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Coke Studio Episode 7 review: Moonlight music

Updated November 23, 2014


Ustad Raees Khan
Ustad Raees Khan

“I’m totally numb right now,” said Bilal Maqsood when I met him at the Coke Studio headquarters earlier this week to preview the very last episode of the season. “We’re actually feeling a bit bad that it’s ending,” he added. “For us, CS was a major boost of energy. We’ve never enjoyed ourselves this much before.”

Faisal Kapadia says a quick hello in the viewing room where Zohaib Kazi, project manager and associate producer of the show, is already present. The Strings duo is on their way to Dubai after this where they will be performing in a musical duel of sorts with the Indian band, Euphoria.

With the change in leadership, came a change of headquarters for the show. The space that Bilal and Faisal prepped for their crew and artists has a large rehearsal space, several studios and several ‘play’ areas both indoors and outdoors. I once arrived to find the producers playing a pretty intense game of net ball with their crew and an assortment of musicians — as a way of blowing off steam after the work day had officially ended.

“We all have our attachments,” said Bilal talking about how it felt now that this season finally came to an end, “When you are working with a team of 20 people … eating together, working together, playing games together … it’s hard.”

Taking the helm of one of the biggest music shows in the world comes with its share of responsibilities

As senior members of the music industry, they’ve given individual guidance to musicians and anyone else interested in working in the music industry.

But taking the helm of one of the biggest music shows in the world comes with its share of responsibilities. I wondered whether they were ready to take on the role of being mentors to others? “No,” responded Bilal without a moment’s hesitation. “The day we got the project we realised we had a huge responsibility. This had to be about all of Pakistan. We knew we’d be working with a lot of our seniors and not just our contemporaries … just thinking about it gave us goose bumps.”

Za Sta Pashan Na Yam

“Now that we’re done with the season, we realise that, yes, we were ready,” he added with a slight smile and nodded for the editor to play the first song of the very last episode this season: Za Sta Pashan Na Yam (I am not like you) by Naseer Afridi and Shahab Qamar.

This song by Naseer and Shahab was their second consecutive hit after Za Pakhtoon Yam (I am Pakhtun) — their first video which was an anthem aimed at attacking stereotypes associated with their ethnicity, a theme they continued with their second release. Their music has always been clean, simple and easy to listen to and perhaps, despite being in a regional language, that is what makes it incredibly appealing.

“We listened to this song on the radio and loved the melody but it needed structure,” said Bilal. “It was a raw production and had the potential to be a really big rock anthem.”

Faraz Anwar plays the lead guitars on the song and adds a vintage rock ‘n’ roll feel to it. For the first time you have three lead guitarists featured on one song — Faraz Anwar, Imran Akhund and Shahab Qamar. The simplicity of the song is lost as there are many elements introduced in the Coke Studio version — instruments, backing vocalists etc — but the song remains very much amenable to the ears.

Sutt Gana

Two songs that are meant to end this season on a ‘lighter’ note (and both in Punjabi) are Sajjad Ali’s Sutt Gana and Abrar-ul-Haq’s Pani ka bulbula.

My understanding of Punjabi is nearly nil, so I couldn’t understand what lyrical content the house band members were so amused by while performing in the video of the songs — although Abrar-ul-Haq’s track had some Urdu in it as well.

Sutt Gana starts off very mellow and very slow. This opening is meant to mislead the listener into what to expect from the song. “The beginning of the song is very classical, very sober and that’s what the deceiving element is in this song,” affirmed Bilal as the song changed gears, picked up its pace and moved to a ‘lighter’ sound. It ends the same way it started — the song slows down, all of the added elements that added to its ‘faster’ pace disappear and it becomes mellow again. It ends with a rather beautiful flute solo.

Pani ka Bulbula

Pani ka Bulbula is very typically early Abrar-ul-Haq. It showcases the musician’s skill in almost rapping in a very desi Punjabi style and his wit as a lyricist. While singing Abrar-ul-Haq switches to English with the line ‘Life is a bubble (read: babble) of water’ — a line of reasoning, I suspect, that will haunt me for a long time later on.

The song begins with an African percussive instrument that literally gives the sound of raindrops on different surfaces. Zohaib told me later that the instrument is called the Mbira. How did it end up being used in the studio? That remains a mystery.

Another peculiar instrument played in the song was a flute-like vessel which, when blown into, makes a chirping sound. The chirping instrument was handled by Sikandar Mufti.

“The thing with classical artists is that they don’t know when to stop — they can go on and on,” said Bilal. “Ustad Raees Khan asked how long should the composition be and we said, ‘Not more than four minutes.’ He finished playing exactly on the dot.”

“Then he (Raees Khan Sahib) added, ‘I’ve worked for 20 years in the film industry — I know my timings well,’” related Bilal adding that in the video, he was sitting right next to the drummer, Aahad Nayani, giving the classical sitar maestro his cues. “He’s interacting with the drummer because he’s playing off the rhythm, not on it,” said Bilal. “At one point in the song, he looks at Aahad as if challenging him, but I don’t think Aahad understood.”

Huns Dhuni

Ustad Raees Khan’s Huns Dhuni can only be described in two words: utterly beautiful. This maestro of maestros plays his sitar with his soul. There is no barrier, nobody, nothing holding him back — such is the intimacy with which he plays. He speaks through his music. And such is the beauty with which he plays that when the song ends, one simply isn’t ready for it.

Thus concludes the seventh episode of the seventh season of Coke Studio. It doesn’t end here though — in roughly a month’s time, Bilal and Faisal will be back at the headquarters working on its eight installment.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 23rd, 2014