Coke Studio Episode 1: Less hits than misses

Published: May 24, 2011
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The performance of the episode was “Tau Kia Hua” by Bilal Khan.

First things first, Komal Rizvi did a very good job in the face of unreasonably nasty opposition and judgment.

I think the problem stems from the fact that people simply don’t like Komal’s pop persona and are quick to dismiss her as some hand-gesturing drama queen with little vocal talent. It’s a pity because it hides the fact that she’s a very talented singer who demonstrated amazing control over pitch and variation. Together with Akhtar Chanaal, she brought a genuine element of fun to the sometimes sombre Coke Studio sessions.

Their take on “Daana Pah Daana” was fresh, upbeat and given a boost of infectious joy, courtesy the accompanying Baloch dancers. While the subsequent performance of “Lal Meri Pat” was well done, I had issues with it simply because I find it an extremely overdone song and given that there were at least two more mentions of “Mast Qalander” to follow in the episode, it was a lacklustre choice.

Jal: Swingin’ a miss

I’m going to resist taking digs at Jal’s wardrobe choices, which seem to be getting more attention than their song. They started promisingly with their original song “Iq Aarzoo,” a pretty ballad that suddenly degenerated into yet another weak, uninspiring Sufi tribute.

Was there really a need to include a NFAK cover in the middle of your own song? It just seemed like an obvious crowd-pleaser and I was offended by their pandering. I actually thought they were doing rather well up until that point, but their uncomfortable vocal warbling over predictable folk melodies was in fact, infuriating. Jal clearly lost an opportunity to score big here.

Mizraab: Disappointment

Faraz Anwar didn’t go Sufi, but he might as well have. His performance of “Kuch Hai” was confused and awkward. Again, the song started off well with a dark and ominous Middle Eastern guitar riff with vocal acrobats from classical vocalist Mannan and then, without warning, it changed into a really weak power ballad that seemed pretty tuneless.

Faraz Anwar isn’t known for his vocal prowess, but he has his moments. This was not one of them. He looked clearly uncomfortable with the pace of the song and did not seem happy with his singing, making it look forced. His guitar playing however remained solid and he played a technically impressive solo before returning back to some rather bad singing. Like Jal, I think Mizraab missed a trick here and didn’t play to their strength, which is to rock out.

Mizraab are a rock band  and they’re at their best playing massive riffs to thrashing drums and shredding guitars but for whatever reason, they chose to go with their weakest incarnation and they will only have themselves to blame for this disastrous song selection.

While die hard Faraz Anwar fans will have already made up their minds about the perceived epic brilliance of their lord, I was quite disappointed.

Sanam Marvi: Not more than expected

As expected Sanam Marvi turned in a solid performance of “Sighra  Aween Sanwal Yaar”. Admittedly I’m not a fan of her brand of music because I think it lacks originality and she isn’t doing anything Abida Parveen hasn’t already done. Plus, the overexposure to Sufi kalams, have me completely burned out.

Having said that, she’s clearly talent and if anything, she seems much more confident and has more presence than her appearance on the last season. Too many people are quick to call her the saving grace of Coke Studio, but for me, she’s neither the saviour, nor the destroyer of Coke Studio. She’s a skilled, competent singer who isn’t terribly exciting to me, but I can understand her appeal.

Bilal Khan: Saving grace

For me, the performance of the episode was “Tau Kia Hua” by Bilal Khan. From the beginning to the end, it was a gorgeously crafted pop song, a smooth ballad over a funky groove laid down by Gumby and Mannu. Bilal’s vocals were spot on, subdued and controlled but delivered with great feeling. The exquisite harmonies by the Vicajji sisters, Zoe and Rachel, brought the best out of the vocal performance and the song was a beautiful, intense performance.

I’m really happy to see an under-the-radar artist like Bilal hold his own in a crowded episode and he deserves all the accolades he’s getting for this song. I suspect we’re going to see even better material from him as the season progresses.

Episode 1: Too Sufi heavy

My only major complaint with Coke Studio is the over indulgence in Sufi songs. To have three references to “Mast Qalander” by three different artists in the same episode is weak. I suspect artists are more to blame for this than the producers since it’s the artists who choose the songs.  There seems to be some pervasive belief that the public won’t accept you unless you have at least one reference to Shahbaz Qalander, Bulleh Shah or any other Sufi kalam in your songs.

While Coke Studio can be credited with reviving interest in folk music and culture, I really think the folk songs that are being covered are extremely overdone and I would like to see something fresh. Artists need to realise that they get picked for Coke Studio for doing what they do and for singing the kind of songs they’re good at. If they’re going to change themselves just because they’re on Coke Studio, it lacks integrity and doesn’t do anyone any good.

