September 22, 2017

As Season 10 of Coke Studio rolls to an end, we know that the songs and music from the last seven episodes will continue to reverberate across the airwaves for a long time to come. As with every season, new stars were born and careers launched.   However, this time we want to hear from the stalwarts of the show, the oh-so-cool and brilliant house band that is so integral to the whole enterprise.

 

Babar Ali Khanna

Babar Ali Khanna is the virtuoso dholak and tabla player who has become an integral part of the Coke Studio brand. The scion of a musical family, Khanna has been playing for 20 years now.

He has toured and performed with the greats of our music industry like  Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Madam Noor Jehan.

How many seasons have you completed with Coke Studio?

I have been working with Coke Studio for the last ten years. I have completed ten seasons with them.

There seems to be a lot of camaraderie on the set? Everyone seems to be having a great time. Is this real or are there times when there is tension or creative rivalry? 

The camaraderie is real. There is actually a very calm, comfortable and relaxed atmosphere on the sets of Coke Studio.

The musicians rehearse together for six months. They live together , eat together and six months is long enough to understand each other. We develop mutual trust and friendship in this time

In all my years I have not seen any sort of enemity among musicians and artists. They concentrate on their work and they share the same passion. They are working on the same platform. When musicians or people who love music get together, negative energy dissipates.  Research has proved that music abolishes negative energy.

The who’s who of the music industry troops through Coke Studio. Are the artists friendly or are there divas amongst them?

The artists are friendly and there are no divas amongst them. I have enjoyed my work with all the artists. They give respect, love and are devoted to their work. In particular, I want to mention Farida Khanum ji, Abida ji, Shazia manzoor ji and Humaira Channa ji.  These artists are very friendly, co-operative and helpful. These senior artists treat everyone equally, whether they are newcomers or senior professionals.

 What is your favourite song from this season?

My favourite song of this season is Allahu Akbar sung by Shafqat Amanat Ali and Ahmad Jahanzaib.

 

Do you think there is over orchestration? Some critics say there is too much going on.

In my opinion, every song has a requirement. Sometimes we call in guest musicians to the studio according to the requirement if the song. Tabla, dholak, keyboard are necessary in every song and other instuments are added according to the mood , lyrics and composition.

So it’s wrong to said that there is over orchestration there. Some points are technically difficult to define and critics fail to appreciate the  way Coke Studio is working.

 Do people know and recognize you because of Coke Studio?

Yes, because of Coke Studio people approach me for selfies and autographs mostly at airports or other public places. They recognize me as  Babar Khana who is the dholak player on Coke Studio.

Omran Shafique

Omran Shafique is a veteran house band member who has been lending his guitaring skills to the show. He has toured and performed with Pakistan’s leading bands, including Mauj and Co-Ven.  He has spent many years outside Pakistan and enjoys the challenge of creating fusion music, merging eastern and western styles and traditions. 

He currently plays in a band called Chand Tara orchestra and session guitar with Ali Azmat. Omran also has his own studio and produces songs and jingles. 

How many seasons have you been on Coke Studio?

Ten years.

 There seems to be a lot of camaraderie on the set? Everyone seems to be having a great time. Is this real or are there times when there is tension or creative rivalry? 

There is a little bit of all of that.  BTS footage compiles the ‘best of’ so it tends to show the more  fun and lighthearted moments.   But, yes, we are all friendly and have a good time.  There are also moments of frustration and tension, of course, just like in any other work place.  But musicians and the like tend to be goofy for the most part, so it can get a little nutty.    

The who’s who of the music industry troops through Coke Studio. Are the artists friendly or are there divas amongst them? 

For the most part everyone is friendly.  At least to the house band.  We are all in the same business so half of us know the artists from before…and soon get to know each other quickly enough if we didn’t before.

 What is your favourite song from this season? 

I think the song that resonated with me the most was ‘Naina Moray’ by Javed Bashir/Akbar Ali and featuring Amir Zaki. I think Jaffar Zaidi did a great job combining the two different musical genres, it had a more old school Coke Studio feel, and then, of course, there was Amir Zaki towards the end.  It was difficult for me to watch. I would just turn it off when Zak’s part would come. Felt surreal. Eventually watched it all the way through and it felt cathartic.

Do you think there is over orchestration? Some critics say there is too much going on. 

It’s the critic’s job to find faults for the most part.  After season 3, critics complained there isn’t enough variation (in other words, not enough orchestration).  Now, it’s the opposite.  The truth is, for a show of this magnitude, there is no way to please everybody.  So we should let the critics earn their living.  And, hopefully, they will let us earn our living. Haha!

Personally, I prefer the improv style we had in the early days…it was evident in a song like ‘Naina Moray’.  But every producer has their own style… and we have to let their creative energies flow.

Arm-chair music producers will always impose their version of what is ‘good music’ and if we take all of them into account it would be a chaotic mess.  There are far too many varied opinions to consider without being paralyzed by it all.  So let the music producers do their thing.  The listeners vote by their Youtube hits.  And the numbers keep getting bigger and bigger each year.  If they weren’t, I am sure the whole project would be overhauled overnight.

Do people know and recognize you because of Coke Studio?

More from Coke Studio then anything else, yes.  But I generally change the way I look from season to season so most people don’t recognise me at all.  Which is how I prefer it!

Imran Akhoond 

Imran Akhoond has been playing guitar since the eighties, and is well versed in eastern and western musical genres. He has toured and performed with the country’s leading artists. 

How many seasons have you been on Coke Studio? 

Just four.

