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Reinventing fusion: Coke Studio Pakistan’s trip around the world
Abhirup Dam  15th Mar 2014

A screen shot from Coke Studio Pakistan Season 6, featuring Fariha Parvez

he song belongs to the rich and tonally intriguing repertoire of Balochi music. But most simply put, it is a love song — referencing the extremely popular love legend of Laila and Majnu, where the latter yearns to meet the former and is singing in anticipation of the rendezvous. The track opens with a repeating 2-4 rhythm which is accompanied by a host of string instruments and an accordion. Halfway through the composition we arrive at an interlude which features a rather odd piece of string instrument called the Hardanger violin. This Norwegian fiddle with sympathetic strings is extremely close to the Sarangi, but with fewer strings. The rhythm which is played has the same beats as the Balochi song and fits in perfectly, providing a somewhat interesting tonal friction. Laila (the song in question), sung by Sweden-based Balochi singer Rostam Mirlashari, is one of the many superb compositions produced under the direction of Rohail Hyatt for the sixth season of Coke Studio Pakistan. The present season is truly collaborative in nature and represents a successful and sophisticated instance of layering separately recorded tracks to create one singular stunning composition. Musicians and artists from Italy, Serbia, Nepal, Turkey, Bangladesh, Morocco and Norway have come together to produce a truly international sound which refreshingly sets the faltering pendulum of fusion music back into swing.

Like the Hardanger violin, the various compositions feature the employment of a host of remarkable traditional instruments which impart a unique sound quality to each of the pieces. In Ishq Kinara - Üsküdar'a Gider Iken, a composition sung by Zoe Viccaji and Turkish mandolinist and singer Sumru Ağryürüyen, we witness the fantastic use of two stringed instruments which have very distinct individual sounds but fuse marvellously with the composition. The Turkish Kanun, variations of which are also played across the Middle East, Central Asia and south-eastern Europe, is a zither (musical string instrument, consisting of many strings stretched across a thin, flat body) which is played by the plucking of strings with a plectrum. Unlike string instruments like the guitar or lure, the sound produced differs much in tone due the absence of a neck. The Kora is a 21-string bridge har used extensively in West Africa, played here by Kaw Dialy Madi Sissoko, a musical of Malines origin, living in Italy. The composition brings together an extremely popular song which has versions and variants throughout Central Asian, Middle Eastern and south-east European musical traditions. The Turkish version of the song sung by Ağryürüyen talks about a journey to the town of Üsküdar somewhere in the Ottoman Empire, where a woman sings in admiration of her fellow traveller and katib or scribe. The Kora sounds just like the harp, but when played in the traditional style, it is extremely similar to flamenco and delta blues guitar techniques.

Musicians and artists from Italy, Serbia, Nepal, Turkey, Bangladesh, Morocco and Norway have come together to produce a truly international sound that refreshingly sets the faltering pendulum of fusion music back into swing.

Talking about string instruments, it will not be fair if one does not talk about the superb intro piece played on the Nepalese Sarangi in Laage re Nain (a composition in Raag Bhopali), sung by Ayesha Omar. While the classical Indian Sarangi has many sympathetic strings, the Nepali one has only four strings, all of which are played and served primarily as an accompaniment to folk storytelling traditions. The almost nasal, languid sound of the Sarangi permeates into the very base rendition of the song which is played against a synchronised beat, imparting almost a soul-like feel to the song. This is further played out by the usage of very Gospel and R&B sounding pieces on organs or electric pianos. Jogi, performed by Fariha Parvez and featuring Muazzam Ali Khan is probably one of the best tracks that this season of the show had produced. The song is a traditional qawali but with a completely different distribution of beats which transforms it to a completely different rhythm scheme. The usage of saxophones played by an ensemble of Serbian musicians provides the pice with an extremely Western and catchy staccato rhythm.

Coke Studio Pakistan Season 6 has most importantly been successful in embodying the universalist nature of music. It is a fascinating journey through a vast range of musical traditions and situating Pakistan's own repertoire of sounds, melodies and rhythm in this wide ranging framework. Other Pakistani artists like Atif Aslam, Ali Azmat, Zeb & Haniya, Sanam Marvi and Saieen Zahoor also make appearances in this season.

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