After transporting us to Kalash, followed by Sindh and then Balochistan, and introducing us to the dynamic talent of Ariana and Amrina, Shamu Bai and Vishnu and Mangal and gang respectively, Coke Studio Explorer moved to Punjab for it’s forth episode before concluding in Kashmir with the fifth and final one.
Explorer, an experimental new module introduced this year that precedes Coke Studio 11, has injected new life into the music series. More to the point, the five-part series is an acknowledgment that Pakistan consists of more than two provinces, poets, languages and calling yourself the spirit of the nation only makes sense if it actually is celebrates that spirit.
Furthermore, we also know that some of the artists featured on Coke Studio Explorer will also be seen on Coke Studio 11 and that is another step in the right direction.
Being helmed jointly by Zohaib Kazi and Ali Hamza, Explorer is very much about fusion but it’s a different kind of fusion; it’s certainly not overwhelming and gives minimalism and electronic elements a chance.
Having gotten the first three songs (and episodes) right, Explorer added with the presence of Mishal Khwaja, a cosmopolitan element in a series that has mostly explored indigenous music narratives in all other episodes.
Born in Sialkot, raised in Toronto, she fell on the producer(s) radar as they scoured Instagram for talent and found her. To record and shoot the song, they brought her back to Pakistan. And the video sees Khwaja, joined by co-producers Ali Hamza (playing guitars) and Zohaib Kazi (electronic elements master), singing the song inside a minaret, against the majestic Lahore fort. “The idea was to record the reverb and resonance of the space to capture the essence and cultural heritage of Punjab,” noted an Explorer press release.
‘Tere Bin Soona’ is composed by Mishal Khwaja, who does have a voice with potential but lyrically the song is tedious and therefore disappointing. The music, accompanying it, is good but still cannot rescue it. And while the video is certainly worth watching, the song ultimately doesn’t come close to the power of the previous episodes or the one that came after it. It is perhaps the only weak link in an otherwise ideal first Explorer series.
As for the finale, the producers rightly ended it in Kashmir, with an outfit that calls itself Qasamir, named after their land.
When you think of Kashmir, you’re thinking of a beautiful land that is entrenched in conflict and humanitarian violations. But this song makes you forget that and tells you a story about a group of musicians, who the producers found in Muzaffarabad.
The story of Qasamir begins with Altaf Mir, the chief vocalist, who sings in the Kashmiri language, as well as Ghulam Mohammad Daar (Sarangi), Saifuddin Shah (Tumbaknaer) and Manzoor Ahmed Khan (Garha).
The BTS footage gives one a glimpse into the recording process and the interaction between the producers and this incredibly fascinating group.
“My heart’s desire has been fulfilled,” says one of them and knowing that it is their first ever commercial performance together, you can’t help but hope that you see more of them. A lot more.
As for the song ‘Ha Gulo’, the poetry speaks of lost love and is penned by Kashmiri poet Peerzada Ghulam Ahmad, better known as Mahjoor. As Altaf Mir Mir sings this folk song, joined by his band members, the poetry gets a life of its own. The sonic effects put in place by the producers lead to a song that is both a wonder and a smashing success. The video featuring this incredible foursome, shot in Muzaffarabad, is gorgeous and gets adorable as the group dances at one point; the final result is quite special, enough to be the finale.
Photography by Insiya Syed