In the past couple of years, we’ve seen more and more artists join hands and form collectives — effectively taking control of how their music is released. In contrast to the big-budgeted shows on TV, these artists’ collectives fund the production and release of their music entirely by themselves.

Last year, we saw the formation of BigFoot Music by Hamad Khan and Sohaib Lari. Then producer/musician Kashan Admani announced the launch of Acoustic Station — the songs from the first season are still being released. But perhaps the biggest out of all of the collectives is Paanch by the well-established musical teams behind Sounds of Kolachi and Chand Tara Orchestra, formed some time in 2018. Every member of each band involved in this collective is an industry giant in terms of reputation and musical repertoire, so naturally, the anticipation for their mix-tape releases is the greatest.

The artists and bands featured in Volume One of Paanch are Sounds of Kolachi and Chand Tara Orchestra — of course — followed by Jimmy Khan, Natasha Baig and Mughal-e-Funk. According to Sounds of Kolachi frontman, Ahsan Bari, it took anywhere between 10 months to one year to produce Volume One. According to him, the response has been overwhelming, with both Natasha Baig and Sounds of Kolachi’s releases trending online.

Does he have a favourite? “This is a tough one,” he responds. “I like all of the songs.” Well, of course, he’s the producer, he’s not going to trash his own production! “But I think Mughal-e-Funk’s song is quite different,” he adds.

Are there plans for working on a Volume Two? “Volume Two is definitely coming out,” he confirms. “We’re working on the concept right now. There is a possibility of featuring multiple artists in that one and maybe even some world music. We’re thinking along those lines as well. Let’s see where we take things.”

The artists’ collective known as Paanch has finally come out with its first mix-tape release, featuring The Sounds of Kolachi, Chand Tara Orchestra, Jimmy Khan, Natasha Baig and Mughal-e-Funk. Icon lends an ear to the songs on Volume One

Before we wait another year for the second edition of Paanch, for now, here is the lowdown on the songs in Volume One.

Jahangir by Mughal-e-Funk

This purely instrumental group is made up of powerhouse performers Rakae Jamil on sitar, Kami Paul on drums, Rufus Shahzad on synths and keyboard and Farhan Ali on the bass guitar. Just add Meesha Shafi to the mix and this line-up forms Meesha Shafi’s band as well.

Mughal-e-Funk takes their name and their inspiration — obviously from the Mughal era — very seriously. The band has been working on original compositions since 2015 and released an EP sometime last year, although not all of it is available to listen in Pakistan — yet.

All of their tracks are named after Mughal Emperors — they’ve previously released Akbar on Levi’s Live Sessions, Aurangzeb in Coke Studio Season 11 — and are supposed to reflect the group’s own interpretation of the lives and cultural contributions of the rulers in art, music, poetry and literature.

It’s hard to describe Mughal-e-Funk’s music other than using the word ‘experimental’ and… Buddha Bar-esque. There’s a darkness in the atmosphere when Jahangir kicks off. That darkness is alleviated as the song moves forward and you’re taken on this electronic and non-electronic instrumental journey to the second half of the song that picks up pace towards its conclusion.

While most of the instruments remain in the background, the sitar definitely dominates and takes the place of the non-existent singer, in a way ‘vocalising’ the song and guiding us through the track. Jahangir is like going on a journey where you encounter the challenges at the very beginning, only to break through towards the end into the light.

Naa Jaa Aajaa by Jimmy Khan

He’s probably one of the most prolific artists in the music industry, both in terms of releasing music and performances. Hasan Jamil ‘Jimmy’ Khan released a few songs from his EP Tich Button exactly around this time last year. He also did a song, Haaye Dil Bechara, for Asim Raza’s film, Parey Hut Love.

Naa Jaa Aajaa is accompanied by a music video by Abdullah Kasumbi showing a young girl losing her beloved stuffed toy as she grows up, symbolizing the little things we lose and let go of on our journey to adulthood. That’s kind of what the song is about, this bittersweet feeling of love, loss and longing.

