x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Coke Studio Fusion Series album is an uneasy blend

This year's crop of collaborations continues to unite genres and promote more musical diversity in the Arab world, but many of the tunes feel generic.

Jay Sean and Shamma Hamdan have produced a catchy tune in their reworking of Sean's hit song Down. Courtesy Coke Studio
Jay Sean and Shamma Hamdan have produced a catchy tune in their reworking of Sean's hit song Down. Courtesy Coke Studio

Various artists
Coke Studio Fusion Series: Season 2
Universal Music MENA
**

For the first time since the Coke Studio Fusion Series' second season was broadcast on MBC4 last year, the music is available in album form.

The text on the sleeve sheds light on the project's mission: "Coke Studio proves, through music, that local and international music can remain authentic when mixed together skilfully, that tradition doesn't contradict modernity but enhances it, and that two different cultures can come together in a fusion that is unique, creative and beautiful yet maintain a common core." It all sounds good on paper, but what about the album?

The Young Money signee Jay Sean and the UAE's Shamma Hamdan (who competed on Season 2 of Arabs Got Talent) blend R&B and Khaleeji pop. Despite their painfully obvious lip-synching performance on the show, the pair's rework of Sean's smash hit Down is catchy and shows their artistic chemistry.

Some of the album's other collaborations, however, feel generic. The Lebanese songstress Myriam Fares joins forces with Flo Rida for an uninspiring rehash of the commercial rapper's smash hit single Wild Ones. While Fares's Arabic chorus is catchy and melodic and the pair's performance on the show has received more than two million views on YouTube, the collaboration drips with novelty value and ultimately fails to bring anything new to the table.

Still, moments of brilliance emerge on tracks that focus on raw talent rather than the glittering appeal of big-industry names. The Nigerian-German singer Ayo and the Egyptian rock band Cairo-Kee dazzle on the eclectic Fire/Ethbat Makanak, and the British singer-songwriter Mika's soaring falsetto beautifully complements the Lebanese songstress Karol Sakr's voice on their upbeat fusion dance rework of his song Relax, Take It Easy.

Although the album debuted at No 1 at Virgin Megastores and all of its songs have reached the coveted top spot regionally on iTunes, the project's youth-driven initiative seems to hold the music back at times and leaves one craving genuine artistic collaboration as opposed to standard Arabic remixes of Western hits. Last year's debut season of Coke Studio arguably featured more diverse collaborations: the Egyptian singer Mohamed Mounir with reggae sensations The Wailers and the Lebanese pop star Nancy Ajram with the flamenco star Jose Galves, for example.

Still, despite not living up to last year's musical diversity, this year's crop of collaborations admirably paves the way for more musical diversity in the Arab world.

artslife@thenational.ae

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