There comes a point when even those who're considered some of the biggest icons of Pakistan's music industry and who've been around for 25 or so years, get star struck. Their eyes light up and their voice is full of awe and excitement as the Strings duo, Faisal Kapadia and Bilal Maqsood, talk about bringing together two giants of qawwali music in Pakistan, together on one stage: Abida Parveen and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.
The track in question is Chap Tilak, which one is told, is one of Amir Khusro's most popular qawwalis. Indeed, one's untrained ears recognised it one of the songs often played or sung at weddings in this region. "This song is huge in the subcontinent," affirmed Faisal Kapadia.
Apparently they weren't even sure whether the two icons would even agree to sing together. "We were really lucky they both agreed to do it," said Bilal. "When we initially spoke to them about collaborating we didn't get an immediate response, so we weren't sure whether it would even happen." But it did! The result is watching and hearing an interesting chemistry at play in the song. They are both quite overpowering and strong in their own individual capacity. Having them both on the same stage can be quite intimidating and/or overwhelming. Other than being masters in their own right, they also possess entirely different styles of performance.
So, in essence, Chap Tilak comes across as two individual performances brought together in one track, as opposed to one uniform collaboration.
The current episode of Coke Studio features two of the biggest giants in qawwali music together, as well as a tribute to the late Nazia Hasan by her brother and band mate, Zoheb
"Rahat Fateh Ali Khan's forte is classical with a lot of speed whereas Abida Parveen's style is more slow and soulful," added Bilal.
"There is a huge contrast between the two. But bringing the two styles together in one is what contributes to the beauty of this song. We really pulled the tempo of this one down." How does one go about directing such giants? The answer from the duo is that you simply don't. "When we make a song, we make the structure fi rst, which everyone follows," said Bilal. "But you can't do the same with them because they will break that structure apart." Indeed. Since their kind of performance is more improvisational in nature, therefore it cannot be limited to exact arrangements.
"Rahat and Abida hadn't rehearsed at all before singing this song together," said Faisal Kapadia excitedly. "This was the only time they sang together.
There were no retakes. You can't ask them to sing again.
They probably won't." This was also the fi rst track that had been recorded for this season. "When they started performing, even those who were outside the studio stopped what they were doing and came inside to see them," said Bilal. The original, I'm told, is about 25 minutes long that the duo might consider releasing online at some point.
One of the other performances that stand out in this episode is one by Zoheb Hasan and Zoe Viccaji on Jana. "Zoheb said that he would like to dedicate a song to Nazia," said Bilal, referring to the singer's incredibly talented sister who was a part of the duo before she passed away 14 years ago.
This is also probably the first time Zoheb has sung with another female artist, and one has to say Zoe did justice to the song. She is a big fan of the duo's music and has often covered their songs in her performances.
She comes in as the female lead and blends her voice with Zoheb's beautifully.
She delivers her part almost respectfully, without trying to overshadow the silent presence of the missing artist in the song.
Digital visuals of Nazia Hasan play in the background of the song. Needless to say, Zoheb appeared quite emotional during his performance.
Descent to the Ocean Floor
As a complete contrast to everything played so far in the season, Usman Riaz's Descent to the Ocean Floor, is a musical piece that displays the young prodigy's classical piano playing and composing skills. He begins his set in isolation, with no other instruments playing.
Eventually the cello begins playing and so does the violin.
One by one, other instruments and even the backing vocalists, Rachel Viccaji and Sara Haider, join in, but never all at once. There is a haunting emptiness in the sound of the music which, in some ways, was replicated in the beginning of the song when the studio was shrouded in silence as artists could be seen fi dgeting before the song began.
Although the piece itself is somewhat short, I was told it took a long time to record. "It took three to four hours to record this one," informed Bilal.
"Usman Riaz is very sensitive about his music. The performance had to be very precise and it had to be perfect."
Perhaps the most underwhelming performance of the episode goes to Javed Bashir for Yaad.
It's an average, 'acceptable' track that is light and makes for easy listening. But that's where it ends. Having said that, the other three performances overshadow Yaad and it slips by relatively unnoticed.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 16th, 2014