There seems to be a lot of camaraderie on the set? Everyone seems to be having a great time. Is this real or are there times when there is tension or creative rivalry?

This is very real. We really enjoy working together and we give our hundred percent. So in short everyone is a pure professional and a team player. That’s our key to success too.

The who’s who of the music industry troops through Coke Studio. Are the artists friendly or are there divas amongst them?

Well… this is the best part. Everyone is friendly and it’s like a family.

What is your favourite song from this season?  

Tough one ! Really hard to tell as I’m playing 30 songs. All are favourites !

Do you think there is over orchestration? Some critics say there is too much going on

It may seem so as there are many musicians on the floor. But everyone is playing at their turn, except the house band. Trust me it’s really fun.

Dopeople know and recognize you because of Coke Studio?   

Most people know me as Shehzad Roy’s guitarist. But a big yes that now people know me because of Coke Studio.

I was recently performing  in Oslo and a few guys came and asked me for a selfie and they knew me because of Coke Studio.

Haider Ali

Haider Ali is a skilled keyboardist who has performed with Pakistan’s leading bands like Junoon, Vital Signs and Strings to name a few. He brings his talent to Coke Studio where he also lends his expertise as a member of the audio team pre and post shoot.

How many seasons have you been on Coke Studio?

I appeared in season one back in 2008 as a keyboardist with Strings with whom I played five songs, Duur, Anjane, Zinda, Sar Kiye and Dhaani.

Then I joined in again in season 7 as an audio engineer pre and post production. I then appeared in season 8 and 9 and ten as a house band member.

I am still working as an audio engineer pre and post production.

There seems to be a lot of camaraderie on the set? Everyone seems to  be having a great time. Is this real or are there times when there is tension or creative rivalry?

Conflict breeds creativity and that is  absolutely necessary when you are working with people coming from different musical backgrounds and sharing musical ideas. Conflict is not always a bad thing it means that you are trying to figure out the best creative alignment to get the best results possible from everyone – finding each other’s comfort zones pushing each other out of their comfort zones and then coming to a completely new zone all together.

We are like a family so there is the constant disagreement that comes with family. And we are practically living together for six months. But it never gets bad, it’s always all of us supporting each other. If one person is having a bad day,  everyone is going to make sure that they lift up his spirits.

The who’s who of the music industry troops through Coke Studio. Are the artists friendly or are there divas amongst them?

The process with each artist starts about three months before shooting when rehearsals start. So a lot of artists may feel uncomfortable or uneasy when they first step in to the studio because it’s a new environment. But as executive producers , Strings make sure that they are absolutely comfortable and I think the house band also does whatever they can to make sure that the artist is  creatively and personally very comfortable.  We make sure we all eat lunch and dinner at the same table.  No one sits separately, there no really dividing borders between the artists, the house band or even the staff at Coke Studio.

So even if the are divas we have never really seen that side of them because everyone just puts their head down and works.  If you watch the BTS’s, you can see that it’s everyone just working together to make music.  It doesn’t matter who it is,  it doesn’t matter who is walking in. We give mutual respect and we get mutual respect and that’s just how Coke studio works and has been working for the past four seasons.

What is your favourite song from this season?

There are many songs in season 10 that I love but Faasle and Muntazir are on top

Do you think there is over orchestration? Some critics say there is too much going on.

Every music director has a different flavour so he tries his best to come up with a different idea every year and take it to another level. And I think this is one of the reasons why Coke Studio is appreciated not only in Pakistan but in other neighbouring countries . We experiment with each song musically and technically. Some efforts are really appreciated and some are criticised. But it doesn’t mean that there is over orchestration or under orchestration.  It’s just the critics have a different taste in music and they want to listen to it accordingly.

Do people know and recognize you because of Coke Studio?

Yes, they do.  Whenever I go to shopping or to a restaurant people just keep staring as if they are trying to remember where have they seen me.  Finally someone will ask me if I am one of the Coke Studio musicians. But a chai wala in Gilgit Baltistan totally surprised me when he said “Aapki dadhi se apko pehchana. Aap Haider haina?” I get more compliments on my looks and beard than my playing.

 

Abdul Aziz Kazi

Abdul Aziz Kazi is an accomplished percussionist. Although he graduated with a degree in film, Kazi turned to music and has performed live with various bands. He was also producer for Ali Gul Pir’s runaway hit Waderay ka Beta.

How many seasons have you been on Coke Studio?

Seasons 9 and 10.

There seems to be a lot of camaraderie on the set? Everyone seems to  be having a great time. Is this real or are there times when there is tension or creative rivalry?

Being on set at the recordings of Coke Studio is a super fun experience. There’s insane energy on set considering it’s all recorded live. It’s a long process so there can be minor disagreements at times but it usually comes out great in the end

The who’s who of the music industry troops through Coke Studio. Are the artists friendly or are there divas amongst them?

My experience with the artists has been great so far. All of them have different approaches as to how they work with the house band but there is always mutual respect involved. Producers Jaffer Zaidi and Shuja have a great vibe in particular.

What is your favourite song from this season?

Naina Moray featuring Aamir Zaki.

Do you think there is over orchestration? Some critics say there is too much going on.

That could be true. But isn’t it wonderful for the producers to have so many of the country’s top musicians at their disposal. This seldom happens otherswise.

Do people know and recognize you because of Coke Studio?

Some of them insist they’ve seen me somewhere…but don’t know where. Haha!

 

 

Zahra Chughtai has worked and written for Pakistan’s leading publications. She is currently Newsline’s website editor.