Coke Studio 12 begins on a withering note

Maheen Sabeeh
October 23, 2019

Back with Rohail Hyatt as solo producer, Coke Studio is repeating old mistakes and making some new ones.

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Coke Studio is not a TV show anymore. The giant behemoth that comes with its own sets of billboards, radio and TV ads, sponsored air-time; the great claim ‘Sound of the Nation’ and coffee table books (now and again) is back – without a punch.

For one thing, the show should have been cancelled a long time ago because now it’s deluded us into believing that this over-polished yet similar-to-the-Strings-era Coke Studio 12 is “cultural cohesion”.

Last season, produced by Ali Hamza and Zohaib Kazi, was about celebrating the minorities, the diversity of the country even as it featured some similar names like Momina Mustehsan in that embarassment, ‘Ko Ko Korina’. But the patriotic card was used with ‘Hum Dekhengay’ – the season opener.

While last year there was hunger and a vision that few understood, this year the season opener arrived on a Friday with Atif Aslam dressed in all-white, presenting a hamd originally made famous by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Atif Aslam carried it on his shoulders and there is no question about it. But one has to question CS’s real intentions in opening on a Friday? Is it playing the religious card for mass acclaim?

The first episode answers that question

There are three songs in total, each with its own narrative.

Zoe Viccaji, who has done better work on Coke Studio, returns with ‘Ram Pam’ – a song that she noted allowed her a chance to showcase her jazz sensibilities. Meanwhile, the man who earned a solo spot actually got featured in the song only – Shahab Hussain.

Come Undone

‘Ram Pam’, the supposedly light-hearted number in the first episode is really one of those elevator music numbers. You may sing along ‘ta ra ram pam’ but when off the elevator, the song says a goodbye. In comparison, for instance, Zoe Viccaji’s duet with Asif Hussain Samraat in season four is the most eloquent she has sounded on the show. Even ‘Dil Kinara’ from season six had guts because it was driving Zoe out of a genre she is comfortable with.

The King of Qawwali, the heir to the legendary NFAK throne, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan is a selling artist, a fierce talent, turning Bollywood Qawwali into a genre of its own. And while his powers are many, they no longer fit into the studio. Why not listen to him in a Bollywood film? He has some marvelous songs to his credit.

The song, ‘Dam Mastam’ is said to be an ode to Maula Ali from Shahbaz Qalandar but it sounds good in theory only. Where the song begins and how it turns into a Jhankar Beats version, makes it so average, you are listening and staring in complete devastation. The buzzword of episode one seems to be groove. Throw it here and there, in each song. And this becomes apparent even on ‘Maahi Diyaan Jhokaan’. In fact the gravel-sounding trio, added as the folk element, has enormous value; their narrative is their own. This was a disappointing beginning and it begs the question? What is the answer? I’ll tell you as the season concludes – in a couple of weeks.

The corporatized ‘baithak’ is a bit too much to take. But the visuals nonetheless handled by Zeeshan Parwez and Kamal Khan, worked overall. The dark hues worked.

Keeping a somewhat open mind since this was the first episode, I hope I am proven wrong in the coming weeks and Coke Studio creates good songs and doesn’t turn a space dedicated to music into something rigid.

– Photography by Kohi Marri

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