Magic in 16 minutes

Magic in 16 minutes

A track that encapsulates all the splendour of the Qawwali tradition

A screengrab from the video

I do not go by listicles, but a recent one caught my attention, despite myself. It was a log of the best tracks of both the Indian and Pakistani versions of Coke Studio. (Readers of this column would have a fair idea of how much we dig the gems that have emerged from this musical initiative and why this list was thus hard to resist). So, at the very top of this list was ‘Kangna’, the undisputed Kohinoor of Coke Studio Pakistan Season 4. Putting this 16-minute classical Qawwali jam session right on top is bravery of the right sort; for ‘Kangna’ is not really everyone’s cup of tea. But, those who have drunk from this cup...ah they would know what we are talking about.

The renowned Qawwali brothers, Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad, not only brought to Coke Studio their rich tradition of impromptu singing, but also transformed the entire platform into a reverberating spiritual space — their unbridled singing, the utter freedom the genius producer Rohail Hyatt gave the brothers, the complicated 10-beat jhap taal the Qawwali is sung in, the sheer restraint of the house musicians who stuck to a single bass, all make ‘Kangna’ one of the most unusual and fascinating tracks to emerge out of Coke Studio. In an interview, Rohail Hyatt had admitted that none of the musicians present really knew where the song would take them (nor when it would end), but they went along and thank god, they did. For in its 16 minutes, ‘Kangna’ effortlessly encapsulates all the splendour and magnificence of the 700-odd years of the Qawwali tradition.

Play By Ear showcases a potential earworm every week for you, the discerning listener, who is on the hunt for some musical serendipity.