I really hope artists have the confidence to stay genuine and original and take a few risks rather than trotting out a tried and tested crowd pleaser like “Lal Meri Pat.” Sure people will love it but they’ll forget about it soon and artists will have missed the opportunity to leave a lasting, original creative impression.

Omar Bilal Akhtar

Omar Bilal Akhtar

A musician who studies journalism. He blogs at adpdiaries.blogspot.com

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • parvez

    Arif Lohar and Misha Shafi doing their thing in the last Coke Studio is going to be a hard act to follow. All things said, I think Coke Studio is a great show.Recommend

  • Shahid

    Mr OBA (as you like to be called), please keep your opinions to yourself. Coke Studio Season 4 Episode 1 was awesome! Rohail Hyatt is not there to impress people like you. He has done a great job! ‘Danaah Pah Danaah’ was the highlight of the episode and people in my hostel have been playing again and again. ‘Ik Aarzu’ and ‘To Kia Hua’ have been instant hits.

    As far as Mizraab and Sanam Marvi are concerned, they did a pretty good job. Why do you write as if you are an expert on music??? You did ‘Sultanat’ last year at Coke Studio, which at best was average.

    Express Tribune, please let some better people write for your blogs.Recommend

  • Maira

    In my point of view, the best mixing done so far is by Atif Aslam in Kinara and Jal Pari. In Kinara, the way, a sufi raag is included is marvelous. The change of music and pace in that song was extra ordinary plus it was just a raag, not any sufi kalaam which was extremely pleasing to hear. And then going through same pace, Atif included NFAK cover of “Parandey”.

    In Jal Pari, he excellently used word O re Piya from his own song to include “Piya Re Piya Re” and “Bhanwey Jaan na Jaan” which was another master piece. But sorry to say, Jal was not even close to that Atif.

    And well said, Mizraab missed a chance to play out to their fullest which is obviously rock. Now I am sure Mizraab can’t be EP.

    But Bilal Khan rocked and his vocals and feelings were great to hear.Recommend

  • Farhan

    Dude…we all saw your pathetic performance with ADP in Season 3. Its easy to criticise others but when you got your chance you blew it.

    I think all these people did a much better job than you and deserve praise. And I think I heard a major and pleasant improvement in Jal’s vocals.

    Its easy these days to type up an article full of yourself and hit the publish button. Why can’t you step out of yourself and judge the performances objectively?

    And I don’t understand this focus on just the singers. What about all the amazing arrangements, compositions, fusions and everything else that created what can only be called magic?Recommend

  • Ahmad Khan

    Top two performances of Episode 1 :

    Tou Kia Hua (Bilal Khan)
    Daanah pay Daanah (Akhtar Chanaal & Komal Rizvi)Recommend

  • Leviathan

    Curious about one point: did the producers choose the songs or did the artists? I only ask because Bilal Khan was on FM89 a few days ago and he said he had been told to sing this song by the producers, not the other way around.

    Is it some kind of experience thing? Celebrities get to choose their own songs while the up-and-comers don’t? No criticism of your criticism here…just genuinely curious. Recommend

  • Omar Akhtar

    @Leviathan Most artists get to choose their own songs but Rohail will sometimes give his opinion on what song works better than another. However at the end of the day, it really is the artists call and what they choose to sing.Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/143/taha-kerar/ Taha Kehar

    Persuasively argued. Recommend

  • http://www.idare2differ.blogspot.com Maryam

    Opinions Opinions! But, tbh, what I think is that the ones who put up their best deserve some praise. Lets just keep hatred and criticism to ourselves okay?
    Nonetheless, Coke Studio is just amazing.Recommend

  • CS fan

    Well written! Artists coke studio chose could have done a much much better job! It wasn’t bad but it should at least meet the standards that it has set itself! Recommend

  • ASQ

    Honestly a real poor analysis of first episode concentrating on singers rather then on music!!!overall i really enjoyed the 1st episode.cokestudio is about change whats the point if mizraab again came up with the same themes they have been playing simple as that change is always a good thing even if some don’t like it.Recommend

  • Zoe Viccaji

    Yes it is a pity that Komal’s public persona and perhaps deeper insecurity/trying too hard makes her a target for much criticism- often unwarranted. Some people/idiots are unable to distinguish between their personal dislike for a person, and that persons skill/performance. Perhaps the two go hand in hand, and at the end of the day musicians are viewed as a complete package. Its a little irritating, though, how many people become hateful towards the artist in the bargain.

    I actually don’t feel the sufi element was over done- and even after hearing all the songs over and over again didn’t ‘feel’ the overuse of ‘lal meri pat’. I think Rohail deliberately lumped the three together in one episode to show that comparison. I find it interesting to see how every artist relates to a common and well known song, and do it differently. Isn’t that why so many musicians do cover songs?

