A slightly belated compilation of our top 10 songs from another wonderful season of the awesomeness that is Coke Studio. Since we missed doing an episode-wise review as well, have actually ranked the songs rather than listing them at random, and written a little about the songs. A playlist of the entire songs is at the very end.
10. Rangeela: Ali Azmat
One of the trippiest songs of the season, from one of the best episodes of the season. And it dives straight into action too, that addictive guitar hook (Omran Shafique) to which Tanweer Tafu’s mandolin adds on, before Junoon man Ali Azmat’s impassioned vocals kick in. The rest of the house band and backing vocals (same as last time – Momin Durrani, Rachel Viccaji, Sara Haider) join in the fun later, making this an all out groove fest.
9. Piya Dekhan Ho: Ustad Hamid Ali Khan, Nafees Ahmed Khan
The charm of raag bageshri rules supreme in this serene Hindustani fusion piece; two accomplished musicians taking the listeners on a short ride through the intricacies of the raaga. Ustad Hamid Ali Khan does the singing while his partner Nafees Ahmed Khan plays the sitar. The song expectedly ends with a duel between the two that works, despite the slight fumbles.
8. Man Aamadeh Am: Gul Panrra, Atif Aslam
There is a joy in hearing Peshawari singer Gul Panrra’s delightful rendition in a language alien to you. The language happens to be Persian, the song chosen being one originally sung by Iranian singer Googoosh (the raga sounds close to sindhubhairavi). Atif Aslam at the other end, pitches in with urdu lines written by himself. The arrangement is ruled by Tanweer Tafu on the rubab, Arsalan Rabbani on harmonium and Kamran Zafar’s bass line. The pop-ish diversion the song makes in the final two minutes seem a bit of a misfit, but it does feature some excellent albeit dramatic performances from the house band and the strings section.
7. Chiryaan Da Chamba: Suraiya Khanum, Anwar Maqsood
Strings had featured a couple of lovely Bidaai-themed songs in the last season. Here too, they add another beauty to that set with Chiryaan Da Chamba, and here the mood is much more melancholic. Suraiya Khanum is spot on with her singing, while veteran writer Anwar Maqsood’s recitation of his own lines, conveying a bride’s longing for her past days, are sure to bring a lump in your throat. The arrangement has some nice touches, like the rain stick when the story talks of memories of playing in the rain.
6. Neun La Leya: Kaavish
The two member band fronted by the house band’s pianist Jaffer Ali Zaidi (other half being guitarist Mauq Maqsood) makes their second appearance on the show (previous one was in Season 4), with a folksy piece written by Kaalay Khan Sahib and originally composed by Hamid Ali Bela. A poignant tune (desh raag I guess) that is delivered beautifully by Jaffer in a calm, unhurried fashion while Sajid Ali’s flute provides those additional tugs at the heart strings.
5. Khalis Makhan: Bakhshi Brothers
The Bakhshi cousins’ (Shahryar, Bilal Bakhshi, Aafi and Yawar) singing is mellow, an almost loving approach to the song, even during the sargam bits – a contrast to the kind of powerhouse qawwals from the country we are used to listening to. Of course, the nostalgic tone of the melody and the lyrics require such an approach, and in the backdrop, Sajid Ali’s magical flute phrases and Arsalan Rabbani’s harmonium add to the feel. Thoroughly endearing song, this. A good Coke Studio debut for the group.
4. Rockstar: Ali Zafar
Ali Zafar’s own brilliantly satirical lyrics get a retro bluesy jazz type sound from the house band and flautist Sajid Ali, and the singer does a kickass job behind the mic acing the falsettos and scatting, as usual with excellent support from the chorus. There is also a qawwali-ish twist in the second half of the song, led by Arsalan and Babar Ali Khanna on dholak.
3. Aankharli Pharookai: Mai Dhai, Karam Abbas
Have seen a lot of talk accusing of similarities between this and Ram Sampath’s Katte. Sure, both are based on Rajasthani folk songs, and Mai Dhai’s stage presence and style of rendition reminds one of Bhanwari Devi, but the similarity pretty much ends there. Something about the combination of guitars and the desert folk elements here that takes my mind to Ali Farka Toure’s music at times. Karan Abbas is as effective as Mai Dhai with his classical improvisations (raag bhimplasi), while the band takes care to not have the energy level dip at any point. And the icing on the cake is Tanweer Tafu’s rockstar level rubab solo!
2. Hare Hare Baans: Shazia Mansoor, Rizwan and Muazzam
Another poignant traditional poem that receives a classy treatment on Coke Studio, with Shazia Mansoor and the qawwali duo Rizwan and Muazzam. Aside of the very endearing melody (is it just me getting reminded of Vaishnav Jana Toh?), the song’s highlight is its smooth alternation between the soft melodic mode and qawwali mode as it switches between the singers.
1. Kinaray: Mekaal Hasan Band
The show’s first Indian presence (Sharmistha Chatterjee, Gino Banks, Sheldon D’Silva), I didn’t like MHB’s song from episode 1 of the season. But in this raag yaman based bandish the band gets everything right! The arrangement is kept soft yet rich – Ahsaan Papu’s flute (backed by Sajid Ali and Abid Ali on different scales), Mekal Hasan and Imran Akhoond on the acoustic guitars, Haider Ali’s piano, Sikandar Mufti on the matka all augmenting the inherent beauty of the piece. But above all, there is the top class singing; Sharmistha is just flawless in her negotiation of the complex nuances, and she is given excellent support by the chorus. Had to rate this the best song of the season!
Aaj Jaane Ki Zidd Na Karo: Farida Khanum
It didn’t seem right to rank a legend alongside the rest of the songs, hence an honorary entry of one of the most timeless songs from the sub-continent. A song that has been covered by multiple artists, innumerable times over the years. But when the person who originally made the song popular does another rendition of it, it tends to be special. So it is that Strings pull off a coup by bringing in the now-retired octogenarian Farida Khanum to sing Aaj Jaane Ki Zidd Na Karo. The BTS video shows Faisal telling the doyenne – “Aap ka gaana hai, aap jis tarah usko perform karein”. And that is how it turns out; the lady singing the song at her pace – the nuances spot on even now – while the house band stays respectfully minimal, just the guitar strums making their presence prominent. A perfect parting shot from the producers for Season 8.