Coke Studio has been under fire this season, with many claiming they just wanted the season to end and be done with. However, the season has been commercially successful, albeit if not critically, with songs reaching millions and millions of views on social media and the love of numerous fans from Pakistan as well as India. Therefore when the day has finally come when Coke Studio Season 9 wraps up with it’s finale, we are left with mixed feelings.
Partially, those mixed feelings don’t have a lot to do with the season coming to an end, but the fact that the finale featured the late Amjad Sabri’s last performance, a performance that was carrying way too much weight on it’s shoulders. The reason why this is a little complicated is because many people are taking this performance as Sabri’s ‘last goodbye’ to us, which is unfair because Sabri did not intend to say goodbye with this. It was just his CS debut. The great legend, who hails from a family of legends, who has performed many kalaams and has created a whole phenomenon known as ‘Sabri nights’ is now being reduced to Coke Studio’s version of ‘Rang’, a kalaam originally written by Amir Khusro, performed by many qawaals, specially two very famous ones: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and Ghulam Farid Sabri. It’s not fair.
The qawaali should be taken for what it is – one of the tracks featured on Coke Studio Season 9 and not the epic goodbye that some people are making it out to be. ‘Rang’ is written by a 12th century poet and scholar, who is considered the father of qawwali, praising Nizamuddin Auliya, a Sufi saint who is claimed to have brought such a drastic change into the beliefs of Muslims so much so that he made them turn away from outwardly, worldly matters, turning them towards devoting their lives to God by searching within. Clearly, the kalaam has a long and important history, long before Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Ghulam Farid Sabri sang it together in a shrine nearly four decades ago.
The original qawaali is so beautiful, as it captures true love and friendship, that Coke Studio couldn’t have gotten it wrong. Amjad Sabri really captures the essence of the famous Sabri voice, sounding very similar to his father. Even in his performance, you can see the ease and happiness with which he performs, smiling beautifully as he sings. Rahat Fateh Ali Khan on the other hand, sounds commercial because he has lent his voice to way too many commercial, pop songs. Also, he keeps shifting his image, from the white-suit clad crooner in ‘Afreen Afreen’, to the devout sufi in ‘Rang’. Therefore his voice and presence doesn’t sit well as a true qawaal anymore.
‘Rang’ does play with our emotional sensibilities but it doesn’t mean the track is not good. But the only hailing hero in this qawaali is Amjad Sabri himself- he delivers his musical prowess effortlessly, which makes us sad that this truly is the last time the maestro will sing to us. ‘Rang’ is playing on repeat as I write, and will keep playing till I can stop looking at Sabri’s smiling face with sadness, and remember him as a legend who has gone on to bigger and better things.