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SoundCheck: Hits and misses

October 02, 2016

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Ahmed Jehanzeb and Umair Jaswal
Ahmed Jehanzeb and Umair Jaswal

Almost a decade in and Coke Studio has come a long way from where it started. Many artists have been introduced or re-launched their careers through this show, a rare few have destroyed theirs. In its ninth year, the show seems to have undergone some structural changes by introducing more producers — all working under the watchful eye of the Strings’ duo — and more big-name artists than before.

As the season drew to a close, here are the songs that stood out, for the right and the wrong reasons ...

THE MEMORABLE

Maula-e-Kull by Abida Parveen

This should’ve been the opening or the closing song for the entire season. In Maula-e-Kull there is a meditative quality in Abida Parveen’s singing, and the beauty of the song lies in its sheer simplicity, even after the song picks up pace in the middle where the bass and percussions become more prominent. You only need Abida’s powerhouse vocals to fill the space in the studio. Everything else falls into place around it.

Bholay Bhalay by Meesha Shafi

Shafi’s performance this season is a testament to the journey she’s taken in music over a span of almost a decade. She’s come a long way from the days when she was the lead singer for Overload. Bholay Bhalay is a celebratory song that’s shows the ease and clarity with which the singer shifts between different notes while also having fun.

Paar Chanaa De by Shilpa Rao and Noori

There are several Noori songs featured in this season but this is by far the best. Shilpa Rao is a prominent playback singer in India, and her voice has an earthy elegance to it. Like all good things in life, you have to wait for the moment the Noori brothers’ mother, Noor Zehra Kazim plays her solo on the Sagar Veena — a stringed instrument designed for her by her father. The Veena segues into Shilpa’s section, where the song really picks up steam.

Uddi Ja by Mohsin Abbas Haider

This one was a complete surprise. Mohsin Abbas Haider, a well-known actor in Pakistan best known for playing the character of Moon in Na Maloom Afraad, absolutely kills it in Uddi Ja. Trained at the National Academy of Performing Arts, he’s done a fair bit of playback singing. But it’s not just skill that he brings to Uddi Ja, it’s a lot of soul as well.

Khaki Banda by Ahmed Jahanzaib and Umair Jaswal

Jaswal is paired better with Jahanzeb than with Naseebo Lal in Sasu Mangay from the same season, where Jaswal and Lal’s performances were completely disconnected from each other.

There’s a strange darkness in Khaki Banda and it’s hauntingly beautiful in its rendition. Jahanzeb and Jaswal balance it beautifully between their two distinct singing styles — one taking it to the East, the other towards the West.

As comebacks go, Ahmed Jahanzeb couldn’t have asked for a better one.

THE OVERRATED

Afreen Afreen by Momina Mustehsan

Basically an unplugged version of Afreen Afreen, there really isn’t much to write about when it comes to its musical arrangement. Rahat Fateh Ali Khan does his best, but it’s not enough to save it. For all the hype surrounding her debut, Momina Mustehsan looks cute, but as a singer, is quite average. She has a very sweet quality in her vocal tone, but throughout this song, sings flat.

Afreen Afreen by Momina Mustehsan and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan

Rang by Amjad Sabri and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan

Featured in the finale episode, this song is considered as the late Amjad Sabri’s last performance before his untimely death. That alone gives his song a lot of sentimental value.

Momina Mustehsan and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan
Momina Mustehsan and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan

In theory, a duet between the late Amjad Sabri and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan sounds great. In practice, not so much: Amjad Sabri’s performance pales in comparison to Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s. The latter’s vocal prowess is in another league when compared to Sabri. They are not well matched, not here at least. There are no structural changes to the song. Overall, it sounds somewhat mediocre.

You can romanticize Rang all you want — the show’s producers certainly did well before the final episode was aired — but sentimentality is not going to make this a good song. This song doesn’t come under the best of the season, although one wishes it was.

THE UNDERRATED

O Re by Noori

In a show full of songs that follow a tried-and-tested and oft-repeated Coke Studio formula of ‘fusion’ music, pure unadulterated pop numbers can seem like breaths of fresh air. You can’t help but tap your feet to this number by the Noori brothers. Gone is the youthful angst, the Sufi soul, and in its place we’re presented with a simple pop song that, in its music and exuberant chorus, reflects the band’s maturity over the years. It’s a perfect pick-me-up for days when you are hit hard with the blues.

Meri Meri by Rizwan Butt and Sara Haider

The song introduces Rizwan Butt — a producer from Lahore — to the mainstream media as a singer with pretty decent vocals. He’s paired well with Sara Haider’s soft crooning voice. It’s hip, groovy and is quite distinct from the rest of the songs in the season — and perhaps the most underappreciated.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 2nd, 2016