Coke gets me high

No powdery white contraband substances for me. No vile, dark liquids passed off as cola either. The only kind of Coke that gets me really high is Coke Studio. The Pakistani variety, to be really specific.

This post has been a long time coming, ever since I promised here that I list my top 5 reccos from the beauty that is Coke Studio Pakistan. I dilly-dallied over it for the longest time because I couldn’t commit to just 5 tracks. I had a horrible time choosing from my favourites. Every time I made a list, I felt like I was letting the excluded tracks down. I even consulted with friends, fellow Coke Studio junkies, and everyone agreed — top 5 was just not enough. I would be doing the show and the musicians an injustice, given the hundreds of hours of intoxication, entertainment and emotion I have enjoyed thanks to the show.

If you’ve been reading this blog for long enough you might think I’m being a stuck record with the Coke Studio Pakistan love, when I lay it thick as I usually do. My love for the Pakistani original increased many times over when the lame Indian imitation hit MTV. I was overcome with a feeling of anger and frustration that a so called music channel can pander to the incestuous, you-scratch-your-back-I’ll-scratch-yours melting pot of mediocre music that forms the majority of the Indi-pop and Bollywood scene these days. Leslie Lewis doesn’t know his elbow from his arse, when it comes to composing and producing a show like this, and I felt outraged at the sham that he put up, two seasons in a row. I felt like it went against the philosophy that is at the heart of a show like this one.

I can’t think of a single day that has gone by without listening to at least one Coke Studio Pakistan track. I have gone through highs, and seriously obsessive phases of listening to a single or a couple of tracks on loop, all day, for days on end. And even in the lows, when my interest shifts, I still play a track or two every now and then. But the love came rushing back this past weekend when we plugged in out iPods at the shack in Arambol, and I realised that both Shashank and I had playlists that were almost 70-80% Coke Studio led. That is some serious love, I think. And now I feel compelled to share the love.

Because it was impossible to drill down this list to just 5 tracks, I have cheated a bit and plugged in a few extra tracks. I’m sure you won’t mind.

1) Chori Chori – Meesha Shafi, Season 3

This was the track that introduced me to Coke Studio, in 2007 and I remember being completely bowled over Meesha Shafi. For her voice, her poise, her confidence and for pulling off that illegally gorgeous shade of red lipstick. This is one of the songs I listen to only on youtube, because the video adds to the intoxication. I have harboured a serious crush on her ever since, sometimes listening to her tracks into the night, dreaming about her and discussing the nitti-gritties of the Meesha Phenomenon with the boys.

If you find her as lusciously beautiful, check out Alif Allah and Dasht-e-tanhai also featuring her. Strong contenders that almost made the list too.

2) Chal Diyay – Zeb & Haniya and Javed Bashir, Season 3

Sometimes music inspires instant love and this track did that for me. Javed Bashir’s grainy, raw unbridled vocals perfectly complemented by Zeb’s supple, sweet voice make this track so laden with emotion. It gives me goosebumps. Every. Single. Time.

I was charmed by Zeb and Haniya for the longest time after I first heard them and was introduced to how upbeat and rock-y Persian music could be, with so little effort. Bibi Sanam and Nazar Eyle are some of my other Zeb and Haniya favourites.

3) Rang Laaga – Sajjad Ali and Sanam Marvi, Season 4

Coke Studio hits are definitely women-heavy, with the sheer variety and spectrum in female voices rocking the series. Sanam Marvi and Sajjad Ali are another duo that work like a charm. There is a certain inexplicable beauty that comes through when a duo fall in sync so perfectly and completely, this is one track that really brings that to life for me. I wish more Indian female singers in the commercial realm would aim for a voice with such body. I’m so sick fo the Shreya Ghoshals and the Sunidhi Chauhans of the world. Its time to bring some bass back to our music.

I have always applauded Rohail Hyatt’s sense of balance. In using the right blends for the most appropriate tracks. Rockifying only those tracks that lend themselves to heavy instrumentation, knowing when to cut back and keep things simple, letting the words shine through in lyric-led tracks, using the brightest and best voices for those tracks that need range and emotion. Rang Laaga has the right blend of rock influences, getting heavier as the song ends, yet without leaving you wanting to shut the music off. Neray Aah and Saari Raat are two of my other favourites from this category.

4) Seher – Farhan Rais Khan, Season 5

I was tempted to exclude this one from the list because I have already posted it as one of my favourites. Cheeky way to free up a spot for another track I’m dying to squeeze in. But this list would be sorely incomplete. So here is Seher again, bringing you the Sitar like you have probably never heard it before.

