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Musically intolerant?

Updated Oct 29, 2018 12:46pm
Is the Ko Ko Korina controversy a storm in a teacup, or does it reflect how passionate Pakistanis are about their music?

There is no doubt that Coke Studio’s cover version of the classic song Ko Ko Korina with Ahad Raza Mir and Momina Mustehsan was inadequate and unauthentic, but the aftermath since the song aired, has been interesting, what with Minister of Human Rights, Shireen Mazari, taking to Twitter to express her horror, Senator Sherry Rehman and Sajal Aly contributing their two cents worth and comical memes doing the rounds on social media. The whole ‘episode’ has been entertaining, to say the least, but more importantly, it has been quite telling of how seriously we Pakistanis take our music, and how we are not willing to put up with any old nonsense thrown our way.

Ko Ko Korina, originally sung by Ahmed Rushdi in 1966 for the film Armaan, is considered the first modern pop song of Pakistan, so naturally, a lot of sentiments are attached to it. Many of us have grown up singing Ko Ko Korina at wedding parties, around cafeteria tables and in casual games of antaksharee. It’s a cheerful song with an easy tune, reminiscent of joyous moments and levity in life. It is not surprising then that for the 11th season of Coke Studio, the producers decided to take on this classic melody and give it a contemporary feel. Unfortunately, the outcome is a hotch potch of genres, compositions and styles. In a hit or miss situation, there could not have been a bigger ‘miss’ than this.

The disconnect between the singing, the music, the interludes and the performance on screen is too much to bear. Mir may be a great actor but his singing has not reached the level of maturity where he should be taking on commercial projects. Mustehsan has a great voice, but her on screen antics were neither pop-inspired nor rock. They just seemed silly and misplaced. The Instagram account Khabees Aurat (https://www.instagram.com/p/BpPiQRXHaYn/?taken-by=khabeees) shared a version of the song where the video is edited to match the famous jingle for the bubblegum brand Ding Dong, and I have to say this was a much more apt match.


When songs like Taj Dar-e-Haram or Jugni are played, people could not stop raving. When things go down south with a song like Ko Ko Korina, people will not spare any criticism. And this is democratisation of music, a sign of our evolving musical tastes, and it is something we should appreciate.


The Coke Studio rendition of Ko Ko Korina managed to get a lot of people talking and opining, with the Twitter exchange between Minister Mazari and Mustehsan opening a Pandora’s Box of opinions. Minister Mazari criticised the song and wrote, “Horrendous! Destroyed a great classic – why oh why, did Coke Studio allow such a massacre of this classic song?”

Mustehsan described the critique in the context of cyber bullying and responded to Minister Mazari with a tweet of her own stating, “Apologies for hurting ur sentiments. It is ur right to judge us & express ur outrage, just like it was our right to exercise our #FreedomOfExpression. As our Minister of #HumanRights, u should appreciate @cokestudio for allowing us to express ourselves, esp if it was horrendous :).”

The exchange continued over more tweets, with several more personalities getting involved and debating freedom of expression and the right to criticise.

Senator Rehman disagreed with Mustehsan, simply stating that Minister Mazari was expressing her opinion on a piece of art that is in the public domain. Senator Rehman said, “I like the Leo Twins version of Ko Ko Korina much better than the flat version put out by Coke Studio. No harm in stating music likes and dislikes. And no need to make such choices the subject of convoluted debate.”

Aly expressed her annoyance with the whole issue, defending the artists and stating, “It’s only a song. Sing along or change the channel. We, as a country, have far more important issues to debate.”

Mir, who was ridiculed for initially being a bit clueless about the reaction to the song when he thanked people for liking it, later said, “I am honoured that I got to cover Ko Ko Korina. Some people enjoyed it and some not to so much, which is fair. Look at how we love to appreciate and criticise. It shows our nation is alive. Even after hearing the song. Pun intended.”

There were a lot of opinions, some more inflammatory than others, but the overall message was much the same – mediocrity in music and subpar performances on a platform such as Coke Studio, will not be tolerated.

Music in Pakistan has a rich history and tradition and it is one of the few things outside of religion, politics and cricket that moves and mobilises people. Coke Studio has played an integral role in bringing music back to the mainstream and reviving singers and songs that were forgotten with the passage of time. With 10 seasons already under its belt, Coke Studio can also be credited with shaping our sensibilities as far as appreciating music is concerned. This, however, is a double edged sword. When songs like Taj Dar-e-Haram or Jugni are played, people could not stop raving. When things go down south with a song like Ko Ko Korina, people will not spare any criticism. And this is democratisation of music, a sign of our evolving musical tastes, and it is something we should appreciate.

Mir and Mustehsan have been battling much of the criticism and backlash, but it really is the current producers of Coke Studio, Noori, who should take heed and think about how they want to develop the remaining season. The people have spoken and clearly expressed that just taking a song and giving it a fusion, experimental twist is not enough.

Sheherzad Kaleem is a documentary filmmaker based in Dubai. sheherzadk@gmail.com