Jonita Gandhi and Ali Sethi join hands to craft a musical narrative with Love Like That that blends their unique styles innovatively. Jonita is known for her multilingual prowess, fluently tackling Hindi, English, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi and Malayalam across her musical offerings since her 2013 debut with Chennai Express. As for Sethi, his 2022 Coke Studio hit song Pasoori with Shae Gill is an easy contender for Pakistan’s greatest cultural export in recent years.
Sethi’s reintroduction of Hindustani classical and Qawwali styles of music with a dash of current pop trends has created a wide fanbase in Pakistan’s music scene. As a duo, Sethi and Jonita’s track released on January 12 is the latest cross-border musical collaboration but where does it stand in the longer history of India-Pakistan joint music ventures?
The track begins right from the chorus, with Jonita’s “Wanna love like that” giving us the first taste of the song. The influence of contemporary American pop music is evident here with repetitive “that, that, that” and programmed clap beats. However, the song experiences a dynamic shift as Sethi’s raga-inspired vocals kick in.
Despite no changes in the key of the song, Sethi is able to introduce a very different melody that entirely stems from the D# major. The Pasoori singer’s approach to the notes and transitions between them is what shifts the aesthetic of the song, resulting in a compelling fusion of American pop and Indian classical.
Wildly remiss is the second chorus with its striking abruptness. So far the song has handled the transition from pop chorus to classical verse quite smoothly but to witness Sethi’s vocals coming to a strange halt for a shock entry of yet another “Wanna Love Like That” takes away the precision and sophistication that Jonita and Sethi were attempting to build up.
Not only the transition could have been smoother, but an instrumental variation would have made the song sound more emotionally honest as a collaborative endeavour and less segmented like fan-made impromptu mashups one may find on YouTube. The second verse offers a different section but don’t expect a sonic treat here.
The introduction of Punjabi lyrics from Jonita and a transition in vocal styles does take the song in a new direction of sorts but the entire package—as the variations blend with the instrumental choices—plays a little too much along the lines of commercial Bollywood music, a dressing one might wish to resist in a cross-cultural piece.
The biggest risk underlying genre-bending and blending collaborations is running into the territory of the gimmick, which is prone to happen when a stick-and-paste recipe from two genres with wildly different ethos is slammed onto one another. Love Like That loses its promise to a fusion that morphs into an identity crisis by the second verse. The result is an uncanny valley between an honest fusion and a gimmick made for comic relief.
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