It’s that time of the year again when we spend almost every Saturday anticipating what Coke Studio will bring us next.
The ninth season began yesterday with some interesting pairings between musicians - but not all of them worked. (More on that later.)
However, what's exciting about this season is the promise of diversity: each song has a guest producer or ‘music director’.
Last season, Coke Studio was handed over to Strings (Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia) after Rohail Hyatt called it quits and the duo’s crack at it was pleasing. This time, while producing the overall show, they brought in prominent producers to make their mark on Coke Studio 9.
Let’s take a look at how this new format shook things up in the first episode.
Sasu Mangay (Naseebo Lal and Umair Jaswal)
The music producer for this number was Shiraz Uppal. This isn’t Shiraz's first time at Coke Studio; he worked on Atif Aslam’s rendition of 'Tajdar-e-Haram' last season, but wasn’t credited for it until much later. He’s also worked on recent Pakistani films like Bin Roye, Karachi Se Lahore and 3 Bahadur.
Despite Shiraz's range of experience, he wasn't able to coherently bring together the diverse talents of renowned Punjabi folk singer Naseebo Lal and rocker Umair Jaswal in 'Sasu Mangay'. Jaswal should have been pushed to show some variation, but he unfortunately stuck to his characteristic rock vocal style.
It is Naseebo Lal's powerful delivery that captures our attention on the get-go and keeps us listening to the song that goes on to get repetitive.
Janay Na Tu (Ali Khan)
After Ali Khan’s decade-long disappearance from the local music scene, he returns with 'Janay Na Tu', which proves that he still has the knack for producing sweet little love ballads.
Ali's original claim to fame was 'Saathiya', a chart-topping single that played repeatedly on almost every music channel (remember those?) back in the early 2000s. While retaining Ali's pop roots, music director Jaffer Zaidi freshens the feel of the song by bringing on Mannu on bass, who adds that little groovy push.
The track also features Kamran Admani of Mizmaar as lead guitarist; it's great to see a lot of underrated musicians getting their due in this season of Coke Studio.
Aaja Re Moray Saiyaan (Zeb Bangash)
Despite two of Pakistan's most celebrated vocalists being a part of this episode (Naseebo Lal and Abida Parveen), Zeb Bangash's 'Aaja Re Moray Saiyaan' takes the cake.
The Noori brothers Ali Noor and Ali Hamza took over music direction and produced the perfect blend of funk and folk in this track. Ali Hamza also joined Zeb on the vocals and their synergy was the winning combination in this episode.
Lyrically, the song is fitting for August in Pakistan; it's one of those times when the yearning for a road trip is strongest - and who wouldn't want this ditty play along on their journey? Here's hoping that Coke Studio continues to emphasise on original music this season.
Aaqa (Abida Parveen and Ali Sethi)
This number was heartbreaking, and not just because it's devotional music. This was the first time for me that an Abida Parveen song on Coke Studio felt so average.
Ali Sethi has been making waves in the music scene and can certainly boast of a great range, but he wasn’t the best choice to pair up with Abida Parveen on this particular song. His pitch wasn't consistent with the style of the song yet he wasn’t even singing out of key. Perhaps what this pairing needed was a different song choice.
The song, however, did have its moment in its chorus, where Abida Parveen and Ali Sethi's vocals meld harmoniously with the qawaals.
Overall, this episode added something new to the Coke Studio formula with a diversity of production styles. However, only one song stood out, making this a very lukewarm start to the season.