Friday, August 21, 2009

Hybrid In Nature

By Isambard Wilkinson, *Music show a source of pride for Pakistanis* - The National - Abu Dhabi, UAE
Thursday, August 13, 2009

Karachi: Millions of Pakistanis will gather around television and radio sets today to listen to a music production that has become a national phenomenon.

Coke Studio is a result of a collection of well-known musicians coming together to create songs that fuse traditional Pakistani forms with modern pop.

It has been a distracting salve for a country that has limped through a blazing summer of bloody fighting between militants and security forces, electricity shortages, monsoon floods and economic insecurity.

The talk of chat shows, blogs, newspaper columns and the victim of rampant pirating, the show has enjoyed unprecedented critical acclaim and is now hugely popular. In a country desperate for good news, it has arguably given Pakistanis longer lasting relief than their country’s victory in the Twenty20 cricket competition in June. “It has caught the imagination of the public and has become a symbol of the modern Pakistani tradition and identity, and it is a source of hope,” said Musharraf Zaidi, a leading political and social analyst.

Today is the fifth and final episode of Coke Studio’s second season.The episode has been dubbed “Unity Day” – after the motto of the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, “Unity, Faith and Discipline” – and is timed to coincide with the day Pakistan celebrates its creation and independence from British rule in 1947.

The show is broadcast simultaneously on at least 14 television channels and five radio stations. One fan affectionately described the blanket coverage as “musical martial law”.

The talent behind the production is Rohail Hyatt, a former Pakistani pop music star who became inspired by Sufic and other subcontinental musical genres. “The nation has taken to it. Pakistan is in a strange place going through something of an identity crisis. It has given people something to hold onto and say, ‘This is us’,” said Mr Hyatt. “People have to fight against the Taliban extremism on the one hand and the negative western media perception on the other with something and music has given us that,” added Mr Rohail.

One of the featured songs, Bulleya, based on a poem by the 17th century mystic Bulleh Shah, is a moving statement of identity, as the singer proclaims that he is “neither of the mosque but neither an infidel”.

“We do not have a 60-year but a 4,000-year-old tradition of music – which for those who think that life began in this area at partition is something of a blasphemy,” said Mr Hyatt.Pakistanis know and love the music and poetry of the subcontinent’s Muslim traditions. A vast number can recite dozens of verses of the region’s Sufi lyrical poetry in several languages, including the classical Persian.

“True” desis, as Pakistanis endearingly refer to themselves, from all classes enjoy sinking into trances with their heads leaning over crossed legs, meditatively tracing a musical path to “ishq”, the high of divine love, or spontaneously jigging to the spine-tingling drum beat of the dholki.

Coke Studio is produced by Mr Hyatt’s wife, Umber, and features artists on each episode – which are titled with a positive buzzword such as “harmony” or “equality” – who are backed by a house band and guest musicians.

Rizwan U Khan, the country manager for Coca-Cola Export Company, which has sponsored the production, said, “Coke Studio prides itself on providing a musical platform which bridges barriers, celebrates diversity, encourages unity and instils a sense of Pakistani pride.”

It was recorded earlier this year in a studio in Korangi, Karachi. This year’s line-up included musicians ranging from well-known pop artists such as Ali Zafar to traditional performers who have moved into the fusion style, including Javed Bashir and a female duo, Zeb and Haniya, from Kohat in the troubled North West Frontier Province.

Singing in Pashto, Persian, Urdu, Punjabi, Baloch and Sindi, musicians use instruments ranging from the rubab, a string instrument from Pakistan’s northern provinces, to the banjo, the dholak and sarangi. An Indian musician, Gurpreet Chana, was also invited to play tabla.

Perhaps the most unusual figure in the line-up is Saieen Zahoor, who is revered for his mesmeric renditions of kalaams – spiritual compositions by saintly Sufi poets.

Mr Hyatt said that when he first entered the studio everybody was hypnotised. Adorned with strands of beads and large rings on his fingers, he had the air of the impish Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Mr Zahoor learnt the Sufi musical tradition at shrines from the age of seven and is now 72. He writes his lyrics in drawings and has made arduous pilgrimages to shrines wearing chains and bells.

