Friday, December 9, 2011

Restructuring Musical Stalagmites: Coke Studio Pakistan

As any casual follower of the Washerman’s Dog knows I happen to believe that Pakistan is one of the world’s underappreciated musical khazanas (treasure chest).  It should come as no surprise really.  It is a great expanse of land dissected by mighty rivers and home to the world’s longest continuous civilisation.  Its soil is soaked with the blood of Greeks, Persians, Arabs, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, Europeans and Turks (to mention just a few) all of whom fought for possession of this rich land and its sacred sites.

Much has been made of this history of constant conquest. Some say it explains why democracy can’t exist there: because grabbing what you can and stealing it away before the next marauder comes along is a more natural (and appropriate) way to live. Pledging your allegiance to whoever has the biggest sword is just too ingrained.  I once had a Pakistani professor explain to me that because of this brutal history modern Pakistan could aspire only to be the world’s ‘best second rate country.’

Who knows?

One thing is beyond debate. Mixed in all that blood and mud lies some pretty damn rich culture.  Every conquering tribe left behind a bit of itself and over the millennia huge invisible stalagmites of music, poetry, religion and art have emerged out of the land that so many call mera qaum (my home). They may not be visible these giant pillars but everyone knows they exist. And that they are to be held in deep respect.

Tonight’s post is a contemporary interpretation of and homage to some of that ancient culture.  And weirdly enough it comes to us via the good people at Coca Cola! I’m still shaking my head but over the past few years Coke has sponsored and indeed created a platform for Pakistani musicians of various genres, eras and sensibilities to come together and create new music. Or reconfigure the old stalagmites. Abida Parveen with electric keyboards and guitars. Old Sufi poetry put to amazing new beats. Straight ahead Pakistani rock and roll. 

Arif Lohar

And I have to say some of the stuff I’m sharing tonight is about the most exciting music I’ve heard in a long time. Especially the work of Arif Lohar, son of Alam Lohar, arguably Punjab’s most revered folk singer.  The way in which he has been able to reimagine an old Sufi devotional song Mirza Sahiban as a roaring 21st century rock anthem is amazing. Even more astounding is that in the process neither he nor the music has lost a shred of its spiritual intensity or integrity. Similarly, his reworking of one of his father’s most loved songs Jugni is exhilarating. But the pièce de résistance is his mournful acoustic prayer Sal-e-Alla. It sends shivers down the spine and ranks with one of the best spirituals of all time. Of any tradition.
Zeb and Haniya

In between are beautiful pieces by the female duo Zeb and Haniya who sing a gorgeous interpretation of a Turkish song Nazar Ayele. Karawan do a moody slightly jazzy number Kaise Mumkin Hai. And Atif Aslam, the hottest singer on the subcontinent shows up with a nice Punjabi pop ballad.

So successful has this Coke Studio concept been that this year it has migrated to (or should I say conquered) India. I can’t wait to hear what comes next from either side of the border.

         Track Listing:
         01 Mirza Sahiban (Arif Lohar)
02 Nazar Ayele (Zeb and Haniya)
03 Hori Way Niwan (unknown)
04 Haq Mojud (Amanat Ali and Sanam Marvi)
05 Kaise Mumkin Hai (Karawan)
06 Jugni/Alif Allah (Arif Lohar and Meesha)
07 Raah Takdi (Unknown)
08 Sal-e-Aala (Arif Lohar)
09 Rona Chadta (Atif Aslam)  

Listen here.


Rebecca said...

Coca Cola doing music in Pakistan?! What a weird and wonderful world!

Apurva Bahadur said...

Thank you for sharing this album. Recently, the Coke Studio had an Indian edition, which was not a patch on the one across the border. Apurva from Pune, India.

ajnabi said...

Apurva, That's what I've heard. Too bad.

Fawad Zakariya said...

Ajnabi sahib, thanks for sharing this. There are many other gems that have come out of the Coke Studio productions over its four seasons including Farid Ayaz's Kangana, Tina Sani, Saieen Zahoor, Meesha Shafi and many others. I don't say this in any competitive spirit but I was disappointed by the Indian version. There is such richness in Indian music but Leslie Lewis was not able to tap it capably. I am still hopeful that future seasons will improve and that the Indian version will find its own rhythm. Rohail Hyatt's production in the PK version has been quite innovative but it also improved with each season.

Fawad Zakariya said...

BTW, Hor Vi Neevan Ho is by the Pakistani pop band Noori. The brothers Ali Noor and Ali Hamza comprise the band and it's Ali Hamza's baritone voice that starts the song.

ajnabi said...

Fawad sahib, from all reports you're right The Indian version is far less impressive than the Pak version. Which is not surprising given its always hard to replicate an original. Thanks for the name of the band and info. Its a great song.

barna imre said...

please could you re up

Nathan Rabe said...

check back in an hour.