, folk, pop and other genres in each episode.”
Coke Studio brings together the ancient, the old and the very new in its fourth installment
“We really wanted to engage the whole music industry,” he added and Faisal Kapadia later echoed the same sentiment, “Whether they came from a film background or pop etc, those that weren’t featured earlier would be featured this time around.”
|Javed Bashir and Humaira Channa|
Working with a variety of musicians is a challenge in itself. Acquainting yourself with certain style of playing of one artiste along with working with their personality is a task in itself but with Coke Studio, even this was pushed to a whole new limit. “We took this as a challenge. At one point we had six different guitarists to work with. It was a nightmare!” he laughed, “But to achieve this we had to work with everyone.”
One of the more prominent songs in the fourth episode is Umwa Talay featuring Javed Bashir and Humaira Channa. The song was composed by none other than Amir Khusro. The poetry is in the Braj Basha — a western Hindi dialect often used by the Sufi musician in his poetry.
After selecting the song, the duo decided to call up Javed Bashir for the latter to recommend a singer who would be able to carry this composition. “We wanted a certain type of voice, preferably a woman,” said Bilal, “When we told Javed what song it was, he insisted on singing it himself. He sent us a recording in which he had improvised the song.”
Who was chosen match a singer as accomplished and with vocals as powerful as Javed Bashir’s? Humaira Channa. With Humaira singing the main chorus and Javed the rest of the song, their voices contrast the other’s beautifully while still working together in harmony.
In the middle of the video we see the musicians exchanging confused glancing while continuing to play. In a technique called Leh Kari, Javed Bashir had begun to sing off the main tempo of the song. “Everyone’s looking at each other wondering ‘what’s going on?’,” laughed Bilal.
Another personal favourite from the fourth episode is Dheeray dheeray by Zohaib Hasan. Flanked by Rachel Viccaji on one side and Sara Haider on the other, Zohaib Hasan’s rather enthusiastic performance was endearing to both listen to and watch. There is a big gap between when he first launched his career in the 1980s and now and he remains one of the biggest icons of Pakistan’s pop music industry. Thirty years on, he may have been missing from the scene for a very long time but he’s still the same — wearing a coat with the sleeves pushed up and grooving to the music while performing.
His music obviously had a big impact on the Strings duo as they were growing up. “Of course! We had memorized both side A and side B of his albums,” said Bilal, “Coming into the studio and after a gap of such a long time, we thought he may be a little out touch, but he knew was he doing.” Dheeray dheeray is definitely a fun, light song and Omran Shafique, as the main guitarist is perfect for it.
The episode ends with the musical prodigy that is Usman Riaz. They selected a composition called Bone Shaker and kept the studio and music devoid of any musician or instrument.
“We wanted to retain the purity of his instrument,” said Bilal, “We didn’t want to drown him in song. Just at the end we decided to introduce the tabla the flute.” To be specific the other instruments are introduced as the composition by Usman moves from being structured on Raag Aymen to the Charukesi Raga. A soft soothing number that displays the skill of Usman in both playing and composing a musical piece, it was an apt end to a musically rich episode.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 12th, 2014