Faraz Anwar’s ‘Ujaalon Mein’, co-sung with singer-songwriter Faiza Mujahid and produced by Jaffer Zaidi, is an eighties-esque, rock opera, replete of flashy guitar solos and a lot of soul.
Apart from Faraz Anwar’s mighty return, a disappointing low emerges in episode five.
Five episodes in, Coke Studio, the biggest and most contested music production in the country, presently in its 10th season, is struggling in terms of consistency. For every one song the production gets right, there are two songs that let you down at every turn with every episode.
The groove and innovation that made its earlier years so memorable is no longer palpable. It also feels as if the production is stuck in its own glory and heavily reliant on the fusion element that is no longer the need of the hour.
Ten years since inception, the element of surprise has all but gone from a show that was once driven by meritocracy; a philosophy that has diminished in value to the production as can be gauged with the conspicuous presence of several star-kids featured across this season. Like previous episodes, the fifth one too contained a total of four songs and of those, three remain a letdown.
Our story begins with Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, who sadly is not getting anything right when it comes to Coke Studio and that has been the case with him for some time now. He is an accomplished singer whose reputation as a live performer precedes him.
So, whether it’s his ideas that are not translating properly or whether it’s because the vision of the music director(s) is simply not coming together – whatever the reason, the result remains the same. The architecture of the sound that accompanies his songs feels unimaginative.
Having made a disastrous appearance with ‘Sayonee’, Khan repeats the letdown with with his second song from the season that can be found in the fifth episode.
‘Rangrez’, which is directed by Sahir Ali Bagga, can’t decide whether it belongs to Coke Studio or to a Bollywood film soundtrack. Consequently, it is neither. RFAK’s vocals remain a high point but that’s not enough. To this day, RFAK’s best performance(s) on Coke Studio belongs to the inaugural edition. It is equally true that Bagga can’t decide whether he is producing tracks on Coke Studio or whether he is working on a film soundtrack. The result is a mess.
Things are not as bad in Shuja Haider’s ‘Sab Maya Hai’ which is co-sung by the masterful Attaullah Esakhelvi and son Sanwal Esakhelvi. Lyrically, it is one of the strongest songs to emerge from the season but the folk song needed to be elevated to a higher dimension and that doesn’t happen here. Think back to season four of Coke Studio when Attaullah Esakhelvi made his debut into the production with ‘Pyaar Naal’ and ‘Ni Oothaan Waale’ and what is clear is that musically those were stronger appearances.
The saving grace of this episode is the duet between guitar guru Faraz Anwar and singer-songwriter Faiza Mujahid. The song, ‘Ujaalon Mein’, was originally released by Faraz Anwar with his music group Mizraab several years ago. But the reinterpretation thankfully is in complete contrast, even as the melody remains the same. Jaffer Zaidi has conceived a concoction as music director that is driven home by a beautiful piano and consists so many different elements that it is hard to not be impressed.
Anwar has never sounded better and this song is a reminder that we need to see him get behind the mic a lot more. Joined by an equally compelling Faiza Mujahid, the duet appears as an eighties-esque rock opera, replete of flashy guitar solos. Towards the end of the song, as Anwar (who admitted in the BTS footage right before the final recording that he was nervous and excited about the track) breaks into a smile, you know right in that moment, like he does, that the production is special and enduring.
Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan takes on the words of Faiz Ahmed Faiz in a song produced by Shani Arshad and one that is meant to be a tribute to the poet.
Originally composed by Arshad Mehmud and sung by the likes of Tina Sani, ‘Bol’ represents the personal narrative of Faiz and a depiction of Pakistan’s political landscape during the period it was written. The version on Coke Studio sounds sanitized and needed a fierce, palpable energy that vibrated the enduring power and wisdom of this poem. Shani Arshad’s production is sweet-sounding whereas it needed to be intense.
All in all, episode five got more things wrong than right and that ratio needs to reverse if the show is going to continue in the long run.