During the studio jamming sessions he said he carried the ecstasy inducing rhythm of dhamma to the proceedings. He held his hand to his stomach, and said: “Music is a diet for the soul, it is nourishing. When I recite Allah-u my heart absorbs the pleasure. Once you feel that, there is no return.”

“Music is not forbidden [in Islam]. It is a language and you cannot forbid talking,” he added.

Zeb said that music industry had previously stifled artists but that Coke Studio had given them an open platform that encouraged experimentation and cross-pollination as well as treated them as professionals.

“Usually we have poor production, poor sound, but this project was different because Rohail is a musician. We had genuine teamwork and a feeling of pride and nostalgia. And we got paid and on time,” she said.

Mr Hyatt accepted a criticism made by purists that Coke Studio was not classical music, but he gently brushed it off by pointing out people’s enjoyment of it. “It is hybrid in nature,” he said.

For Mr Hyatt, a moment that encapsulated what Coke Studio signifies was when Atif Aslam, a pop singer, improvised a beautiful, spiralling solo in classical Sufi style.

“That’s what it’s about: allowing the space to let creativity flow”.

Picture: Saieen Zahoor, famous for his renditions of kalaams - spiritual compositions by Sufi poets - rehearses for an appearance in Coke Studios. Photo: Muzammil Pasha for The National

2 comments:

mysticsmuses said...

I've heard a lot about Coke Studio. Probably its time I should watch it.
Thanks for sharing :)

bohotkhoob said...

The coke studio sessions are truly fantastic effort at fusion music. A couple of favorites:

Bulleh Shah's famous Aik Alif poem:
http://www.babelsongs.com/2009/06/aik-alif-by-saieen-zahoor-and-noori.html

Bulleya (Sufi Poem by Bulleh Shah):
http://www.babelsongs.com/2009/07/bulleya-by-riaz-ali-khan.html

As a bonus, these clips come with English translations!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hybrid In Nature
By Isambard Wilkinson, *Music show a source of pride for Pakistanis* - The National - Abu Dhabi, UAE
Thursday, August 13, 2009

Karachi: Millions of Pakistanis will gather around television and radio sets today to listen to a music production that has become a national phenomenon.

Coke Studio is a result of a collection of well-known musicians coming together to create songs that fuse traditional Pakistani forms with modern pop.

It has been a distracting salve for a country that has limped through a blazing summer of bloody fighting between militants and security forces, electricity shortages, monsoon floods and economic insecurity.

The talk of chat shows, blogs, newspaper columns and the victim of rampant pirating, the show has enjoyed unprecedented critical acclaim and is now hugely popular. In a country desperate for good news, it has arguably given Pakistanis longer lasting relief than their country’s victory in the Twenty20 cricket competition in June. “It has caught the imagination of the public and has become a symbol of the modern Pakistani tradition and identity, and it is a source of hope,” said Musharraf Zaidi, a leading political and social analyst.

Today is the fifth and final episode of Coke Studio’s second season.The episode has been dubbed “Unity Day” – after the motto of the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, “Unity, Faith and Discipline” – and is timed to coincide with the day Pakistan celebrates its creation and independence from British rule in 1947.

The show is broadcast simultaneously on at least 14 television channels and five radio stations. One fan affectionately described the blanket coverage as “musical martial law”.

The talent behind the production is Rohail Hyatt, a former Pakistani pop music star who became inspired by Sufic and other subcontinental musical genres. “The nation has taken to it. Pakistan is in a strange place going through something of an identity crisis. It has given people something to hold onto and say, ‘This is us’,” said Mr Hyatt. “People have to fight against the Taliban extremism on the one hand and the negative western media perception on the other with something and music has given us that,” added Mr Rohail.

One of the featured songs, Bulleya, based on a poem by the 17th century mystic Bulleh Shah, is a moving statement of identity, as the singer proclaims that he is “neither of the mosque but neither an infidel”.

