I was under the impression that Coke Studios Season 7 was a failure. It wasn’t until I dug around a little that I found out it was generally well-received, apart from a small number of naysayers.
I can see (somewhat) what people like in the latest season. I cannot, however, bring myself to agreeing with them.
That is because the Pakistani music industry is supposed to be held to a much higher standard — it has amassed incredible accomplishments.
By that standard, I am no longer a fan of Coke Studio, and I’ll tell you why.
In earlier seasons, the likes of Ali Zafar and Atif Aslam experimented with classics, while actual legends like Tina Sani performed ghazal with a modern twist while Abida Parveen took folk music to another level. Ali Azmat fused one of his less popular tracks (Garaj Baras) with the voice of Rahat Fateh Ali to create a track for the ages.
All of these experiments were a result of smart choices and some risk.
Of course, certain tracks backfired, like Atif Aslam’s Mai ni main kinnu or his Billie Jean. But overall, Coke Studio introduced a new era of music to the audience. Most importantly, it was no longer limited to a specific class, there was something for everyone from Jal to Akhtar Channal Zahri to Attaullah Essa Khelvi.
It was a representation of all of Pakistan.
The preceding seasons dug up underground acts and established new careers, like Zeb and Haniya, Meesha Shafi as a solo performer, Aunty Disco Project; they even brought back Alamgir.
Every season gave us something new to look forward to.
The cast was smaller too, as opposed to such a star-studded affair this time around that even though there is mention of Shallum, Amir Zaki and Faraz Anwar, they are almost invisible in the marketing material.
Perhaps to avoid alienating their core demographic, season 7 brings us repeat performances of previous seasons.
Take a look: Coke Studio Season 7, with Strings attached
To be fair, experimentation has never been Strings’ thing, so they can be excused for not completely pulling it off. This is apparent with the music range limited to Sufi, Qawwali, or Pop. They are running what works, instead of experimenting.
That is even more evident with the lack of diversity in Season 7. The show has waned from their its fusion roots and taken genre-specific inclinations.
There are no international performances, cultural performances or even any new, budding performers. In fact, it took a step backward as evident through the lack of bands this time around.
If we consider individual performances, Zoheb Hassan has appeared on Coke Studio before (he has also appeared in an episode of Coke Studio, India), but his performance never made it to the air. One listen to his singing and you can understand why. His cover of Zara Chehra would have been a total loss had it not been for Amir Zaki’s guitar solo. Zoheb is past the point of experimentation.
Overall, the combinations of performers sound great on paper, it is only when you hear the tracks you are left underwhelmed, even disappointed. I had high hopes from Sajjad Ali and Fariha Pervez as they can really sing.
If we come back after a year, we will remember perhaps Chhaap Tilak and that’s about it.
Some might ignore this season as an average season, some might praise it, but I feel like it won’t stand out in memory after even a month, precisely we have already “been there” before and we have already “done that”.
Season 7 has about as much new things happening in it as Junoon’s last album had. Or, to put it differently, it was like getting chaunsas in October — it just doesn’t come together.
There is something to be said about the set design as well. It has gone from looking like a genuine basement studio to feeling like you’re taking a drive on '90s Murree Road, there is so much neon!
It is always expected that a product will suffer under a new management before picking back up. Additionally, with Ramazan falling in the summers and the political situation going awry, immediately followed by Moharram, the timing was not quite ideal.
For these reasons, we have an end product that, though, not utterly horrendous, is still just a shell of its former self.
Our music industry has set much higher standards than mere shells. Let us hope future seasons are better.