“I think there was a trade-off somewhere along the line. I think the price we paid for our golden life was an inability to fully believe in love; instead we gained an irony that scorched everything it touched. And I wonder if this irony is the price we paid for the loss of God.”
– (1,000 years) Life After God by Douglas Coupland
Although, Coupland writes about a generation who grew up in the absence of religion, and particularly a God; what struck a nerve with me, when I read these lines is how despite our overwrought religiosity and “belief” in the Almighty, we too seem to lack the ability to believe. Where does that leave us you ask? What separates the believers from the non-believers, as (s)He has often asked? If we can’t believe in anything wholly; if we have no will to ascribe to a faith and if we have lost our ability to love – then who are we? We can define ourselves by what we ‘are not,’ but maybe whilst opining so fiercely about what isn’t part of us, we forgot to create, foster and detail a vocabulary of what we ‘are’.
zabaani kalmah har koi aakhe
People simply recite the kalmah
dil da pa?hda koyi hu
Very few recite it with their whole heart
dil da kalmah ‘aashiq pa?hde
True lovers are the ones who recite it with heartfelt sincerity
This distinction in defining one’s identity also manifests as a difference between belief and a lack of faith. People become ensconced in the comforts of their jadedness, fearful of opening up their hearts and emotions – their senses – to the beauty of truth. This is what I felt with this episode, and perhaps this season overall – that there is something profound that we miss when we don’t know what to believe in; when we allow ourselves to be dictated by fear and short-sightedness.
That cynicism hasn’t found its way to the musicians in Serbia, and hence we are free to witness their sheer awe at Sanam Marvi’s voice during the BTS section. The sheer force of Sanam Marvi’s vocals is something I feel anew every, single time I hear her sing. And yet, the band felt thus mainly because her vocal scale and in terms of tonal structure aspiring to unheard of heights, which were very new to them.
However, something interesting stitched into the narrative of the BTS, is that back in Pakistan, Sanam Marvi also speaks about her surprise at discovering that sufi kalaam can be set to such music and derived thus. Her surprise allows us to take in the sheer scale of what we are witnessing. These are two wholly disparate musical cultures, brought together by this show, which both feel respectful artistic kinship for the other and yet have never been expected to find each other, thus. And this is where belief becomes crucial, because it articulates the vision required for both to coalesce.
amze ramze saaz kha?e the
Musical instruments stood silent
gaawan waale gaaya hai
The singer’s song has unlocked their secrets
True to the quote above, the house band instinctively understood and did as the lyrics bid them, by reinterpreting it and yet respecting its structures. Had this song of Sanam Marvi’s been within the classical formats of the previous seasons; the indelible emblem that Jaffer Ali Zaidi granted with his sound in conjunction with Sanam Marvi’s vocals and composition from across the globe, would never have been ours to access. Yet instead, we see a courageous attempt at bringing together all these different styles in the service of our own traditions.
Zara Madani’s Neer Bharan is a most sensual depiction of a female’s desire and immediate longing. It is not just a sense of sensuality which is recalling the past or one that will remain unfulfilled, but one which the singer is very acutely aware of within herself as a need and is very vocal about – not trusting herself with Nand Laal waiting by the water front. The extent that Zara Madani’s voice sighs sweet contentment repeatedly – determinedly effeminate and decidedly delicate – is unlike the other traditional voices we’ve come across so far in Coke Studio, and not one usually found in Pakistani female singers. We usually enjoy a sense of bass, roughness or even nasal depth yet Zara Madani’s vocals are as sensually provocative as the lyrics of this bandish are subversive.
kaise jaaoon main
Oh how should I go?
kaise main jaaoon neer bharan
How should I go to fill water?
