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When a season of Coke Studio opens with a duet by Momina Mustehsan and Danyal Zafar, you know there is reason to worry. Let’s face it: neither of them is good enough to be singing in Coke Studio. Maybe everyone wants to cash in on their rumoured budding romance but keep that for the tabloids.

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This season was filled with tribute pieces (rehashed arrangements of popular ghazals and qawwalis) and none of them stood out as memorable. The compositions lacked energy, innovation and drama – the salient features of Coke Studio. There was no marriage of musical and lyrical influences from around the country, no exploration of philosophies, poetry or contrasting genres and it seemed like a season no one was looking forward. Strings seems to be out of ideas (and honestly, almost every piece sounds tired and been-there-heard-that) and needs to take a break and rejuvenate. As the stress was on the music producers this season, surprisingly, everybody – other than Ali Hamza and Shuja Haider – failed miserably at the task. Especially Salman Ahmad of Junoon, who butchered his cult Sayonee (when Rahat Fateh Ali Khan is singing your song and it still fails, you have a huge problem) and Ghoom Taana. Also, Shani Arshad, if you are reading this, I caught your bluff. Re-arranging Maula-e-Kull (Abida Parveen, Season 9) and passing it off as Maula Tera Noor (Shafqat, Episode 7)? Really?  

 

Also, what is with the obsession with Ali Zafar? The man performed four songs this season – none of which are up there with his best numbers. Jaan-e-baaharaan was a sloppy experiment, Julie was a college band track, Yo Soch is hummable at best and Us Rah Par is a big fat serving of meh. The other singers were a major disappointment too. Meesha Shafi was missing (she is a judge on Pepsi Battle Of The bands), QB and Umair Jaswal came back for two and one track respectively – and failed to leave a mark because the producers wasted two dynamite performers by arranging tracks which are lack lustre and boring. Ali Sethi, Sanwal Khan Esakhelvi and Waqar Ehsin were quite the revelations but appeared only on one episode. As did the outstanding Shafqat Amanat Ali and Ahmed Jahanzeb (what a fabulous performance). The rest of the singers were not memorable at all, most of them being second generation performers, who have received the stage because of their parents – and this year’s apparent theme of lineage and legacy (what else explains the tribute-giving and frequent father-kid duet performances?). Nepotism, one notices, is a feature of the sub-continent.

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Danyal should go back to school. As should Momina and Zaw Ali. Bring back the fireworks, Coke Studio. Bring back Rahat, Abida, Meesha, QB, Umair Jaswal, Atif Aslam, Noorie and all the wonderful people who have blown our minds every season. And rein in Ali Zafar – the man is fantastic when his head’s not in the clouds.

I select the best of this season, though (to end this review on a positive note). Sadly, it was very easy – and the list is very short:

The absolutely brilliant (definitely wins a spot in the “Best of Coke Studio” list)

Allahu Akbar – Episode 1

Ali Hamza’s power-packed Tinak Dhin – Episode 2

Sab Maya Hai – a wonderful father-son duet by Attaullah Khan Esakhelvi and Sanwal Khan Esakhelvi – Episode 5

Ali Hamza came back with a scintillating girl gang in Kaatay Na Kattay – Episode 6

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