Harkaly (Song):Let’s Welcome Cross-Cultural Love

Coke Studio Pakistan’s latest song begins in a parched land. Men, women, and a forlorn boy look up, hoping, in vain, for a drizzle that shall quench the thirst of unforgiving mountains. Boomboxes appear, drum beats and we are in a Pashtun dhaba where kahwa flows freely. It feels austere but the music starts to add levity. By the end, the withered landscape has been watered, as rain pours down and the villagers perform Attan in ecstasy, soaking with symphony.

“Harkalay” (Welcome) is a Pashto-English song that celebrates a specific kind of love; Love that can survive and thrive despite linguistic and spatial barriers; love that transcends an ethnic identity. Its lead vocalists have, quite literally, come together from opposite sides of the globe and the result is……staggering. For the Pashto verses, we have Zahoor, an emerging singer and songwriter from Mardan with an uncanny ability to mix Pashto with a modern sound. For the English vocals, we get REHMA, a Pakistani-American artist based in Los Angeles. Saad Bukhari, who goes by sakharii, is another South Asian artist based in the US who has co-wrote and co-composed the song.

The international collaboration aside, “Harkalay” is yet another attempt by Coke Studio Pakistan to merge folksy tunes with a new-age sound. What’s more, “Harkalay” comes at the heels of iconic Pashto-language Coke Studio Pakistan songs. Who can forget the Gul Panrra-Atif Aslam hit ‘Man Aamadeh Am’ from Coke Studio Season 8? Or Zeb Bangash-Faakhir’s ‘Dilruba Na Razi’, from Season 9? Both songs had lovers calling out to each other in their own language; with playful banter and natural sweetness that Pashto vocals can smoothly lend to any composition. These songs can easily be considered as forerunners for “Harkalay”, a song that takes a huge leap to weave Pashto not with Urdu, but English, that intensifies the cultural clash and raises the stakes.

It helps that REHMA excels at the pop beats with a mezzo-soprano tone that brings an alluring warmth to her verses. She is also a riveting performer and as she crosses the (metaphorical) borders to face Zahoor towards the final chorus of the song, it feels like she already belongs to that place where two distant lovers (gulay) converge. As expected, nature contrives and overcast skies burst to bless their union.

“Harkalay” is this season’s fourth release and it is no surprise that creator Xulfi is intent on using modern electronic instruments to score his songs. But never before this song have the percussions and synths such gracefully fused with a traditional taar. The blend is just not auditory, it seeps into the storytelling. It doesn’t add onto the culture but fills its blanks and gives us a tale of jilted lovers, a tale as old as time and yet as fresh as the scent of wet soil.

Written by Tooba M


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