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.)