Instep Today

Top 10 songs from Coke Studio

By Maheen Sabeeh
Sun, 08, 23

As the music series gears up to release its fifteenth season – most likely – later this year, Instep selects 10 songs that reflect the best of the series in entirety.


Top 10 songs from Coke Studio
Top 10 songs from Coke Studio
Top 10 songs from Coke Studio
Top 10 songs from Coke Studio

It is easily possible that when you hear a song, any song, you might like it to some degree. You might develop an instant love or hate or are one of those individuals who is simply ambivalent to it.

But those of us who have been following Coke Studio, which set a standard, a yardstick few can and have lived up to – since its inception – the outlook for some of us has changed for a myriad of reasons. It also feels that the outlook was bound to change for palpable reasons such as the change in how we consume music now than we did when it first started and our individual way of life and personal evolution or growth.

If you still remember certain songs over others, it doesn’t mean that the rest are not good. But as the adage goes, taste in any art form is subjective. What was once obscure becomes the cherished one and what was once arrestingly impressive is not as impressive anymore. With that perspective in mind, Instep looks at its favorite songs from Coke Studio (in no chronological order) by diving into a wormhole and emerging with a list that is a homage to the past and a nod to the present.

Song: ‘Aik Alif’

Artist: Noori and Saeen Zahoor

Executive producers: Rohail Hyatt and

Umber Hyatt

Season: Two

Nothing in Coke Studio’s illustrious history can surpass the earthy tones of Ali Hamza’s voice or Saeen Zahoor’s haunting, folksy character or the backdrop of vocal intonations provided by Ali Noor. The enormous ending delivered by Ali Hamza remains one of his best vocal renditions of any song to date including Noori’s own music, which he surpassed with grit and heart. This is the song which made room for folk elements to be celebrated in a society cloaked in overzealous ideas of theology. The idea was to create a collaboration where Noori’s audience could tap into the rich folk music legacy of Saeen Zahoor and vice versa. Almost 15 years later, there is no better example of a stunning, timeless, spiritual, folk collaboration than ‘Aik Alif’.

Song: ‘Mori Araj Suno’

Artist: Tina Sani ft. Arieb Azhar

Executive producers: Rohail Hyatt and

Umber Hyatt

Season: Three

A song that marked the return of Tina Sani back to the studio after more than a decade, the beauty elegy introduced us to languages (Braj, Punjabi) as well as Urdu poetry by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. It is an amalgamation of not one but two poems of Faiz and it is a humbling plea, one whose meaning is just as profound when it was written. Set on music that allowed it to flourish rather than caging it, this version has made many of us curious to go back to the original works, as well as learn about languages of this region and understand that there was a time when oral tradition mattered, which is shown with the entrance of Arieb Azhar during the end of the song.

Song: ‘Baageshri’

Artist: Mole

Executive producers: Rohail Hyatt and

Umber Hyatt

Season: Four

No one expected this indie band to perform a song that was seeped and set on a raag (Bageshree) but that’s exactly what they did and still surpassed expectations.

Mole’s ‘Baageshri’, one of the few instrumentals to appear on the music series, is a modern interpretation that showed the band’s knowledge and respect for classical tradition and openness to experimental ideas. When you hear the song, it is obvious that while it has expected instruments such as synth, but it also has lush violins and some house-band members in addition to the band. There is no song in Coke Studio that is as unique as ‘Baageshri’ and that observation still applies.

Song: ‘Rang Laaga’

Artist: Sajjad Ali and Sanam Marvi

Executive producers: Rohail Hyatt and

Umber Hyatt

Season: Four

When Sajjad Ali first brought this song to Coke Studio, it was, in his mind, something celebratory. But as Rohail Hyatt spoke about our color being red (due to bomb blasts, drone attacks and everyday life carrying a fear), the song converted into an opera-esque, glorious, larger-than-life song.

That Sajjad Ali had equal amount of respect for Sanam Marvi as she did for him, which reflected in the video, made it feel like a song that was on equitable terms. This is one of those songs that you always come back to. A red wedding? Sounds ominous. But we, too, were (and even now) living in ominous times. It made perfect sense to take these artists because as artists, they complemented each other. This is not just season four’s but one of smartest collaboration in the show’s history that has seen its fair share of odd collaborations in addition to interesting ones.

Footnote: Noori’s performance of its own song, ‘Saari Raat Jaga’ from season 2, is the only other song from the show’s discography that also feels like an opera coming together.

