Episodes five and six of Coke Studio Season 8 suggest a program that has settled into a certain groove, having found a comfort with developing its own sound. Whether this complacency is warranted or not is another question.
Khalis Makhan from the Bakhshi Brothers was not only pleasing but sufficiently unique by way of the multiple vocalists adorning the song, who offered it a distinctive character. The lyrics also had a very strong set of evocative associations, and this was one of the better tracks to emerge from these episodes.
Rangeela by Ali Azmat was underwhelming, as it seemed to be almost bordering on parody without intending to. The lyrics were replete with the generic phrases that populated Pakistani pop a decade ago, and Ali Azmat’s potential is barely reached in a predictable-sounding set up. Like a rich man’s Siege, Ali Azmat requires a certain exuberance to really come off, which Rangleea lacked. Although this song provides plenty of nostalgic value for aging fans, nothing about it was original.
Ali Azmat requires a certain exuberance to really come off
Meekal Hasan Band is in a situation similar to Ali Azmat’s, in the sense that you can sort of expect how the latter-era songs will sound like, but the major difference is that MHB is far more exact in delivering on its signature style. Kinara is technically very precise, and there is much to admire about the song. However, like the band’s recent album, Kinara lacks soul at times and can feel cold and abstract.
Hina Ki Khushbu was the biggest risk of the two episodes, and on that measure it holds more interest, since it can’t be honestly said that the risk was sufficiently overcome. Asim Azhar’s pop prince presence was left a little subdued, while Samra Khan’s voice often felt overproduced. However, taking on such an iconic song and attempting to rework it in a bold new way is perhaps more indicative of the creative burden a show of this history should have, and so it deserves more praise. This of course raises questions about the value of original songs versus covers in Coke Studio, and it is undeniable from this episode that covers represent a more intriguing creative option.
However, as episode six showed, the question might also be one of curation, and there are artists who feel more comfortable working within the production constraints of the show than others. For them, the issue of cover or original, or even genre is not really a concern.
Qawwals Rizwan and Muazzam would fall into this category, and they are a duo whose repeated performances on the show have generally produced high-quality music, despite the fact that their songs have been produced in wildly different styles. Hare Hare Bans, their duet with Shazia Manzoor, results in the folk song being elevated into a decidedly contemporary sound. And yet there is a great passion and authenticity to this rendition, and the two sets of performers have a wonderful balance.
Mai Dhai has been one of those artists who have managed to transcend Coke Studio (like Saeein Zahoor before her) and her work on this season as well as with the Mai Dhai Band seems to confirm that there is literally no type of composition that does not go well with her voice. With her on Kadi Aao Ni is the superstar Atif Aslam, and no artist can match the versatility he has displayed in his performances on the show over the years. Yet he is in a basic version of himself on this song, and it is one of those rare times on Coke Studio where you wish Atif had reached a bit more rather than less. The composition for the song, with its guitar-led, laid back grace was a fascinating juxtaposition to Mai Dhai’s raw, high-octane voice, but Atif’s could have been imagined differently here.
Ve Baneya by Fizza Javed and Mulazim Hussain brings together two stellar voices from this season, and there is an assured efficiency in the composition of this folk track, which lacks pyrotechnics but possesses plenty of repeat value. This is the sort of song that often gets lost in a Coke Studio season, and catches you by surprise when you stumble upon it in a playlist or on radio a few years later.
Jiya Karay by Sara Raza and Ali Haidar was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the two episodes, simply because of the squandered potential. Sara’s pairing with Ali Haider in this song felt like a karaoke act. This does not mean the song was bad, only that it could have provided a much more fun experience for the listener had the melody been carefully understood. But that may have been asking for too much of this season.