A colossal lineup but unremarkable execution: Coke Studio Season 11 Episode 2 Review

7.5
Undistinguished

Coke Studio Pakistan’s second episode of Season 11 features a host of big names including Abida Parveen, Ali Azmat, Zarsanga, and Krewella.

There was a lot of anticipation around Illinois-based, Pakistan-origin EDM sister-duo Krewella making its Coke Studio Pakistan debut, but as soon as the sarangi begins, the listener almost stops caring for Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf to begin their part. Krewella’s ‘Runaway’ was released in April this year, and producers Ali Hamza and Zohaib Kazi decided to recreate this for the Coke Studio stage. Gul Mohammad’s soulful sarangi perfectly lays the ground for a more earthy ‘Runaway’, with the sisters giving more value to the flatter notes. The drop has a slightly different touch than the original, but Rufus Shahzad creates a catchy and addictive hook on the keyboard. The Coke Studio version of ‘Runaway’ (part of the song) is almost better than the original; it certainly has more substance. Then step in Riaz Qadri and Ghulam Ali Qadri, offering the powerful folk part that completes the fusion track. The father-son Qadri duo compliments Krewella’s song well, and even when the song picks up tempo, set to an electronic-rock base, it works. It works because, even though these are two (very different) parts of the same song, they don’t override each other at all.

The problem begins when Krewella joins the Qadri duo with a soft and brief aalap in the background, and suddenly it sounds awkward. When the song starts beautifully with the sisters humming along with the sarangi and the tabla, why choose an aalap that will only show their discomfort with the style? This is one of the few songs that doesn’t have the Coke Studio background vocals team so there are no backing vocals for five whole minutes and suddenly Krewella begins harmonising with an amateur five-note aalap at the back. This also goes on to show how good Coke Studio is at incorporating minute elements, like the rainstick for the opening of ‘Ronay Na Diya’ last season, and equally, how tiny features can make a song sound abruptly strange.

The song ends with what Coke Studio has proudly stated – ‘Jahan and Yasmine also sing in one of their native languages for the first time’. It is amazing that Hamza and Kazi managed to get Krewella on Coke Studio Pakistan, but it would have been even better had they showed the restraint not to have them sing in Punjabi. Jahan and Yasmine crooning the words ‘Beet Gayan’ ends the song on a very mediocre note which is a shame considering how well it starts.

The second song of the episode, ‘Gaddiye’ is a collaboration between Attaullah Khan Esakhelvi and Asrar. The piano and tabla lede is surprisingly groovy and sets the way for the other instruments to join in. The entire arrangement and the vocals are quintessentially the Coke Studio brand of rock. There is an elaborate guitar solo for Omran ‘Momo’ Shafique to flex his fingers. The vocals are strong, arrangement solid and the song is not at all forced and great for what it is.

The Pashto track ‘Rasha Mama‘ features the ‘Queen of Pashtun Folklore’ Zarsanga, alongside Gul Panra and Pashto music band, Khumariyaan. The song starts with Khumariyaan’s intoxicating rubab which backs Zarsanga’s vocals. The song then switches to a more funky and groovy tone to which Gul Panrra begins singing, backed well by the team of Shahab Hussain, Wajiha Naqvi and Mehr Qadir, who considerably enhance the overall sound. This wonderful juxtaposition of old and new works well. The fusion of Zarsanga’s traditional singing backed by the rubab and dholak and Panra’s contemporary vocals backed by groovy synths and bass doesn’t sound abrupt or harsh.

The last song from this episode was perhaps the only one from the entire season as eagerly anticipated as Krewella’s debut. In ‘Ghoom Charakhra’, Abida Parveen and Ali Azmat join forces for the first time on the Coke Studio stage. The two giants of the music industry in Pakistan sing Hazrat Shah Hussain’s mystic poetry. Anything Parveen touches turns to gold so there is no denying the fact that the song is effective. Her powerful and soulful singing along with the song’s psychedelic and mystic feel is almost transcending.

Abida Parveen doesn’t need to be accompanied at all, let alone by another very strong vocalist. When Rahat Fateh Ali Khan accompanied Parveen for ‘Chaap Tilak’ in Season 7, what made the collaboration tick was that the two have very different timbres and vocal qualities. Azmat and Parveen have similar vocal traits. Apart from Azmat’s ‘Allah Haq’ that he chants at the beginning of the song, his presence is almost unfelt in the entire track, which says something considering he does sing alone.

This episode is essentially about fusions, which sometimes feel forced, and sometimes manifest into a beautiful amalgamation. What is concerning though is that in two episodes, there hasn’t been a really memorable track.

Pick of the episode – ‘Rasha Mama’

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