Coke Studio 2011: Of maestros, musical masterminds, experimental elements and gorgeous fusion

The first episode of Coke Studio was refreshing. It was an intriguing episode even if it was slightly safe compared to the content of episode II.

Bilal Khan introduced us to ‘Tou Kia Hua’, a melodic, easy listening kind of a number, reminiscent of the old days of Vital Signs, Mizraab made their debut with the progressive yet dreamy ‘Kuch Hai’, Jal were adequate with ‘Ik Arzu’ fusing it with ‘Dam Mast Qalander’ and ‘Tere Ishq Nachaiya’. The surprise element of the first episode was the collaboration between Akhtar Chanal Zahri and Komal Rizvi on ‘Daanah Pa Daanah’. Many have critisized Komal for “destroying the song” but that’s just because the preconceived notions that surround her don’t seem to die in our minds. The tune, sung in Brahui, Balochi, Punjabi, Persian and Urdu sees Komal take a stab at the languages and she actually nails it. Unlike ‘Alif Allah’ which hits you instantly, ‘Dannah Pa Dannah’ takes time.

And finally there was Sanam Marvi, making a second appearance on Coke Studio with ‘Sighra Aaween Saanwal Yaar’. With verses from Sachal Sarmast and Sultan Bahu, the mixture of Sanam’s dominating vocals with a bluesy blend from the house band, the song is easily one of the better Sanam Marvi songs we’ve heard on Coke Studio.

Now though, after quite a few days of debate and dissecting each artist on episode one, the time has come to shift focus on the upcoming episode. And it’s this second episode that really reflects the experimental, eclectic side of Coke Studio.

The maestros of Qawwali, Fareed Ayaz and Abu Mohammed appear on the second episode with ‘Kangna’, Rendered in Raag Maulkauns, the challenging fusion number is constructed on a rhythm of 10-beats per cycle.

“‘Kangna’ is how early qawaali is done,” says producer Rohail Hyatt. “It is devotional music and it incorporates sufi kalaam as well. It’s not like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s folk qawwali. The song is sung from a female perspective.”

In the previews, Fareed Ayaz maintain that the effort is to collaborate without changing the identity of their music.

“There is a lot of technology behind all this; there are intricate mixes in everyone’s mics,” says Rohail Hyatt about the intricacy that goes into the sound evolving process. “It was a real magic moment when Fareez Ayaz came to Coke Studio. ‘Kangna’ is the longest song done on Coke Studio.”

In other words, ‘Kangna’ is over 15 minutes and counting but producer Rohail Hyatt refuses to cut it into a four-minute song.

From Fareed Ayaz and Abu Mohammed, we come to Asif Samraat Hussain and Zoe Viccaji’s collaborative number, ‘Senraan Ra Baairya’.

“It’s a traditional Rajasthani song,” says Rohail Hyatt. “It’s from a female perspective. One aspect is that the woman is going in the direction her lover went away. She looks towards that place as a cool breeze comes in. Through that breeze, she feels closer to her lover. From that context, it’s a love song.”

Sung in the obscure dialect of Marwari, the song sees Zoe sing but never actual words.

“I really wanted a voice to represent the woman. Voice has the power of communicating so much.”

And after the poignant love story from Rajasthan, we come to pop giant Sajjad Ali who makes a rollicking comeback with ‘Kir Kir’. “Coke Studio is all about what the artist wants to do. Sajjad Ali wanted to do something different. This song is truly Sajjad Ali, it’s tongue-in-cheek, and it’s full of hope. It is a different sound for Coke Studio. I would describe it as a desi folk song with country western elements on top of it,” says producer Rohail Hyatt about the song. On the preview, house band member Omran Shafique also describes the song as “fun”. And that really makes all the difference here. In contrast to the heavy qawwali and the sublime Rajasthani folk song, Sajjad Ali’s ‘Kir Kir’ brings in a bouncing element of fun to the show.

The duo of Jaffer Zaidi and Maaz Maudood, aka Kaavish, make their debut on the show with ‘Nindiya Re’. From the previews, it is clear that the tune is soft, tranquil with a strong romantic character.

“It’s a romantic lullaby, the way you welcome sleep. There are no drums on the song. It’s very minimalist with guitars and percussion. It’s a long overdue performance of Kaavish,” says Rohail Hyatt. Another interesting bit about the song is that drummer Gumby doesn’t play drums on it but a guitar.

And finally there is the other maestro who makes his debut on Coke Studio this season, namely folk legend Attaullah Khan Essakhelvi who makes his presence felt with ‘Ni Oothaan Waale’ which tells the tragic tale of lovers Sassi and Punno.

“Again with this song, there is spiritual connotation. What I’ve tried to do with this song is to present a modern Attaullah Khan Essakhelvi to his fans. We have carved the music around him as he would sing in any case. It’s a beautiful narration. Even with experimentation, we have stayed true to form and tradition while including modern elements intelligently,” sums up Rohail Hyatt.

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