Oh I went to fill water…
[quote]The Eastern woman moves and sings, layering it and offering it as a complex, powerful and treacherous knowledge[/quote]
What makes it very distinctly Pakistani is that it isn’t sexy or trashy, but rather takes a wiser approach of a woman rapt with a sultriness of deliberate vazn – how the Eastern woman moves and sings, layering it and offering it as a complex, powerful and treacherous knowledge rather than being simply gratuitous. What it also represents, something we’ve seen a lot this season, is a bolder palate and widely varied approach with regards to female vocalists.
The measured and brief use of Moazzam Ali Khan’s voice slowly and operatically manifesting as the charms of Nand Laal only serves to accentuate the female’s sense of desire, imbuing them with his vocally-sparse, yet welcome accompaniment.
What both these songs represent is an attempt at the oft quoted “fusion” which leaves many people frustrated. Divorced from their contexts, these songs feel little more than the sort of reworking that Coke Studio has attempted many times before. Yet, when one takes into account the intention underpinning these, we come to realise how they are assimilating global sounds in order to further enrich and reframe the original, organic song.
Zoe Viccaji’s song Raat Gayee represents a telling contrast to the previous two songs. I had been looking forward to hearing more from Zoe (as well as Rachel). As always – whether I hear her as a back up vocalist or with her other musical projects – I feel that with her one always gets much more than one expects. It is a measure of how effortlessly she challenges and transcends her performance and clearly has much existential angst which she seeks to surpass…
Who am I?
kahaani kya miri
What is my story?
How can I explain?
main jo dikhti hoon waisi naheen
I am not what I appear to be
Zoe’s songs usually see her bringing her jazz training and styles to local pop, which in Pakistan generally means songs done in western scales and instruments. However in the hands of the Serbian band, her song is given a new lease and dimension well beyond what would have been possible with a Pakistani house band. The sort of jazz accompaniment that the band provides Zoe, is just about impossible to find in Pakistan. This is not a slight at local musicians, but rather an acknowledgement that it comes more naturally to others – what is organic to you will be like muscle memory.
Consequently, the song is an absolute triumph – crystallizing an era of music, we’ve all heard, can picture and dance to and trust Zoe to transport us to with her smooth vocals to another time. Like Laili Jaan, the song is fun, fresh, epic and just plain suave female Pakistani voices of a new day and age. Unlike the previous two songs, this represents a different process, where influences from the west are returned to it after having been steeped in a Pakistani flavour. It allows the song to be far more accessible, even though it emerges from the same sense of belief.
dekha ab tak jo naheen
All the things I have not yet seen
dekh paaoongi main abhi
Now I’ll be able to see
jeewan men main ne jaana jo naheen
All the things I’ve never known in life
jaan jaaoongi main abhi
Now I’ll be able to know
Finally, after a delectable episode with three females, we come to the only male in this episode: Atif Aslam with Channa. Atif Aslam has always been a maverick in his Coke Studio performances. His Billie Jeans cover was much maligned, while his Faiz renditions were quite gloriously accredited, but both showcased his belief in himself, and his willingness to take the sort of risks which can sink careers of vetted pop stars, let alone one who is completely self-taught and has learnt everything himself, which he admits in the BTS.
Here Atif, as he always does, manages to stamp his own identity on the song. But you don’t feel the sense of risk here, and Atif never really unleashes himself in his trademark style, which was our staple at some time or another when we were growing up and falling in love. Here he goes from flamboyant lover to a satiated love, content within its existence.
[quote]There are so many words in sub-continental languages for love because love is not a flat denominator[/quote]
The song itself is a reminder why there are so many words in sub-continental languages for love – because love is not a flat denominator. It is nuanced and textured in inexplicable shades of transitions and phases. His love is a content love, one which wishes to remain in this state, does not scramble for change. All of his ‘now’ is for his beloved, his channa.
sohniya toon hun aawen paanwen nah ve
Darling, whether you come now or you do not come
chas pai gaya ee udeekaan da we
I’ve become addicted to waiting for you
ere pyaar di aini chaan ve
Your love casts such a deep shade over me
Thandi lagdi e mainoon har thaan ve
That each place I go feels blessedly cool to me