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

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