Monday, May 14, 2012

Mera Eh Charkha Naulakha Kuray

The above is from the opening episode of Coke Studio Season 5. Atif Aslam and Qayaas reworking a classic Nusrat qawwali, “Mera Eh Charkha Naulakha Kuray.”

It’s very tastefully done and in a manner that came as a pleasant surprise. The song reminds me quite a bit of Muk Gaye Ne by Junoon, especially in the way it starts, and that’s probably not a bad template to follow. The mood’s kept sufficiently dark throughout, the music allowing both Atif and Qayaas's lead vocalist Umair Jaswal plenty of space to be heard and work their magic. Not unlike a qawwali it builds up slowly, mixing verses from Fareed (is that a hint of Pathanay Khan I hear in Atif's voice by the way?) and Bulleh Shah, and reaching a crescendo towards the end.

I should admit here that I was initially quite horrified when I learned about this song via the behind the scenes preview videos they released last week. For a couple of reasons:

One, I find Atif annoying in general. I can't put my finger on exactly why, but I just do. The idea of him covering an artist that I love so dearly just didn’t sit well with me.

Second, I didn’t understand why Rohail Hyatt (the show’s producer) would want to mess with a qawwali, and a Nusrat qawwali no less. My apprehension here was around the general idea of fusion with qawwali. It doesn't always work. Qawwali music arrangements tend to be quite minimalist in nature. You have one or two harmoniums, a guy on percussions (tabla/dhol), and a few others clapping their hands. That for the most part is it. The main focus is on the vocals, and by extension the poetry or kalaam.

But then when you bring in fusion with western instrumentalization, such as what was done last season with Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad's Kangna, it dilutes the experience in my opinion. Now, don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed that track and was more than overjoyed that they gave them a whopping 16 minutes to run with. But it would’ve been even better had the house band been asked to sit one out for a change. Get rid of the bass and the drums and let me hear the harmonium instead of the electric piano.

However, I think this sort of goes to what one thinks the premise of the show is. In Rohail’s own words, 'it’s an experience of discovery' and one in which he strives to provide viewers a bridge to a history and tradition of music that has hitherto largely been ignored. A good way of doing this is by easing people into it, using modern instruments and young and upcoming artists – Qayaas in this case - which simultaneously gives them a chance to shine and gain exposure. It’s a good formula and has worked extremely well before and does so again.

Simply put, any bridge that leads you to Nusrat is a good one in my book. Hopefully this song takes people over to the original qawwali as well. Just in case you're too lazy to search for it yourself, though, here it is in all it's glory. It's long; just the introduction - from the time the music starts through to Nusrat leading the alaap and on to the title verse - lasts longer than the entirety of the Coke Studio version. Though I guarantee once you start listening the 35+ minutes will fly by.

This performance is part of a full three-hour concert, which through the wonders of YouTube is also available online.

(And if you're looking for more stuff like this, subscribe right away to user AVNISHIT's channel. This guy is to Nusrat what robelinda2 is to cricket. Hours upon hours of rare, live recordings. Serious fun.)


karachikhatmal said...

Great read as always.

I really like what you said about the song being a bridge. The thing about any good cover is that it draws you inexorably towards the original.

And this is something that puritans just don't seem to get over (unlike you did here) If truth be told, I would've never bothered with Nusrat, and perhaps Qawwalis in general, had I not been hooked by his early (and pretty awful) remixes. These covers are the only way for entire generations to reconnect to the past, because the originals might be around on youtube but you can't access them without a context, and we just don't have the context for enjoying long, minimalist music.

Rohail Hyatt had said how proper classical musicians just need an hour to do the alaap, but no one has the time or interest anymore to afford them that requirement. The challenge continues to be bringing the sound to a new audience without desecrating the original. Good stuff for sure.

Keep writing for the next episodes as well please :)

Tuba said...

They made it their own without killing it grandeur of it. Rohail Hyatt somehow knew that he can't mess with THIS one.

qasimperacha said...

Personally I thought the Umair guy from Qayaas came very close to ruining it. Watching the video you could tell who the "real" singer was. Atif's style was in keeping with the theme and tone of the music whist in places Umair decided to be more "Bowie" than was appropriate. Also is nobody else freaked out by his voice? In places you could see the power he was putting in but it's as if his voice box wasn't playing ball. The bit around 4.30 to 5.00 where he sings nearly ruined it for me to be frank, but overall it was still amazing. I'm not averse to sufi rock or rock qawwali fusion, but there's a line in the sand, and Umair was very close to crossing it!

Shahir said...

Qasim: Yes, Umair's voice in the part where he sings "Yaar mile, lajpaal mile" caught me by surprise as well. But listening to the song a few times over, and later listening to other Qayaas songs, I think even though it sounds like he's losing his voice, it's purposefully stylized that way. He's essentially a rock vocalist, so you have to allow for him interpreting songs in that style. But, removed from this context, I can see how it might sound weird.

Tuba: Thanks for the comment, and well said! I thought the execution was great. Also agree with what you said on Twitter, that we need to stop comparing these songs with the originals, hard as it may be, and let them be their own thing.

Ahmer: Thanks man, always look forward to getting your input. Insightful point about context. I think a whole generation of us started on Nusrat through bad remixes. Some way of accessing that music, through songs like these, always needs to be there given that qawwali has such a niche following. Also Rohail has taken the challenge of bringing us back to our roots headfirst, and probably the surest sign of success is how he's managed to increase people's attention spans. Most songs are at least 5-6 minutes if not longer, and to keep people interested for that long given the amount of distractions we have, that's remarkable.

qasimperacha said...

Hmm Having listened to it for like the hundredth time I now can't imagine it without the weird Rock vocals. I still think lyrically it can be off putting but musically it does have an awesome effect. I just think we've already reached the holy grail of sufi rock, in my mind, with Junoon's Bulleya! That song was awesome when I was a kid and I've rediscovered it and it's even better now!

Sadhana said...

I loved the song on coke studio, had never heard the original before. I personally don't like the Atif guy because he has bored me with bollywood numbers but looking at bts charkha, he looks like a big and respected name in pakistan. I liked umair more in the song, perhaps because I like him and he has done quite a good job. When I heard first, even i was wondering what is he doing nearing the end, but that's his style and he has done it well. It jells well with the song.

Thanks for the write-up. i am recently introduced to coke studio and love to read whatever that I can lay my hands upon about it. Thanks again.