Season 5 was the best season by far, with every episode having at least 2 tracks worth remembering and turning into earworms. It was also the season with some really intense/heavy (lyrics-wise and music-wise) tracks, like Rung and Wah Wah Jhulara.

5) Aik Alif – Noori and Saieen Zahoor, Season 2

I have always been a sucker for rustic, unrestrained throw that folks singers are blessed with. The way that they effortlessly toss their voices around, hitting every note perfectly and making it look like child’s play, gets me every time. Saeen Zahoor is one such voice. He performed in Goa in 2011 and I still kick myself for not finding a way to crash the gig. Noori has a vocalist who manages to do the same, but with some degree of rock-refinement. Listen to the track and you’ll know what I mean. He has a polished, yet effortless throw and knows how to use it well.

In my next life, I want to marry a singer. Because when men sing like this, its very easy to fall in love. Aaj Latha Naeeo and Hor Ve Neevan further reinforce this thought for me.

I wish there was a way to get you to listen to each one of these tracks, without tiring. But I’ll just have to settle with hoping that I can pass on the love. I am lucky to have a bunch of friends who share my obsession. From the time I was introduced to Coke Studio in 2007, to date, I have been fortunate to meet friends who are equally or more obsessed too. Long distance exchange of files, sharing, obsessing, discussing these tracks to death, to screening the videos late into rainy monsoon nights, I think we have more than done this show justice and I cannot wait for the next season to hit us.

As I patiently, I go back to listening to these favourites on loop. As the seasons progressed, Coke Studio only kept raising the bar and beating their own benchmarks. Season 5 was the peak, for me. Even though some of my most loved tracks are from seasons 2, 3 and 4, season 5 was consistently stupendous. And for that reason alone, I think the Pakistani original knocked the pants off the Indian imitation. Evidently, I am not the only one who thinks so.

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41 thoughts on “Coke gets me high

    • Unfortunately, I did not know of Pakistan having its version of Coke Studio as well. . I will listen to these and forage around more on youtube..
      Personally I found the Dewarists on Star world better than Coke studio..

      • WHATAREYOUSAYYING?!! Pakistan is the fore-runner! By many years in fact. Indians are so slow to catch on to such good concepts. I enjoyed some episodes of season 1 of Dewarists, but that too I felt was not music for musics sake.. Anything that is televised and TRP driven, I feel takes away from the purity of the music. Dont you think?

        • Indians are always slow to catch up on good things (even if it means knowing that Coke Studio Pakistan existed in my case)

          IF anything becomes drivn TRP then it is all about masala and not the core content.

          • Well in this case, its never too late, as long as one sees what the world is doing and acknowledges the goodness in everything :) Im glad I could intriduce CS-Pak to you then. Let me know if you like it.

            And I think CS-India was completely TRP driven, and Dewarists to some extent too.

            • As the shows moved on there was bringing in more of popular artists into it.. I personally don’t have anything against mainstream and popular singers performing , but the charm however was lost.

              And yes, A big thank you for introducing CS-Pak, :D

  1. Ahahahahahaha oleey. I just heard what you sent. Yes lovely lovely voice, super projection, but needs training in the musical phrases. Send it to Priya. Let her see the phonetical usage. Very nice words too.

    Sent from my iPad

    • Meesha is not formally trained too much I think. She is a model/actress who happened to sing well and found herself in Coke Studio. If she trains under someone good I think she will turn into a star.

      Okay, I will forward this to Priya

  2. Yay, you did the post. Will go and listen and fall in love. :)

    And yes, I never got India’s fascination for the too- smooth, too- high pitchy voices. Whatever happened to bass female voices? Bass voices have a way of crawling under your skin and staying there, that I love (both male and female).

    • Yes, I am one of those people who can fall in love with a voice and not need to see the face behind it. Male and female :P And if you notice, all the tracks are of the same kind.

      I thought of you when I finally did the post this morning, wondering if you are still youtube-blocked or will be able to listen to this!

      • Same here! A deep- throated bass voice in all the men I like – not a pattern I am particularly proud of! (And, oh the things that can cause me to fall in love with people, without needing to see the face behind/ on it. Sorry, that was a bad one! :p)
        Checking it on phone right now – carrying headphones, very wisely! :)

  3. Okay – delurking after maybe 2 years of reading your blog! :) I LOVE coke studio pakistan – and I have little cultural affiliation with either Pakistan or India! :) Loved your post!
    I do think you should have included “Tum Kaho” by Symt in that list… its been on loop for months now. Or maybe Tora Bahraam Khaana from Season 4? :) Agreed – I’d never be able to pick just 5 songs!

