Coke Studio, the biggest and leading music platform in the country, officially launched the brand-new module, Coke Studio Explorer, with the release of its first song ‘Pareek’ featuring a Kalash-based duo of friends, Ariana and Amrina.

With ‘Pareek’, Coke Studio Explorer and producers Ali Hamza and Zohaib Kazi bring a very special story of two girls, Ariana and Amrina, from the snowcapped remote mountains of the Kalash Valley of Chitral District, located between the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan. They represent the small ethnic community of around 4000 indigenous Kalasha people – known for their unique yet vibrant culture and diverse language. Born in the Bamburet Valley, Ariana and Amrina have been exposed to music and folklore as part of their culture and tradition, since birth. Their love for music is so deeply embedded that Ariana, named Farsi Gul at birth, changed her name earlier this year after being inspired by the music of international star, Ariana Grande.

Talking about the country’s new unique platform of music, the General Manager of Coca-Cola Pakistan, Rizwan U. Khan said “Coke Studio Explorer is an unique manner of exploring the vast talent of our country. In addition Coke Studio has a legacy which has embraced and promoted Pakistan’s rich, vibrant and diverse culture. That has helped shaped a new narrative within and externally. Ten years ago, Coke Studio was established to provide a unique platform to bring together both known and unknown artists from different ethnicities and backgrounds, and from all over the country, to create an unique Sound of the Nation. We are proud that Coke Studio has lived up magnificently to this challenge, promoting unity through embracing differences.”

Recorded inside a small wooden cabin in freezing temperatures, ‘Pareek’ marks their first commercial collaboration. The age-old folklore is a story of love, persuading the companion to ‘Pareek’, translating to ‘let’s go!”. As Ariana and Amrina’s vocals ascend against the rolling percussions, the handclaps and a chorus of their own backing vocals, the electronic instrumentation follows the Kalasha melody. The idea was to infuse large electronic drums to create an urban anthem, giving the song an overpowering sense of grandeur.

As new recording artists, the sense of excitement and passion for the art reflects in the flickering of Ariana and Amrina’s eyes, and innocence that is radiating and pure adding further to the allure of this untapped genre of folk music making its debut on Coke Studio Explorer.

Following the opening of the brand new module by Coke Studio with the release of its first song ‘Pareek’, Coke Studio Explorer released its second song ‘Faqeera’ featuring the brother-sister duo of Vishnu and Shamu Bai.

Produced by Ali Hamza and Zohaib Kazi, ‘Faqeera’ is a glance into a world of wanderers – invoking a feeling to which anyone can relate. The fierce devotion of Shamu’s voice is paired with Vishnu’s warm and humid vocal tones as they drift into the soul-stirring chords of the Benjo, accompanied by a further layer of light electronic beats. The groove of the modern electronic beat follows the ethnic rhythm of the dholak – making ‘Faqeera’ a brand-new take on Sindhi folk.

Growing up in Dewan Lal Chand in rural Sindh, Shamu Bai was classically trained from an early age and by the time she was barely seven, she started singing traditional devotional songs (called bhajans). Despite growing up as one of the nine siblings, Shamu and her younger brother Vishnu were the only two that had an incomparable vocal prowess as well as a passion to pursue it more seriously. Arjun, their father who dreamt of singing himself didn’t have the voice, and so he decided to pass on every ounce of knowledge that he had to his two children. At 21, Shamu’s voice conveys an acute sense of intimacy which is forceful and emotive. Whereas Vishnu, 14, the youngest artist to make his Coke Studio debut this year, started training two years ago has a strong earthy tone of delivery, which is both raw and moving when heard by the listener. The brother-sister duo often performs live sets at weddings and local festivals in featuring Vishnu on dholak and Shamu Bai taking center stage with vocals and harmonium.

Indeed, ‘Faqeera’ is a showcase of grace and humility, by Shamu Bai and Vishnu, all while paying homage to their land with this instant and classic track.

Following the release of ‘Pareek’ and ‘Faqeera’ to much acclaim, Coke Studio Explorer proudly released its third song ‘Naseebaya’ featuring Nar Sur [Throat Singers] Mangal, Darehan and Shayan from Balochistan.

The vast landscapes and high mountains of Balochistan have resonated with the unique sounds of ‘Nar Sur’ – deep, cyclic, low overtone vocals – emanating from Mangal’s throat since almost three decades. ‘Naseebaya’, is an ode to the peculiar vocal art that continues to survive within the remote mountains of Balochistan.