The treatment of the song is simple. It starts off devoid of music, with a light strumming of the acoustic guitar forming the intro. I love how the bass in this song lifts it up now and then. There’s a small harmonica solo in between as well.

There’s a quality to Jimmy’s singing and songwriting style that feels like each song is an anecdote, a story waiting to unfold. He also has a tendency of writing these simple yet incredibly catchy, easy-to-listen-to, hummable songs. Naa Jaa Aajaa is one of those.

Dil Lagee by Natasha Baig

This former music reality show contestant and backing vocalist of Sounds of Kolachi made her big debut as a solo artist to be reckoned with in Coke Studio in 2018 when she opened Season 11 opposite the Farid Ayaz and Abu Mohammad Qawwal group with Shikwa/Jawab-e-Shikwa.

Although she’s completely branded herself as a spiritual singer, at one point Natasha did pop songs as well. And while she wasn’t bad at them, she seems to really have come into her own singing more spiritual kalaam.

Dil Lagee is a light, beautifully-produced song. The singer described how it’s about the love of God but accompanied with the fear of losing his love. It’s a nice song, but it isn’t my favourite Natasha Baig track — it fails to really bring out the artist’s potential as a powerhouse performer.

Natasha also recently announced that she’s about to release her debut album, Zairya, very soon. It took the artist almost two years to make. It’s about time!

Khuda Janay by Chand Tara Orchestra

Chand Tara Orchestra has perhaps the most recognisable talents in the music industry today. There is Omran Shafique on guitars, who’s been a part of Coke Studio since its inception, plays with Ali Azmat and has been a part of popular bands such as Mauj and Co-VEN. He’s also done a lot of work as a music producer.

There is Babar Sheikh on bass guitar. He’s one of Pakistan’s top video directors and somehow has always exclusively been a part of more alternative bands — such as Ganda Banda and the 3D Cats and Dusk (with Faraz Anwar). He teaches filmmaking at a local college when he’s not making music.

Rizwanullah Khan is on harmonica and percussions and Shaheryar ‘Sherry’ Tariq, on vocals. Sherry has been with the band since its inception almost a decade ago — except for a very brief period in between.

They released their debut album, Volume One, in 2018. That took almost eight years to make. Their song in Paanch, Khuda Janay, has a different treatment to the band’s debut album. The song has a fun bassline, which has the effect of lifting your spirits up, and a very 1980s new wave sound. One finds oneself tapping one’s feet to this spiritual track which is all about the love that exists in the universe. My mind says it’s wrong, but my heart is totally feeling the song’s vibe.

Sultan by Sounds of Kolachi

The line-up for this band keeps changing, ever so slightly, every year. As of 2019, their core team includes Ahsan Bari on vocals and guitars, Quaid Ahmed on vocals, Gul Muhammad on the sarangi and Saif Abbas Rizwan on bass guitar. Their sessions artists include Aziz Kazi on drums, Nimra Rafiq (who made her Coke Studio debut as a featured artist last year) on vocals, Zeeshan Rajput on vocals, Rahat Ali on flute and Shahid Rehman on guitars. Phew.

Unsurprisingly, this band fills the whole stage every time they’re supposed to perform. And they do put up a formidable live performance. They released one of their songs Ilallah in Coke Studio, Season 11. And now, the band offers its latest song, Sultan as a part of the Paanch mixtape.

At the time of writing this, Sultan was the top trending song on Patari. The lyrics for Sultan are from Sindhi Sufi poet Sachal Sarmast’s work. It begins with a recitation of Sarmast’s poetry with a light strumming of the guitar in the background, before the bass, percussions, sarangi and other instruments join in. There are moments, however, where the music gets a bit louder and risks drowning out the vocals.

There are hints of Gul’s sarangi in the first part of the song and it really picks up in the second. This part of the song is focused entirely on the music, but it doesn’t last long. The song comes to a somewhat abrupt end. Overall, Sultan is a soft, soulful, easy-to-listen to track.

Published in Dawn, ICON, January 12th, 2020