Last summer, the nation’s hopes and dreams were obliterated in a cataclysmic event that shook the very foundations of what it meant to be Pakistani. There were cries and screams of outrage as people took to the streets with their pick-axes and Facebook comments, desperately trying to cope with the crippling grief that, gasp!

“Coke Studio 2 was so much better than Coke Studio 3.”

The predicted mass suicides were averted only through the joyous brandishing of Arif Lohar’s magic chimta.

I think one of the good things to come out of the massive overreaction from last year has been the lack of hype leading up to this season’s Coke Studio. There had been an unholy amount of pressure on the show last summer and that really took the joy out of it. I think we could all benefit from managing our expectations from this season.

The first episode of Coke Studio Season 4 airs this Sunday on May 22 and I for one can’t wait to see it.

There’s an eclectic mix of artists selected, with the usual mix of folk, rock and pop music thrown in so that there’s something for everyone. Looking at the previews, I am inclined to think this is going to be a really safe episode. I wouldn’t expect too much in terms of experimentation, but the tunes promise to be solid and accessible.

Returning this year is folk singer Sanam Marvi. I’m not very excited about having her back on the show. Maybe she has some mass appeal that I’m missing but I felt that hers was the weakest folk music contribution last season. Her music is certainly pleasant but there’s nothing original about it and it almost seems like the house band is coasting through her songs. I don’t think her second appearance is going to deliver anything new, which isn’t a bad thing, since many people would be hearing that kind of music for the first time. But for me, it’s slightly underwhelming.

Jal have made it to this season, although their massive fan base probably thinks it’s a couple of seasons too late. Nevertheless, a lot is expected from them. Bands on Coke Studio tend to come under severe scrutiny and I feel that Jal will have that at the back of their heads and will play it safe. Their song for the episode “Iq Aarzoo” is a self-professed ballad, which should go down well, given our nation’s obsession with heartbreak and unrequited love.

Mizraab are the other highly anticipated single-Urdu-word band on Coke Studio this year. Young boys in black tshirts and raging hormones have been screaming for guitar maestro Faraz Anwar’s inclusion in the show ever since it started, and now they have been duly rewarded. No doubt Anwar’s dazzling guitar work will be on display and I think it could be one of the more powerful performances on the show. I don’t know why he had to go with a classical singer as a vocalist, but nonetheless, the few snippets I’ve heard of their song showcase a dark, powerful groove with a Black Sabbath-esque mood.

Komal Rizvi in particular has been one of the more derided choices for the upcoming season. I think it’s too early to rate her without hearing her performance. She might actually do better than a lot of people expect. She’s got a good, solid, classically trained voice and I wouldn’t want to judge her before she’s sung a note. However, I’m disappointed in her pairing with folk singer Akhtar Chanal (no relation to Coco). It seems like a repeat formula from last year when Meesha Shafi successfully teamed up with Arif Lohar. Their performance of the folk classic “Daaney Pey Daana” (a song which is offensive to millions of people with acne) is going to invite heavy comparisons, and it isn’t fair to either one of the performers. I think the trolls are already sharpening their knives/self righteous internet rants.

Finally, I think having Bilal Khan on the show is an inspired choice. I’ve been his fan since I heard his massive hit “Bachana.” It warms my heart to see someone like Bilal, who gained popularity on his own through YouTube and Facebook, get a coveted spot on the show, even though he has not released an album or signed a record deal yet. That’s the best part about Coke Studio. It doesn’t matter how big or small you are as an artist, everyone’s got an equal shot. Bilal’s smooth vocal stylings will be on display with his yet to be released song “To Kya Hua.” The guy is a talented songwriter with a knack for writing melodious hooks – he just might be the breakout star of this season.

Final thoughts – I think the lack of hype is going to work in CS4′s favour and the public will be pleasantly surprised, if not completely bowled over, by the first episode. However, I would urge everyone to consider listening to these songs again, in isolation, long after the episode has aired to really give them a fair chance. Nevertheless, it’s always exciting to see the nation come together for a single event and I’ll be looking forward to the big debates about the show come Monday morning.

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