    As for the comments that people have been posting in response to this article; where as I agree that your criticism can be a little harsh at times, people need to remember that everyone is entitled to their opinions. There will always be those gushing ‘all hail coke studio’ articles and then there are the more critical write-ups. It would be a boring world if the two ends of the spectrum did not exist. Recommend

  • Shahrukh Kazmi

    I don’t know why the way you wrote that article I am thinking that you were expecting a lot from Mizraab.See I My self have been following faraz and Mizraab since the Album Panchi and Faraz from Dusk and from his Session Playing scene I too want him to play heavy but this was something different with the fusion of cellos and violins Coke studio never used Cellos I think before this performance was technically very sound and that is why it was different from other performances.Recommend

  • Shamy

    you are not the next Simon Cowell….some modesty needed ere…Recommend

  • Yusuf

    I wanted Kitni Sadiyan by Mizraab!! hope they do it later in the season..
    Bilal khan was pretty good. For daanah pe daanah, although it was a good one, it was more of an attempt to redo the Jugni kinda thing.. Recommend

  • M Ali Khan

    I dont blame the blogger on feeling burned out by Coke Studio’s over indulgence in sufiyana kalam.

    Daanah peh daanah is supposed to be a Balochi folk classic. should have remained it that way but fusing it Lal Meri Path was quite impressive if i do say so myself.

    I myself was very skeptical of Komal Rizvi’s involvement beforehand, but truth be told she did a fine job in EP.1

    More folk music from all over Pakistan should be used on Coke Studio!Recommend

  • http://almostareview.wordpress.com @Rohwit

    Few lines from your so called article Omar

    I think the problem stems from the fact that people simply ……
    I think Mizraab missed a trick here…

    I think it lacks originality

    My polite advise

    Don’t ‘think’ – Just melt away with the music…it’s there to be enjoyed and is much better than so much crap served these days..You guys in Pakistan are super lucky to have so many episodes so far…and us par itna boring review? sorry but ‘I THINK’ it is toooo cynical

    Khush raho yaar….may be your frustration is personal…don’t bring it here

    Peace
    Rohit
    IndiaRecommend

  • Zakir

    “Coke Studio is the over indulgence in Sufi songs” “She’s a skilled, competent singer who isn’t terribly exciting to me”????? You lack soul and emotion my friend. Why don’t you go back and listen to ADP’s performance from last season?

    There is something more to coke studio, and unfortunately people like you will never get it. Khair, everyone IS entitled to their opinions. So peace and love bro!Recommend

  • Fahad

    Agreed, yes coke studio has revived folk music but that should not be treated like a formula which is what Komal and Jal both did. To me both the performances were the weakest of the episode. Sanam Marvi was also great, and Mizraab wasn’t too bad either.
    Bilal Khans track was the one that worked the most, and I feel thats because it was a relatively simple song, something that was a rare treat in this episode.Recommend

  • Saba

    no doubt komal rizvi (unexpectedly) did an awesome job…the sweetness and fun in her voice…. her pronunciation of every word was very clear … clearer than akhtar zahri!

    i hope rohail hyatt gives a chance to shazia khushk and fariha pervez in this season…. they have been contributing to the music for so many years… regardless wat critics or ‘cool’ people say about them…

    if komal can … then they can sound amazing too in the studio…Recommend

  • Sarim Zia

    People seriously need to relax here. THIS is a blog, HIS was an opinion. Lodging personal insults at him is out of order. If you disagree, do it as Zoe did, with counter-opinions.

    The fact that Komal’s aura and background overpowers her actual vocal talent is quite unfortunate. However, I do feel that partnering her with Akhtar Channa for this song might not have been the best idea. What I felt about the episode, and what I felt the author of this article was alluding to, was that instead of this show being a place where artists come with their own ideas and influences, it was a show where many artists were trying to go for something that isn’t their territory. Because Noori, Atif and Arif Lohar got a hoot and a wow for their performances, artists now believe that is what is required of them, and so narrow down their music scope just to that spectrum.

    Bilal’s song was different in that sense, and so stood out. It was also quite original and creative, a piece of his own. Mizraab’s too, only that it was difficult seeing Faraz doing something he’s not meant to. You see the artist only three or four times on the show, and you want them to do what they do best, not what they think would be received favorably. The ‘commercialist’ aspect of the show needs to be weeded out.

