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.
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.
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.