For most people who keep an open mind about music and are on the lookout for new music creations, the name Sounds of Kolachi brings to mind a musical ensemble known for their miraculous live shows. Spearheaded by Ahsan Bari, the group featuring nearly a dozen members has established its live reputation over the past three years by playing shows that are elating and almost always expand one’s musical horizon. Given that, approaching the SOK debut album, Elhaam with some expectations, is reasonable.
After listening to the album, which is currently available on music streaming sites like Patari and Saavn, it is clear that a production like this comes along once in a blue moon, if that, and therefore should be celebrated by critics and fans with equal verve. Featuring eight original compositions, the album is a testament to what artists in Pakistan can achieve even in a climate that is not conducive to the production and promotion of the arts and in a time in history that is full of despair, hate and loss.
Elhaam is a great example of what happens when Eastern and Western musical philosophy comes together in order to create a purposeful identity, one that reminds us about the incredible promise that music holds and its power to elevate and enchant us.
All eight songs have been written, composed and arranged by Ahsan Bari, who is the visionary behind both the band and this album. His vision is brought to life in flawless fashion by all the artists who are featured on this colossal effort. It is also palpable that this album is strong proponent of the art of creative collaboration. And as Bari puts it, the record is not about musicians but about sounds.
What’s most impressive is that each song has a thought-process behind it which means no song feels out of place or patchy. Together these songs lend the album an air of complexity and cohesive edge that you will not find elsewhere.
For instance, ‘Chakardar’, which runs a little over six minutes, is operatic in opening but has an ominous character courtesy of the haunting sarangi notes by Gul Muhammad while the distorted guitars, the playful sitar and the bouncing drums will keep you guessing. ‘Chakardar’, according to Bari, is a piece based around tabla pattern of nine beats and is a union of progressive rock with the concept of tabla bols and rhythmic patterns. Honestly speaking, there is nothing quite like this track and you will be hard-pressed to find something similar-sounding in Pakistan and beyond.
‘Lakh Jatan’ begins with a beautiful blend of sitar and bass and slowly the other instruments come together and form the structure. The song is supposed to be a blend of a classical bandish and rock fusion and whether you know it or not, it doesn’t matter because upon listening to it for the first time, you will wonder how SOK managed to create this thing of beauty. With a number of vocalists featured on the entire album, this song sees plenty of voices in it; the sarangi in the middle is absolutely gorgeous while Faraz Anwar’s electric guitar adds a darker shade to the melody on display. The beautiful thing about this song and by extension the whole album is how so many instruments and singers come together in agreement.
‘Man Mora’ is described by its creator, Ahsan Bari, as a melodic amalgamation of Rajhastani, Thurmri, Kajri and few more musical forms of the subcontinent; blend with asymmetrical rhythmic patterns all merged into a funk groove. For fans of rock, this should serve as a perfect anthem to count down days of misery and deafening silence.
Outside of the musical structure, the spirit of the songs on this album has a spirituality that is so poignant that it pierces the heart. For example, ‘Allah He Dey Ga’ is a track in which a soul is talking to his creator and looking for all the answers that he cannot find. Similarly, ‘Yaar Mileya’ is about the various stages of enlightenment. From the basic concept of Sufism to its connection with Quantum Physics, the song unfolds every detail of existence, says its composer.
‘Nain Lagey Re’ is a ballad that talks about a spiritual connection between two souls while ‘Tarana’ is a tribute to Hazrat Ameer Khusro and is based on musical form known as tarana. The song contains no lyrics which is deliberate and is based on the bols of tarana and tabla. This form is also called as Tirwat.
‘Aey Ri Sakhi’ is the only track on the album that doesn’t contain lyrics by Ahsan Bari. It is penned by Hazrat Ameer Khusro and was his tribute to his Pir, Hazrat Khawaja Nizam Uddin Aulia and is composed in an uplifting tonality.
In many ways, Elhaam is an anomaly and shouldn’t exist because we keep hearing about how the music industry is in a state of perpetual crisis as bands break-up, commercial projects dictate terms and the concept of full-length albums fades away as singles and soundtracks rule the day. Others will tell you that shows like Coke Studio, while impressive in its early years, has also created an eerie vortex where the goal of new artists is to just land on the show. Other will bemoan how (textured) electronic music has surpassed the glorious age of rock. But the existence of Elhaam, a universe of progressive world music, is a reminder to industry experts and outsiders that music that will truly move you in unthinkable ways is still being created right here at home and when such an effort presents itself, it must be met with grace and appreciation. The end.
Music produced by Mekaal Hasan, Syed Fahad Ali and Ahsan Bari.
Vocals: Natasha Beyg, Quaid Ahmed, Hassan Effendi, Ghazanfar Abbas, Hamid Ali, Latif Ali Khan, Ahsan Bari and Nimra Rafiq.
Sitar: Waqas Hussain
Sarangi: Gul Muhammad
Acoustic guitars: Ahsan Bari
Electric guitars: Faraz Anwar
Bass guitar: Sameer Ahmed except for ‘Man Mora’ by Ahsan Bari
Drums: Aahad Nayani
Production unit: Sherjeel O Niel, Quaid Ahmed, Hassan Effendi, Faran Perviaz