Song: ‘Sawaal/Kande Utte’

Artist: Ali Azmat and Muazzam Ali Khan

Executive producer: Rohail Hyatt

Season: Six

Season six was the first season with which Coke Studio really made a colossal effort to reinvent the whole format of the music series in visual and audio department with Rohail Hyatt still running the show. This is among the best and most underrated seasons of Coke Studio. But that is a topic for another day.

However, if there is one song from the season that still finds space in our top ten list, ‘Sawaal/Kande Utte’, a collaboration between Ali Azmat and Muazzam Ali Khan is it.

With music played by a mostly new and international house-band as well as some local musicians, it is from Ali Azmat’s second album, Klashinifolk with Muazzam Ali Khan singing an old qawwali about love and longing that is said to be by the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Both renditions, with a different mood and undercurrent of emotions running through the song sing with their heart and it shows. This is how collaborations should be done, in fierce, lush and out-of-the-box fashion, like a shooting star we don’t know is coming.

Song: ‘Tere Liye’

Artist: Ali Azmat, Riaz Qadri and

Ghulam Qadri

Executive producers: Zohaib Kazi,

Ali Hamza

Season: 11

When a purely contemporary artist such as Ali Azmat – with brilliant songs in his arsenal – appears on this music series, it is among one of the more anticipated performances. In season 11, he brought his bag of tricks and a pristine collaboration. Ali Azmat appeared with Riaz Qadri and Ghulam Qadri. ‘Tere Liye’ was a mix of Urdu and Saraiki and was composed by Ali Azmat and Riaz Qadri with lyrics of ‘Tere Liye’ by Sabir Zafar and Dohra courtesy of Khwaja Ghulam Fareed. As a combined mix of rock and folk, the song was a strong example of how collaborations should be like.

Song: ‘Maahi Diyaan Jhokaan’

Artist: Barkat Jamal Fakir troupe

Executive producer: Rohail Hyatt

Season: 12

A song that speaks of love for the divine and aims to pass forward this Sufi message by cloaking it as stories of Ranjha, Sassi, it is drenched in both tradition and Sufi themes. Sung by the troupe in Saraiki, with lyrics by Khush Khair Muhammad, Sachal Sarmast and others, it is the mystical, melodic adrenaline shot the season needed. Presented in Coke Studio 12 in terrific format, full of melodies and hooks, the folk tune’s history is such that it is passed down from one generation to the next without losing its profundity.

Song: ‘Janay Na Tu’

Artist: Ali Khan

Executive producers: Strings

Music director: Jaffer Zaidi

Season: 9

In a music series that appeared to pay ode to not just tradition but pop elements, ‘Janay Na Tu’ by Ali Khan with its beautiful arrangements by music director Jaffer Zaidi, was and still is among the most irresistible and underrated songs in the music series songbook. Sung entirely in Urdu, and written by the artist, it feels like a lament of love and within the parameters of Coke Studio, it doesn’t just work, it soars higher than it would if Khan had dropped it minus the elaborate music embellishments.

Song: ‘Muaziz Saarif’

Artist: Meesha Shafi and Faris Shafi

Executive producer: Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan, aka Xulfi

Season: 14

They are siblings but both of them are known for having different musical styles. One is a rapper and the other is a singer. What no previous Coke Studio season or any commercial series could manage was accomplished by Xulfi and the siblings appeared on Coke Studio 14. If Faris Shafi brought his charismatic personality merged with rap drenched in nonchalance, Meesha Shafi brought a rebellious, lyrical wordplay and an original hook that combined with Faris Shafi’s rap wiped the floor with no other rapper coming close to this performance throughout what was the music series’ most successful outing thus far.

Song: ‘Peechay Hutt’

Artist: Justin Bibis, Talal Qureshi and Hasan Raheem

Executive producer: Xulfi

Season: 14

No Coke Studio top 10 list feels complete without the catchy single that is ‘Peechay Hutt’. It is a song where Hasan Raheem is flexing his identity as a new-age artist, full of swagger and wit, with three languages in play including Shina and English. While Justin Bibis provide the pristine complementary artistic element to the vibe Hasan Raheem has set with this song, it would’ve been great fun to see more of them in this song. Nonetheless, it is so damn catchy that even if you try, the chorus will find a way into your brain muscle memory even if its decaying and that really is saying something about this cheeky, unique and electronic number.