    • Im not a big fan of SYMT, which is probably why Tum Kaho never really caught on with me. Tora Bahraam Khana on the other hand is very very good. I love Pashto music, I think it is in a league of its own. Maybe I’ll do a post on Pashto :P
      And, thanks for delurking. 2 years is a long time!

      • Hey – I thought of another musician that I consider great… Shankar Tucker. Heard of his stuff? He is more “bollywood” I think – but still incredibly talented. I’m partial to his classical pieces but even some of his english/hind fusion can be lots of fun.

        • He is talented and while i like the idea of what he is doing (scoping out talented but lesser known voices and rehashing old favourites) i dont care much for his music. I find it bland and too westernised, missing the flow and easy going lilt of indian music

  4. While it’s not Coke Studio, I love the Zeb-Haniya track on Dewarists- Kya Khayaal Hai…loved it and played it on loop endlessly for days. I also love the Atif Aslam tribute to MJ- Wasta Pyaar Da and also Chup and Paimona of Zeb-Haniya

      • Haan, like I said, I LOVE Z and H, but didnt care much for the Dewarists track, only because of the silly collab. Check out the Tehelka link I posted. I loved that collaboration because I thought it did them and their music justice. Thats my gripe about Dewarists vs Coke Studio at the basic level. CS Pak seems to put the music first, and everything else instrumentation, bands, collaborations, guest artists all work around it. In most Indian shows the celebs, the commercial angles of who to put on what show with whom so people will tune in and the like seem to take precedence..

        I also like Atif Aslam. Always passed him off as a pancy-ass poppy musician, for obvious reasons. But in season 5 of CS Pak I ate my words.. He really shined thru in that season.

  5. Loved Rang Laaga and I am slowly falling in love with Meesha’s gravelly, smoky voice. Voices like hers have so much depth and they may not be able to touch as high a scale as some of their shriller counterparts do, to me they are voices that portray pain and despair beautifully. Shubha Mudgal is one voice in the Indian music scene that does this – especially when she’s not trying to sing Pop numbers. Another voice with the same maturity and melancholy is Bombay Jayashree’s. Have bookmarked the post and will continue to listen. Btw, DD is intrigued enough that she had me look up CS Pakistan on youtube yesterday and has demanded we listen to seasons 1 thru 5 :). Mission accomplished Revati and for that, I owe you big.

    • Oh thats fantastic! Its better viewed on their website.. They have some lovely behind the scenes making-of-the-track videos too.. check them out on http://www.cokestudio.com.pk — great stuff really. I sometimes get on the site and lost a few hours at a stretch, just video hopping :)

      And yes I am also a fan of the more grainy, bass-heavy voice. And a big fan of Bombay Jayashree too. Have you heard Nityashree? She can go really high, has a wider range, btu I love the texture and grain in her voice.. Especially this track: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h36KtFyiEr4

      • I have heard it and have learnt the song, too. Back in the day when I was learning classical, but I’m not a fan of Karnatic music despite having been a student for 11 years. That said, I do love Nityashree. She doesn’t screech when she goes high. The timbre of her voice stays clear as a bell and I love that about her and I’m so completely envious of the range she’s able to traverse effortlessly. Ahhh. to be that gifted… maybe in my next life!!! *Sigh*

        • Yes, Im nto a fan of Karnatic music either.. Having learned Hindustani music for over 10 years, I relate to that more. I feel it lends itself to emotion much better, whereas Karnatic music feels staccato and flat to me..It may be my lack of exposure talking..

          • I think a few songs in the Karnatic genre are simply divine and can touch chords emotionally but for the most part the music leaves me untouched. It has a lot to do with language too, I guess. I, for one, cannot feel anything if I don’t understand what I am singing. I did better with Hindustani, at least in terms of making an effort. Well, let’s hope I do a better job with DD, in terms of exposing her to variety and letting her find her voice

      • Z and H are the new favorites in town!!! Thanks Revati, DD’s tripping on Bibi Sanam and I’m doing the same with Paimona Bede. Oh DD also discovered Mora Saiyaan by Shafqat and never realized Khamaaj could be so groovy – her words :D :D

  6. Meesha is a rockstar!! WHAT. A. VOICE. Thank you so much for sharing your favs. Have always liked the Coke Studio concept but have to admit, wasn’t aware of the Pakistani version.
    I hope this comment gets posted, if not I give up!

    • It did it did! And i have naughty feelings towards meesha. She is quite the rockstar. I hear she has a part to play in the reluctant fundamentalist. I cannot wait to watch her act now!

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