Coke Studio Explorer Unearths Pakistan’s Hidden Talent

By Sonya Rehman

Pakistan’s biggest and most popular annual music platform, Coke Studio, under the banner of its exciting new initiative – Coke Studio Explorer – cuts through the mainstream and brings previously undiscovered music talent to the public eye.

Ariana and Amrina during the recording of their song, Pareek, for Coke Studio Explorer. Photo by: Insiya Syed.

Having released a grand total of five tracks this month, each song highlights Pakistan’s cultural diversity by presenting artistes such as; two young aspiring singers from the Kalash Valley (Ariana and Amrina), a brother-sister duo from Sindh (Vishnu and Shamu Bai), an ensemble that goes by the name of Qasamir (from Azad Kashmir), a Pakistani singer discovered on Instagram (Mishal Khawaja), and a trio of singers from Balochistan (Mangal, Darehan and Shayan).

Mangal, Darehan and Shayan. Photo by: Insiya Syed.

Spearheaded by Ali Hamza and Zohaib Kazi, who also happen to be leading the platform’s much-anticipated 11th season as its producers, this year, Kazi mentions that they are hopeful Coke Studio Explorer will encourage an environment which both supports and creates similar platforms that unearth the country’s overlooked music talent.

Qasamir pose for a photo. Photo by: Insiya Syed.

“It’s a hopeful shot in the dark,” Kazi states earnestly, “It’s not about the hits or the ‘likes’ for us; we’ll know we’ve done our job right if we helped trigger an ecosystem that recognizes Pakistan’s diverse cultural fabric and gives it its due exposure.”

Ali Hamza and Zohaib Kazi during the recording of Pareek by Ariana and Amrina. Photo by: Insiya Syed.

While each song in Coke Studio Explorer stays true to the artiste and the region it has been recorded in, they are deliciously packaged with a contemporary spin by Kazi and Hamza that make each number memorable and cool.

Take for instance, the talented vocalist, Mangal, along with musicians, Darehan and Shayan, from Balochistan, with their foot-tapping song, Naseebaya, for the series. Mangal performs the age-old (and rather fascinating) vocal art of throat singing, known as Nar Sur, which was shot and recorded in Sohbatpur, Balochistan. Having upheld and preserved this art form for three decades, Mangal sings the story of a man hopelessly in love in Naseebaya.

Mangal. Photo by: Insiya Syed.

Then there’s the rather lovely Sindhi classical folk number, Faqeera, performed by 21-year-old Shamu Bai and her 14-year-old brother, Vishnu, who hail from Dewan Lal Chand, a village in rural Sindh, where the pair are well-known for performing songs and bhajans at various festivals and events over the years.

Shamu Bai. Photo by: Insiya Syed.

“Initially, [Kazi] and I spoke at length about the responsibility that this endeavor demands; to create a positive narrative which is very much needed for Pakistan today,” says Hamza, “And what better way to capture our languages, traditions and culture through music? We wanted to focus on things that we hadn’t ever explored, and to look at elements of what makes Pakistan what it is today – highlighting the Pakistani identity and truly owning the white in our flag.”

14-year-old Vishnu. Photo by: Insiya Syed.

With the conclusion of the Explorer series this week, the platform’s newest season is slated to be broadcast on national television next month, in August. And while Coke Studio’s previous seasons have dealt with its fair share of criticism and mixed reactions over certain song selections, treatment and collaborations, gauging by Coke Studio Explorer, it may just hit the right notes.


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