Instep Today

Coke Studio 12: Ali Sethi steals the show in episode four

Instep Today
By Maheen Sabeeh
Tue, 11, 19

In the fourth episode, it is Ali Sethi’s rendition of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poem from when he was imprisoned, first sung by the great Mehdi Hassan, that will give you goose bumps, followed closely by Sanam Marvi’s performance.

There are two things you should know from the beginning: (a) Coke Studio has never gone wrong with someone like Ali Sethi or Sanam Marvi and (b) now give them material that has soul and divinity and they will put everything into it, so much so that you will forgive the show for inviting them to the music television series – again.

While Ali Sethi and Sanam Marvi are Coke Studio’s hidden gems, doing justice to material set before them, the same cannot be said about Sahir Ali Bagga and Aima Baig, both of whom – featured in this episode for some godforsaken reason sans a single unknown folk act unlike previous episodes. And while Sanam Marvi and Ali Sethi should be welcomed due to their talent, the latter two should not be repeated. They both sound better with film soundtracks now that Pakistani films are getting back on track. Thus, the mere invitation to them feels less like Coke Studio finding that unique, unknown talent based on pure merit and more like Coke Studio falling in line with what they think sells, based on numbers garnered in the past couple of years.

So, let us begin with what was good in this episode.

This is not the first time Ali Sethi has attempted a Mehdi Hassan track. He sang ‘Ranjish Hi Sahi’ some time back and had it pat down.

‘Gulon Main Rang’ is trickier, because it is based on poetry written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz while he was imprisoned in Montgomery Prison; furthermore it is a ghazal that was first sung by Mehdi Hassan.

Poetically, so goes the press statement “it showcases Faiz’s ability to interweave classical idioms of romance and Divine Love with those of revolution and social justice. The poetry implores one’s beloved to return so that colors would return to flowers and springtime would descend on the world. The writer is sad and lovelorn one moment, yearning to hear of their beloved, and optimistic the next, celebrating their own sacrifices in the name of love.”

Set in Raag Jhinjhoti, and first aired on Radio Pakistan and featured in a film called Farangee in 1964, the ghazal is revived by the master that is Ali Sethi who is constantly trying to learn from his predecessors, the oft-forgotten legends of the lands.

For anyone else, this would be a daunting task, but for someone like Sethi who has made learning from the greats an art-form, this contemporary rendition at times feels more like an ode to the original with the harmonium and tabla and at moments feels like a love letter, both irresistible and magical, where poetry meets music with ebb and flow that is so distinct and so hopeful you can’t help but be moved by it. Said Sethi in a press statement, “When you express your feelings through your voice and poetry, you are inviting people to recognize their own emotions. Music is a miracle. If you move someone’s heart with music, all differences between you and them are wiped away for a bit.”

Ali’s understanding of poetry and music is so special that when applied to any song, whether it is a Coke Studio track or a cover song for his own self, something new emerges. And that is one of his many strengths that he brought to Coke Studio 12. Some will be moved to venture into the unknown and find the original by the late Mehdi Hassan while others will marvel at just the song they’ve heard for the first time.

This is not an easy rendition and for Ali to master it the way he has, goes to show his incredible range that is constantly growing, never seizing to amaze us along the way.

‘Gulon Mein Rung’ is infectious, as was ‘Dil Jalaney Ki Baat’ many moons ago that put Ali on our collective radar.

Coming in a close second is Sanam Marvi, who first appeared on Coke Studio in season 3 and is still remembered for her song ‘Pritam’ and her collaboration with Sajjad Ali on symphony-esque ‘Rang Laaga’ in season 4. She is back with a solo number called ‘Hairaan Hua’ bringing to life the Sufi poetry of Sachal Sarmast where the love spoken of is for the Divine as the track goes on to shine a light on Sufi mystics and their intense love for the Divine. Her voice never breaks, it takes such great ownership of the verses that she will remind you of a young Abida Parveen and that is meant as the highest compliment that comes to mind. Sanam Marvi is so impressive and so original that you will enjoy the imperfections, the rise to the highest sky. The only drawback is how the music goes towards a gradual crescendo, except the original opening was working so well, the crescendo feels like overdoing it. But as long as is on the mic, you’re bound to listen.

The third song (where things start falling apart), a collaboration between Sahir Ali Bagga and Aima Baig is well, a film song that belongs in a JPNA. Called ‘Dhola’ it is the elevator music/filler song in the episode and truly an abomination that ruins what could’ve been a solid episode. It’s Bagga doing Bagga for the umpteenth time, joined by Aima Baig who is already a big name in film music and has already been on Coke Studio. While this elevator music filler plays, it leaves you wondering why this great disillusion was repeated. The song meanders its way into Coke Studio and I truly wish it could meander out, in some film where it has potential to be appreciated with choreography and actors. But on Coke Studio, it is out of place and out of time.

– Photography Credits: Kohi Marri for Coke Studio Season 12