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Music Review: Coke Studio S9 Has Flavours of Spring and Divinity

Episode 1 of Coke Studio season 9 stuns with Abida Parveen and Zeb Bangash, but turns out to be a mixed bag.

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Coke Studio, our favourite annual music project, just got even more collaborative in its 9th season, fusing Pakistani artists, genres, producers and melodies like never before. This is one broth that only gets better with the number of cooks stirring it.

As the first episode of the brand new season drifted onto our playlists on 13 August, it gave my Independence Day celebrations a happy flavour. In its music, Pakistan and India come together beautifully. What makes season 9 really unique is the coming together of six music directors (including the Noori brothers). And what makes it consistently brilliant is that it brings us face to face with intense folk and contemporary talent that has somehow been quite underrated.

Episode 1 though, is a mixed bag. While Aaqa and Aaja Re Moray Saiyaan stand out as soul stirring tracks, Janay Na Tu and Sasu Mangay are more of a one time listen.

Touched By Divinity: Aaqa Featuring Abida Parveen and Ali Sethi

I have to admit my bias towards Abida Parveen (and anything she sings), but what really makes this devotional qawwali sublime is Ali Sethi. His vocal range and the unconventional pairing with the legendary sufi icon makes this track worthy of playing on loop. The qawwals singing the chorus take Aaqa to a divine high and in my opinion they’re big stars too. Shuja Haider’s recreation of the age old naat is interesting and what I love even more than Sethi and Parveen coming together for the very first time, is the perfect harmony between the harmonium, the rubab and a fierce set of drums.

It must’ve been intimidating enough for Sethi to perform sitting next to the queen of sufi, and while she remains unbeatable, I applaud him for stepping out of his comfort zone and winning this. Yeh sab tumahra karam hai aaqa, true words have been sung.

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Falling In Love With Autumn: Aaja Re Moray Saiyaan Featuring Zeb Bangash

Zeb Bangash and the Noori brothers come together for a love song that has the freshness of spring. It’s flamboyant, happy and full of hope. Ali Hamza drops his rock band act for this one and blends in with Zeb’s vocals effortlessly. A clever collaboration I must say. Aaja Re Moray Saiyaan is a perfect amalgamation of Hindustani khayal and Pakistani kamaal. With a few words of Urdu sprinkled here and there, this funky folk melody is easy and accessible, perfect for that weekend long drive too. Rim jhim rim jhim megha barse is my favourite verse, for obvious reasons :P

Disappointingly Un-Original: Janay Na Tu Featuring Ali Khan

Ali Khan has been missing in action for a whole decade, ever since his chartbuster hit Saathiya, back in 2006. His comeback with Janay Na Tu is proof that he’s still stuck in time with pop ballads, and is singing them the same way too. This might be a groovy take on heartbreak, but it seriously lacks the element of fusion and originality. Honestly, I heard the whole track only because I’m a fan of Jaffer Zaidi, the lead singer of Kaavish, and the music director of this nostalgic number. Janay Na Tu might have worked well in the era in which Ali penned it, but it slips into the corny and over produced zone today.

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Folk Trumps Rock: Sasu Mangay Featuring Umair Jaswal and Naseebo Lal

If you loved Shiraz Uppal’s genius in Atif Aslam’s Tajdar-E-Haram from the last season, this Rajasthani folk fusion will leave you a bit flummoxed. Though Naseebo Lal’s rustic voice will transport you back to the dunes, Umair Jaswal fails to experiment with his standard rock style. Sasu Mangay could be a fun play in a wedding set up, but otherwise, it’s worth only a one time play.

While episode 1 might have turned out to be a mixed bag, I still have my hopes pinned high for the rest of the season. In music at least, Pakistan and India remain inseparable.

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