‘Ismail Ka Urdu Sheher’ is a Sci-fi comic by Zohaib Kazi. He has been associated with Pakistan’s Coke Studio for a long time. I have never come across a music album that is cut for a comic, so it was obvious that I was too keen to explore it. What I found next has taken the shape of the write up below.
Have you ever heard the sound of faith when it tells you that you can fly? That is exactly the feeling you get when you hear Sara Haider’s alaap in the intro song of the album. It is hardly 2 minutes but be rest assured these 2 minutes would make your spirits soar.
Samra Khan doesn’t get lost in the geek talk that introduces Wake up/Jaago. Partly in English, the song really didn’t affect me much singing wise. Of course the tracks of the album are meant largely to further the narrative, but I feel this composition would have been better without the Hindi/Urdu lyrics. Just the background radio would have been enough. In Awaaz/the last radiowave, Jaffer Zaidi and Samra khan try to merge with the sound and the effort is good in pieces. I did feel there was no need to ‘compose’ this into a song because just the music would have left a larger effect on the senses.
Black coffee starts with addictive keyboard notes that will play in your head long after the song is over. Sung by the solid Jaffar Zaidi, it has all the qualities of a ‘never-leaves-the-playlist’ song. Jaffar’s voice has a heavy vibe to it and this composition uses the same for good effect. The Santoor towards the end is smartly used! In the reprise version of this song, we hear Abbas Ali Khan teaming up with Sara Haider, and a bit more complex music arrangement at play. Sara is top class though she doesn’t get much to do in the song but like me, most probably you would also be indecisive to pick the favorite from the two versions. What competes with Jaffar’s rock solid singing is an overall celan rendition and that alaap from Khan towards the end of his version.
Orange sung by Samara Khan has all ingredients of a 90s pop song and with the help of good back up vocals, the song breezes through. I might not go back to the song again but it has a likable quality to it, the way we (90s kids) remember Ace of base today. In Mehr Jaan, you would hear Zoe Viccaji giving us one of those late night, ‘by-the-guitar’ songs that talk of longing, and make you miss your loved one who has left you with a song on your lips. Like always, Zoe is superb. Kinara makes you forget the sadness of Mehr Jaan. With Sara Haider teasing her way along with an equally tantalizing guitar by Omran Shafique, it’s very easy to fall in love with the song. A simple, melodic song that is a perfect fit for slow dances as well as a long drive.
Listen to Nida Khurram in Raat Bazaar when she goes ‘saadey libaas mein, sawan naraaz hai kyu?‘ and you would wish this track was longer than 2 minutes. A track that is arranged light, but decorated with words so rich, you would hit ‘repeat’ more number of times than you would be able to count.
In Death Of Mehr-Un-Nisa, you would be greeted with complex music for about a minute and then Sara Haider soars. You would be excused to think that this track would probably be floating in a lot of music with nothing memorable to hum, yet by the time it ends, you would be humming along with Sara…’Tu rooth ke na jaa, meri jaan‘. There is an element of finality in the song that of course resonates with the serious track name, still, a good song.
With tune largely similar to Mehrjaan, Mehr-Un-Nisa Falls in love is a bit more spaced out composition and thereby sounds more insightful. Of course, the solid vocals of Jaffar Zaidi make it impossible to not sink in the song. I absolutely loved the way the song is set. It’s like someone is sitting right next to you with a Piano, letting his fingers wander on the keys the way his life has moved over the years. The sense of calm in the song is reassuring and has an abstract feel to it.
Butterfly In Space is a bit too techno for my liking but it didn’t hurt hearing faint samples of Rahat Ali and Zara Madani. The flute is the winner in this track, more like a glue that keeps the central tune soothing. Not a bad track if you like fusion. Back up vocals are good too. On a related note, I would never understand why Zara Madani is not doing more international projects?
Overall a fantastic set of songs which you must surely check. Don’t let iTunes fool you into believing that the music was released in December 2015. The album was available to Indian iTunes from May 2016.
(Disclaimer – Zohaib shared these songs (not the comic) with me in December 2015. Why is this a disclaimer? I don’t know, we felt like we must tell you. 🙂
Written, Composed, Arranged & Produced by Zohaib Kazi
Recorded by Zohaib Kazi
You can hear the album here
Complete artist credits here