“We do not have a 60-year but a 4,000-year-old tradition of music – which for those who think that life began in this area at partition is something of a blasphemy,” said Mr Hyatt.Pakistanis know and love the music and poetry of the subcontinent’s Muslim traditions. A vast number can recite dozens of verses of the region’s Sufi lyrical poetry in several languages, including the classical Persian.

“True” desis, as Pakistanis endearingly refer to themselves, from all classes enjoy sinking into trances with their heads leaning over crossed legs, meditatively tracing a musical path to “ishq”, the high of divine love, or spontaneously jigging to the spine-tingling drum beat of the dholki.

Coke Studio is produced by Mr Hyatt’s wife, Umber, and features artists on each episode – which are titled with a positive buzzword such as “harmony” or “equality” – who are backed by a house band and guest musicians.

Rizwan U Khan, the country manager for Coca-Cola Export Company, which has sponsored the production, said, “Coke Studio prides itself on providing a musical platform which bridges barriers, celebrates diversity, encourages unity and instils a sense of Pakistani pride.”

It was recorded earlier this year in a studio in Korangi, Karachi. This year’s line-up included musicians ranging from well-known pop artists such as Ali Zafar to traditional performers who have moved into the fusion style, including Javed Bashir and a female duo, Zeb and Haniya, from Kohat in the troubled North West Frontier Province.

Singing in Pashto, Persian, Urdu, Punjabi, Baloch and Sindi, musicians use instruments ranging from the rubab, a string instrument from Pakistan’s northern provinces, to the banjo, the dholak and sarangi. An Indian musician, Gurpreet Chana, was also invited to play tabla.

Perhaps the most unusual figure in the line-up is Saieen Zahoor, who is revered for his mesmeric renditions of kalaams – spiritual compositions by saintly Sufi poets.

Mr Hyatt said that when he first entered the studio everybody was hypnotised. Adorned with strands of beads and large rings on his fingers, he had the air of the impish Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Mr Zahoor learnt the Sufi musical tradition at shrines from the age of seven and is now 72. He writes his lyrics in drawings and has made arduous pilgrimages to shrines wearing chains and bells.

During the studio jamming sessions he said he carried the ecstasy inducing rhythm of dhamma to the proceedings. He held his hand to his stomach, and said: “Music is a diet for the soul, it is nourishing. When I recite Allah-u my heart absorbs the pleasure. Once you feel that, there is no return.”

“Music is not forbidden [in Islam]. It is a language and you cannot forbid talking,” he added.

Zeb said that music industry had previously stifled artists but that Coke Studio had given them an open platform that encouraged experimentation and cross-pollination as well as treated them as professionals.

“Usually we have poor production, poor sound, but this project was different because Rohail is a musician. We had genuine teamwork and a feeling of pride and nostalgia. And we got paid and on time,” she said.

Mr Hyatt accepted a criticism made by purists that Coke Studio was not classical music, but he gently brushed it off by pointing out people’s enjoyment of it. “It is hybrid in nature,” he said.

For Mr Hyatt, a moment that encapsulated what Coke Studio signifies was when Atif Aslam, a pop singer, improvised a beautiful, spiralling solo in classical Sufi style.

“That’s what it’s about: allowing the space to let creativity flow”.

Picture: Saieen Zahoor, famous for his renditions of kalaams - spiritual compositions by Sufi poets - rehearses for an appearance in Coke Studios. Photo: Muzammil Pasha for The National

2 comments:

mysticsmuses said...

I've heard a lot about Coke Studio. Probably its time I should watch it.
Thanks for sharing :)

bohotkhoob said...

The coke studio sessions are truly fantastic effort at fusion music. A couple of favorites:

Bulleh Shah's famous Aik Alif poem:
http://www.babelsongs.com/2009/06/aik-alif-by-saieen-zahoor-and-noori.html

Bulleya (Sufi Poem by Bulleh Shah):
http://www.babelsongs.com/2009/07/bulleya-by-riaz-ali-khan.html

As a bonus, these clips come with English translations!