    Also, not saying Channa’s performance or the other songs were outright bad. Different people like them in different ways. Just that, it wasn’t most original.Recommend

  • Khan

    People are acting as if any criticism of Coke Studio is tantamount to sacrilege. All blogs and op-eds should then be banned, and we’ll only have the ‘dis is nyc’ and ‘I hate Komal’ comments which are ever so enlightening. Recommend

  • http://linksnappy.com Bilal Ghouri

    Okay, Im a die hard mizraab fan, I admit.
    But that doesnt mean I will keep supporting them regardless of what kind of performance they give us, I dont like mizraab’s panchi, despite of the fact that I love heavy metal and metalcore.
    Im a musician myself too, and I think what mizraab did was pretty complicated stuff with all that scale changes and fusion and harmonies…
    You have GOT to admit that vicajji sisters were awesome.. they brought a totally magical feel in the songs with their unusual and amazing voices.
    You’re pissed becuz they didnt do their usual heavy metal stuff? Isnt coke studio all about fusion? and exploring new kind of music?
    I saw on one of the Behind-The-Scene video, rohail told bilal khan “we dont want you to do what people want, we want to see what YOU can do” (not the exact words, but thats what he meant).
    I know everyone is entitled to their opinion but as many of the people before me commented, you’re just taking the vocals into account, what about the epic music bro ? :)
    Honestly, I cant get the chorus of “kuch hai” out of my head, literally ! it has been playing in my mind for the past 48 hours, non-stop, Im still humming it..
    I admit, I didnt expect bilal khan to be THAT good, but man ! this is coke studio, they really light your music up, I loved his performance (I didnt expect him to be THAT good), and I dont know why these people hate your performance at CS, I have your video in my pc and I still listen to it all the time, It was definitely better than the original (no offence)
    I agree that jal did a horrible job with that NFAK .. it totally ruined the song.

    Now I know you all must be thinking like “he’s a fan..he must worship faraz anwar no matter what”, but I assure you, thats not the case, What I said was solely based on their performance at CS keeping the fact aside that Im faraz anwar’s die-hard fan.

    Oh btw, @Zoe Vicajji, I have a question, in the “kuch hai” video, I saw mizraab had a different rhythm guitarist? I didnt know they had a new line up, am I missing something ? he was a young boy with long hair.. whats his name ? who IS he ? Recommend

  • Pakistani in US

    Great review. You made some really valid point. But I disagree about Komal Rizvi. I think she has potential to be really good, but let’s just say she couldn’t right predict what sort of vocal arrangements were needed for that song. Sometimes less is better and she should have known better.Recommend

  • http://saidcanblog.blogspot.com Said Ashraf

    Fair analysis.Recommend

  • Sohaib Nizamani

    I was really surprised to see komal rizvi in the promo and started thinking OMG what on earth is wrong with Coke Studio.. But after watching the episode, i thought komal was brilliant for wat i had in mind…..

    I totally agree with this article about the Mizraab performance…

    Some1s gotta explain something to me? Omar u probably can since u were a part of CS last year… Why does a band chose to use its own members knowing there’s better musicians sitting on the bench?…. I’m surprised Rohail lets u use ur own musicians.. Like for example Mizraab, Gumby on the kit could’ve made a hell of a difference…

    I’m still wondering how people are calling Bilal Khan’s song the best of the lot, either i was expecting way too much or the song was just avg for me…

    Cuz i thought Chenals and Rizvis performance was probably the best outta the lot (keeping the fact in mind that Lal Meri’s been done like a gazillion times) but akhtar chenal’s voice was just MAGICAL….

    Over all i reckon the biggest problem this episode had was the set list… They could’ve used these same songs in a different episode to avoid the mast qalander clash…

    oh and the viccaji sisters have certainly taken the backin vocals to a new level…

    and to end with… i thought Jal were super disappointing… Recommend

  • dan

    I would first like to applaud Jal for starting with a new, unheard track. No matter what, its putting to test a track thats not heard by their fans and shows the belief they have in their talent and potential. However the same greatness turned into ordinary as the folk covers therein lacked the punch that you would expect in CS performance.
    Frankly, i was too disappointed with Mizraab’s performance, again due to fact that our expectations are set high by the show and the artists themselves. Mizraab has done some great performances, so i would rather leave it to the choice of track !
    For me Bilal Khan’s performance was the best of the lot.. he is an amazing talent and getting a stage like CS does full justice to his abilities.
    And yes we’ve just got started so I am expecting some amazing stuff ahead.Recommend

  • Ayla

    Trust me OBA all the critiscism you are getting about Mizraab is probably Faraz himself writing all this crap and his die hard fans.
    Faraz and ‘Mizraabians’ cannot handle criticisms.
    And yes Komal tried to hard to imitate Meesha Shaafi.
    Jal was terrible.
    Bilal Khan was awesome. Can’t wait for Sajjad Ali! Recommend

  • sherry

    wonderfully written article… 100% agree with u sir!Recommend

  • Hameed

    Komal did an excellent job with the Chanal dude (Gitti forced me to say that). Personally i think it was a decent performance. Bilal Khan killed it though. He seems set to be the Paki Justin Beiber. Recommend

  • Sarim Zia

    How does the comparison with Justin Bieber develop? Was that an intricate insult or a derogatory compliment?Recommend

  • Dude

    Mizraab was the best of the lot and are you serious about Komal???????Recommend