Coke Studio: The Gift That Should Stop Giving

Sometime back I wrote an article about how we need to get over our Coke Studio addiction before it’s too late. Well, my dears, we’ve reached the fair land of “it’s too late”. And look who’s here to greet us, Ali Hamza and the travesty, the train wreck, the tumultuous assault on Pakistani music. The horror otherwise called Coke Studio Season 11.

The Mummy.. I mean Coke Studio Returns

Yeah, I know Ushah wrote an article where she said ( and I shudder as I type this), Coke Studio is back. I mean , she is right, the show is back. But, it’s back to ruining our favourite, most nostalgic songs, in completely unforgivable ways. While yes, I liked the songs she listed. And exactly one other but that’s what makes this season so unforgivable. Even more so than the last one.

I was very unimpressed by this season when it started. I mean I applauded “Pareek” and the somewhat half-hearted attempt to bring Pakistani Music to the mainstream. Then, however, they brought on Mishal Khawaja, whose voice while good, is severely dulled by the forced, London-return Urdu accent. And here is where the snowball starts rolling downhill.


Rock’n’Rolling Downhill

I did say I liked the songs chronicled by The Kollective’s own Pop Culture Junkie, I feel compelled to point something out. 3 out of the 5 songs listed were part of the first episode. I’d further add Abida Parveen’s other song, the sufi kalaam, Balaghal Ula Be Kamalihi, as the only other good entry. That too, only because Abida Parveen is a force of nature and her voice creates its own magic. That alone is enough to elevate any track, regardless of poor arrangements.

I really don’t know how Ali Hamza did it.

It’s a feat that should be recognised. He single-handedly took some of the best Pakistani singers and a few extremely overrated ones and produced literal dribble. I agree Coke Studio had already begun waning long before Ali Hamza took hold of the helm. The shock is, the new captain turned out to be more perilous than the storm.

Larceny of the Soul

In 2011, when Coke Studio was reshaping the landscape of Pakistani Music, what drew me to it was its soul. Music has the enviable ability to transport our consciousnesses. Hitting the right notes can set us off on other-worldly journeys through our headphones. With the right conciertos, we are both lost and found. Songs like “Alif Allah” and “Bibi Sanam Janum” exemplified that.


I guess that’s what happens when genius is allowed free reign. In a bid to be commercial and mainstream, as to go viral, Coca-Cola and Ali Hamza did the unthinkable.

They robbed Coke Studio of its soul.

Formulaic Violations

Aside from the songs I’ve mentioned and Ushah has listed, I can very easily describe all the rest using exactly these two words: lazy and unimaginative. Lazy is a word that applies especially to the remakes made. The worst of which is Hawa Hawa.

I appreciate that they managed to get Jahangir on board but I half to say this. Modernising music doesn’t mean you add a funky prelude, recreate the song as it was, adding unnecessary interludes. To make matters worse, you’re adding singers just to up the draw and share-ability.

Gul Panrra is a good singer but her voice doesn’t match the song or the arrangements. But let’s add her anyways because we spent too much time these last two years building up Momina Musthessan. We need need a replacement for when she eventually gets too big for us to handle.

The funky prelude formula applies to nearly all the songs. As if, Coca-Cola Pakistan decided to apply its checklist policy to Coke Studio too. Where as, since they have been launching products half-heartedly, just to check a box (Sprite Mint, Monster, Mutant etc), making formulaic remakes seems logical. I mean, they fill up two slots in every episode that way.

Expectations Exceeded (Not in a Good Way)

Note: Since writing the above, episode 9 was just released. I’m please to inform you that the title of worst remake has changed hands. It now sits comfortably on the mantle of Momina Mustehsan’s and Ahad Raza Mir’s version of Koko Korina. Never have I seen such a violation of a classic. Not even Bollywood was this heartless.

Cringe-inducing chemistry and failed attempts at sensuality aside, this version does away with the charm and charisma of the original. It’s no longer about a man pining over the unattainable beauty. It’s about shoving down the celebrity of the two performers down our throats.

The void widens where Coke Studio’s soul once made its humble abode.

Anticlimactic Originality

Even the originals lacked the usual flare. I think the most disappointing for me was Asrar’s song. This man is a legend in his own right. Lajpaal Ali from last year’s Pepsi Battle of the Bands is  on of my all-time favourites. But here, he seemed both unwilling and unable to manifest his usual magical blend of Sufi rock. Instead, reduced to performing a campfire version of what could otherwise have been a game-changer.

The ever reliable Bilal Khan delivers a first though. His first disappointment. The ‘Bachana’ singer’s offering here is ‘Apna Gham’. I’ve already conveyed my thoughts on her and I’m not going to repeat them. But this song suffers from more than just that.

It’s by no means a bad song. However Bilal’s previous songs were endlessly relatable. Here, it seems designed to fit a very narrow, commercial brief. The same can we said about Ali Azmat’s ‘Tere Liye’. Very mediocre performances from otherwise legendary artists.

It really hurts having to type Ali Azmat and mediocre in the same context. See what you’ve made me do Coke?!

Complacent Mediocrity

They’ve even dragged the likes of Jawad Ahmed and Abrar-ul-Huq down into the realms of mediocrity. How many more cardinal sins are we doing to forgive? Was defiling ‘Lal Meri Pat’ not enough? That we allowed them to continue and violate even more songs?

If last year was the time we got over our addiction, this year is the year we finally leave it behind. I mean there are so many great independent artists (Natasha Humera Ejaz) and amazing bands (Kashmir) now. We won’t be starved for music now, even without what was once our saviour.


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