- Old is not gold, and that’s a good thing
If you’ve been on the internet in the past few weeks, you may have been made aware of the flaming disaster that was Coke Studio’s ‘Ko Ko Korina’. This is undoubtedly Coke Studio’s most unpopular song to date, garnering 189,000 dislikes on YouTube at the time of writing this piece. While this well-oiled musical giant has produced many songs or even entire seasons with mixed reviews, rarely has it created a cover so despised.
Outrage and disgust unifies people as well as love. It didn’t take long for Momina Mustehsan to achieve internet notoriety, as the social media was inundated by memes mocking the vocalist for her underwhelming performance. It wasn’t long before ‘Ko Ko Korina’ transcended the realm of bad music and grew into a full-blown cultural crisis. The catalyst to this transformation was, of course, Shireen Mazari’s tweet about the classic song being ‘destroyed’ by the Coke Studio cover. When the human rights minister takes some time out of her presumably busy day of curtailing sectarian crises, forced conversions, and state violence; to post a mini-rant about Coke Studio’s atrocity against music, the nation tends to pay attention. A brief feud between Momina Mustehsan and Shireen Mazari evolved into a political issue covered by international media.
A plethora of factors contributed to Ko Ko Korina’s monumental failure as a cover. The first, the least explored, is misogyny itself. Momina Mustehsan, although far from a feminist in practice, has often branded herself a feminist, and thus persona non grata among a huge majority of Pakistani men. Listening to the Coke Studio cover, it’s apparent that Mustehsan committed no extraordinary sin. It may not have been a Grammy-worthy performance, but it wasn’t exceptionally poor either. Her performance was precisely as we’ve learned to expect from her previous works. It was, in fact, Ahad Raza Mir’s un-tuned vocal work that caused the production to unravel into an auditory mess now generating earaches online. The song was presented to a nation of listeners who were seemingly already prepared to launch a cultural strike at Mustehsan, and ‘Ko Ko Korina’ served its purpose well as casus belli.
Instead of decrying efforts at radically modifying and reinventing old works, should we not see these changes as a sign of progress?
Another factor is historical romanticism. Despite all social, political, scientific, and technological progress, we continue to see our past a lot more favourably than it deserves to be viewed. We bemoan our present as a significant downgrade, even as we enjoy a massive advantages and privileges that were unheard of in the past. Nostalgia is partly responsible for this illusion, but adultism is the real trickster in this situation. ‘Adultism’ is a view that the world must be always cater to the demands and tastes of adults, roughly between the ages of 28 and 60, because all other age groups and their perspectives are either too immature or too senile to be taken seriously. Coke Studio’s cover of Ko Ko Korina doesn’t replay the song in improved sound quality for fans of the original. It reinvents the song for a demographic that is decidedly not the older generation. The cover features unfamiliar musical notes, presenting as a significant departure from the original 1966 song.
But was the 1966 song truly so legendary that its desecration by the way of Momina Mustehsan is worthy of such outrage? If you believe so, you are invited to give the original song featuring Wahid Murad another look.
Ko Ko Korina is a song about a man’s adoration of an outdated female archetype: a “nazuk, sharmili, bholi bhali” (delicate, shy, innocent) woman that sounds more of an object than a real person. The video is far worse. It features Wahid Murad going from woman to woman, looking for the right one. The first woman turns around to reveal an “ugly” dark-skinned face – its colour comically exaggerated by face makeup, the kind that’s reminiscent of racist minstrels. The ugliness causes Wahid Murad to recoil in fright, and change direction immediately. He taps the second woman on the shoulder, who turns around to reveal a large nose which is supposedly also not worthy of Wahid Murad’s valuable affection.
Casual misogyny and shallowness was, in fact, a staple of most of our beloved classics. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s works are unapologetic in their tirades against devious, coquettish women who ‘trap’ men only and destroy them. “Ye sumbal se gesu, ye aariz gulabi, Zamane me laayenge ik din kharabi” (These scandalous black hair and rosy cheeks, will harm the society one day). Abrar-ul-Haq, known best these days for his religious rhetoric against Ahmadis, owes his success to songs about chasing and ogling women in the streets.
Is this the legacy whose ‘destruction’ precipitates national panic? Instead of decrying efforts at radically modifying and reinventing old works, should we not see these changes as a sign of progress? If the society is indeed moving forward in terms of women’s empowerment, minority rights, worker rights and so on, old works of art will inevitably start to appear as bigoted, cringe-worthy monstrosities that ought to either be forgotten or modified. If remembered, they ought to be remembered largely as imperfect creations whose flaws must be carefully studied and understood. It’s only in a society moving backwards, that old works of art may be viewed as superior to anything that can be created in present times.
One prefers to be part of a world that’s kinder and more sensitive to offenses against vulnerable people. It is because we choose to progress, that we must let art and culture evolve freely. It’s because we’re committed to improvement, that we ‘destroy’ – so to speak – that which is obsolete and make room for creations that better reflect our progress through the ages.