Born in Dera Bugti, this genre that traces its roots back to the nomads in Central Asia and Eastern Europe has become a staple of Mangal’s identity. Requiring calculated stamina and distinctive skill to maintain pitch and melody, Mangal is one uniquely gifted vocalist. As soon as ‘Naseebya’ begins, the textured and loopy sound of the ‘Dambora’, played by Darehan and Shayan create the ideal ambience for the vocals to arrive. Mangal’s robust harmonies take over the song like a force of wind, with energy that outweighs his bite-sized stature. The Balochi riff harmonized with the modern electronic arpeggiated sounds allow a peaceful resolution between the art of ‘Nar Sur’ and urban-electronica.

The trio play around with cyclic melodies, drawing on a pulsing bassline with deep overtone vocals – making ‘Naseebaya’ a replayable tribute to a widely unknown genre. Every one of ‘Nar Sur’s’ folklore tells a story, and to better understand the deeper meaning of these conversations, it is important to know where it all started from. Their performance on Coke Studio Explorer aims to do just that.

Coke Studio Explorer released its fourth song ‘Tere Bin Soona’ featuring the Instagram star Mishal Khawaja from Punjab.

Born in Sialkot, Pakistan, and raised in Toronto, Mishal Khawaja was discovered on Instagram by the producers Ali Hamza and Zohaib Kazi, who brought her back to her home ground in Punjab for ‘Tere Bin Soona’.

‘Tere Bin Soona’ is a gentle, mid-tempo love ballad that finds the bedding for its lyrics in melodic guitar chords and a gentle rhythm. Recorded inside a minaret, against the majestic Lahore fort – the idea was to record the reverb and resonance of the space to capture the essence and cultural heritage of Punjab.

Mishal Khawaja first discovered her vocal capabilities while humming a Toni Braxton song around a friend in a playground. However, as an extremely shy kid growing up, it wasn’t until her adult life that her family and friends discovered her singing voice. Over years of songwriting, performing and creating a fan base, Khawaja has been able to hone her craft on Instagram – the very grounds where she was ultimately discovered by the producers. In a world of virtual reality, the idea of returning to Pakistan and tracing her roots was floated in order to achieve the impact with the human spirit intact; and that completion of the story and returning to her home-ground at birth is now Mishal Khawaja’s audio-visual chronicle that debuts on Coke Studio Explorer this July 2018.

In ‘Tere Bin Soona’, Mishal Khawaja’s voice offers a slow dreamy feel, riding on a tender acoustic guitar by Ali Hamza on this original track which is written as well as composed by her.

Coke Studio Explorer released its fifth and final song ‘Ha Gulo’ featuring Qasamir from Azad Kashmir.

With ‘Ha Gulo’, Qasamir conveys a deeply emotional aura and transports you to their home ground: the scenic valley of Muzaffarabad in Azad Kashmir. Produced by Zohaib Kazi and Ali Hamza, ‘Ha Gulo’ is a song comprising all the hallmarks: Mahjoor’s moving words of lost love, Altaf Mir’s emotion-packed vocals anchored by the unconventional tempos of the ‘Sarangi’ played by Ghulam Mohammad Daar; the straight-ahead tones of the traditional ‘Tumbaknaer’ by Saifuddin Shah, alongside the stripped-down beats of the ‘Garha’ by Manzoor Ahmed Khan; it all makes for an overwhelming experience. The raw texture of the Kashmiri language envelopes you.

Associated with Radio Pakistan for over two decades, and having performed across Pakistan, Altaf Mir spends his days as a master craftsman of traditional Kashmiri handicrafts and is truly committed to the art of exploring the softness of his voice. Ghulam Mohammad Daar spent forty years of his life contributing his masterful skills to Radio Pakistan in Islamabad. The life stories of Manzoor Ahmed Khan as a rickshaw driver, and Saeed Saifuddin Shah as a part-time cook and laborer are fairly straightforward. In their very first commercial appearance on Coke Studio Explorer, ‘Qasamir’ grips the audience by their hearts, and introduce them to a previously unchartered realm of music.

The sound of ‘Qasamir’ is both grand and humbling and this crew of four takes immaculate care in articulating their story. The modern musical instruments effortlessly seep into the mix, as the groove of the electronic beats enhances the Kashmiri rhythmic section on ‘Ha Gulo’.

Indeed, ‘Qasamir’ is Kashmir’s true representatives of Kashmiri folk music: effortlessly maintaining a style of singing, using traditional age-old instruments; and influencing a great impact through timeless poetry.