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Soundcheck: Bittersweet symphony

June 13, 2010

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Coke Studio has raised the bar high on how music is constructed and projected on-screen. It came at a time when the music industry was dwindling for lack of concerts owing to sociopolitical unrest in the country and corporations' interest (which provide a considerable financial support to performing arts in Pakistan) steering largely towards the fashion sector instead, among other things. It was responsible for bringing not only national but also a large number of foreign audiences together on watching one programme that was simply about bringing our classical heritage in music and fusing it with the more modern, popular form.

Music transgresses boundaries. And if season one was a starting point, season two was the defining period of CS, raising the standard very high. Last week, the first episode (Belief) from season three was aired across all television and radio networks in Pakistan. The season was opened by a poetry recital by Areib Azhar — a vocalist who participated in season two as well — that was followed by, in Rohail Hyatt's (the show's producer) words a Buddha Bar kind of feel to the music. Arieb recited a poem by Bulleh Shah, Nai Raindee Hai, the song begins by a somewhat haunting solo by violinist Javed Iqbal. Unexpected start to the show, very experimental and is definitely an acquired taste.

Abida Parveen made her debut on the crimson stage for the first time this season. This is one artiste that audiences all over the world (judging by the feedback on the official FaceBook and Twitter pages) wanted to see. The queen of Sufi Soul performed Ramooz-i-Ishq. Anybody who has been to more than one Abida Parveen performance knows exactly how she delivers her show. She has a distinct style that has remained unchanged throughout the years she's been singing... and it remained unchanged in her performance in Coke Studio. Enough said.

The saving grace of this episode goes single handedly to Arif Lohar and Meesha Shafi. The first collaboration of the season, they performed Alif Allah Chambey di Booti. There is something about Arif Lohar, he brings such positive energy with him on stage and truly seems to have a good time every time he performs no matter where he is. Meesha proved to be a formidable co-vocalist, matching him word-for-word and note-for-note. This was a song that anybody can dance to.

Where the song in itself was well done, what has been missing from this episode so far is the deconstructive element — in previous CS sessions, songs have been pulled apart, separate sections have been composed and fused together giving birth to a whole new song in itself. So far all of the tracks that have been performed were shown exactly the way they are with a change in music and a tad difference in rhythm.

The first featured band of the season, Karavan performed a song, Yaadain, from their current album. I've never been a huge fan of the band but they completely caught me off guard with their performance. There is one thing to bank on the nostalgia card by redoing a song that has already been released, it's another to do a completely new number and have that song seep into the hearts and minds of those listening. Tanseer has come a long way vocally and delivered a touching performance that, in moments, seemed to show a stirring vulnerability. The backing vocals provide a softer dimension to the song and so did the band with their music. Lost was the hardcore, rebellious, loud rock element the band is famous for and in its place was a soft, emotional depth and lots of soul.

The episode was closed by Zeb and Haniya's performance of Bibi Sanam Janeman. It is a song that hails from the Hayat province in Afghanistan and featured again with the duo was Sadiq Sameer on rubab. The song began, exactly the way Paimona began last year, with a rabab solo. And it seemed a little out of place (you can't repeat the same formula twice) although the rabab played during the vocal rendition of song sounded perfectly situated. This number was harmonious, had a lot of funk and was a lot of fun to listen to. Haniya's opening rhythm playing on the guitar was the perfect intro and Kamran 'Mannu's' smooth bass playing provided the perfect groove. The only think that maybe put a small strain on listening to it was that — at least in television version — Zeb's vocals came out very loud in comparison to the rest of the music.