Review By : Saqib Bhatti ( PakMusic Editorial)
Excerpt from an enthusiastic caller on Morning TV last week: “ALLiiiiii, aap mujhe bahaut pasand ho. Aap barray cute lag rehay ho! Woh aap ka gaana nahi hai, Channo? Mujhe bahaut pasand hai! Woh pleeeeease gaaalooo mere liye.”
Newsflash… Channo is dead. Watching Ali Zafar cringe on the sofa, but still ever so gentleman like obliging and singing a couple of lines, it is evident he has moved on. Granted it is this tune that gave him his break and jet packed him on his way to attaining the dizzying heights where he is perched today, but Channo needs to be laid to rest.
So it was only a matter of time before our nation’s multifaceted gem would churn out an album like Jhoom. Ali has always come across as more than just a pop ditty exuberant youth in the game for the money. He is intelligent. He is suave. His musical taste more Floydian rather than The Spice Girls. His poetic tastes more Ghalib than Neseebo Laal.
Therefore here we have it, an album from the heart; an album with the music that Ali wants to make. Is destined to make. Such a record has been on the cards for quite some time. I remember sitting with him backstage prior to a concert, whilst he was listening to Charkha by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan on his laptop. It seemed to be feeding his soul, he was energised, even though he had thousands of girls screaming Masty and Channo behind the curtains. Back then he had just freshly finished recording Coke Studio Season 1 and was totally stoked at the prospect of what his listeners would get to listen to. It seems it was this feather in his cap after the plaudits he received, that nudged him onto this path, one that I guess he was always naturally destined to tread anyway. Calling it a different direction from previous efforts is an understatement. Take a 180 degree turn, flip it upside down, place it in a washing machine and hang it out to dry and that’s what we have in Jhoom.
Starting with the title track, we are greeted with echoing guitar tones with folk style percussions and one is right away set in a trance like tizzy, something that the title of the track is synonymous with. Leaked versions have been doing the rounds since it was used in a fashion show for HSY and since then we have been eagerly awaiting to give it a spin (pun intended). Musically, lyrically and visually Jhoom lives up to its expectations and actually supersedes them. With the video being launched with the album, the transition within Ali is across the senses. It’s an honest song sung straight from the heart and the lyrics will strike a chord within anyone and everyone. Remember, this is a different Ali Zafar from what we knew. Ali the husband and now Ali the father and this is unquestionably evident within this recitation of pure love. His words just seem to mean a whole lot more now compared to talks of “Sajania” and with the accompaniment of his new found mature and chic sound it all adds to a powerful lyrical experience. For example, “Jitni tu milti jayay, utni laggay thori thori.” A paradox of sorts, yet with the way Ali delivers these words within the song, it just seems to make so much sense. The two chord setup is uncomplicated with the arrangements being non cluttered and along with the use of live instruments we have a sublime creation. It shall be heard for years to come and definitely not forgotten about easily, with it Jhooming and Ghooming in our heads time and time again.
Furthermore into the album and we have a couple of hip and smart pop numbers. Tu Jaanay Na and Jab Se Dekha. The former, Tu Jaanay Na is paki pop through and through. It’s something that throws the listener back to the late 90s with a nifty swinging beat complimented by some cheerful flute playing. The use of falsetto singing has been used very admirably here as well. There is a softer more subtle tone to Ali’s voice and it seems to be a conscious effort to shake the Kishore tag off his shoulders. No longer is the singing forceful and exclaimed, but it now comes across more natural and subtle. Jab Se Dekha is an attempt at a soft rock kind of sound. Although a song with great hooks and a catchy melody, we have a production style within Jab Se Dekha, which is more Shankar Ehsaan Loy rather than Jal and for me it makes the song sound less Pakistani. This isn’t going to get the fans into too much of a bother though and one can expect some happy times listening to these fun tunes. In the form of previous efforts such as Aasmaan and more recently Bus Ek Soch, both tracks, although not show stoppers, add meat and substance to the album.
Moving on and for me, the track of the album, Jee Dhoondta Hai. This is where I envisage Ali’s music going in the future. He has taken some classic Mirza Ghalib poetry and really given it a unique twist, which is a treat to the auditory centres. With a mystical opening, we hear the great variation within his voice, managing to get some real sombre and deep tones out of his larynx and making the listener scratch their heads and think what exactly is going on. This is what he ultimately wants I guess. For his music to evoke the kind of response whereby the listener has to become a little shrewd and concentrate upon what the ears are sensing. It’s a real dream like number, somewhat like the classic Vital Signs song “Yeh Shaam”, which is no surprise seeing as though makers of both tracks have strong Pink Floyd influences. Ali delivers the Ghalib lyrics with such vocal precision that you get the feeling these verses were written especially for him. The composition and arrangements are mesmerizing but one cannot help feeling the lack of refinery within the musicianship and production.
We then have 2 very classical renditions, Jaane-e-Mann and Koi Umeed. Both sung in ghazal-esque style, it further goes to show Ali is versatile and very comfortable in singing songs within this type of genre. Jaan-e-mann has a very fluent piano track throughout and showcases a very thoughtful arrangement, which lets Ali’s western influences shine through. On the other hand, Koi Umeed sounds more like a recitation than a song and is much more ethnic in its approach with its use of the Sarangi.
A bulk of the album is made up by tracks from the Coke Studio Sessions recorded in Karachi. What else is left for me to say regarding these fine pieces of artistry that has not already been said? Although Yaar Daddi has been resung and Daastaan-e-Ishq has a more dramatic and mean baseline with added guitar tracks, there isn’t much different here from what we have heard previously. This may make fans of Mr. Zafar slightly disappointed because these songs, due to their genius and pure quality, have been doing the rounds for quite sometime. But we must remember, this is an international album. With YRF distributing throughout India, Brand Ali is going to get great exposure in our neighbouring nation with many people outside of Pakistan hearing these tracks for the first time. They will get the opportunity to not only awe at what Ali created within those sessions, but also get to experience first hand the phenomenon that is Coke Studio and hence elevate the status of Pakistani music even higher across the border. Ali Zafar, the Pakistani Ambassador – I like it!
Coming to the bonus tracks and some added dhol makes Dastaan-e-Ishq more upbeat whereas we have a pretty much complete overhaul of Jhoom in the R&B remix. Cleverly produced and rearranged this track stands out for its efforts in sounding slick as it could easily have sounded cheesy. Initially it sounds very different form the original as Ali sings in a different key and there is more emphasis on shifting chords. But the song still withholds the soul from the original and grabs your regard. Sounding very different to the original, it has some very subtle yet clever touches such as the melody to which “girl, girl you got my soul…” is sung, is the same as the melody played on the violins within the original. Credit goes to the actual song writing and composition with it sounding outstanding in both forms.
So in conclusion Ali Zafar is back with a bang and this album is definitely going to create waves globally. With the artistic and refined video of Jhoom doing the rounds at the moment people are going to sit up and take attention of the magical title track. I think the album overall however lacks the Midas touch of a top-notch producer. With his busy schedule, Ali has recorded the majority of the album in his home studio but someone like a Rohail Hyatt could really have taken tracks such as Jee Dhoondta to an even greater level with deeper work on production and live instrumentation. There is quite a lot of substance within the new material, but not many stand out moments. I am sure this is, rather than a milestone, more of a stepping-stone for Ali within his multi talented career. We look forward to where his musical journey takes him next especially when he can concentrate fully on this particular facet. God bless him.
Rating : **** 4 Stars