by Ayesha binte Rashid
There is a flutter, the heart skips a beat and the sensation travels downwards towards the stomach, a tingle rushing across, as butterflies make a home and begin to dance. We know this feeling all too well - this is a new love. In Ram Pam, we find a girl in the throes of such a love, a love that our girl wants to shout from the rooftops to anyone who will listen - with earnestness, she declares the state of her heart to Baba Bhatti, a man who has decided to be a mentor and friend to her restless condition.
At Coke Studio, it is Zoe Viccaji’s voice that embodies the character of this girl. She tells Baba Bhatti of a newfound love that is making her heart go, “bam bam,” and, “taara ra ram pam pam”. The song’s lyrics are lined with the slightest hint of melancholy. The object of her affections is not present, yet continues to occupy her thoughts obsessively. As she implores her love not to cause her sorrow or forget her, our girl declares that the loneliness caused by his absence has taken over her nights. Plagued by incessant dreams of her love, she tells Baba Jee that she belongs now completely to her dholna, that in her attempts to be with him, she could even court death for him. Her life now begins and ends with him: “tum pih shuru, tum pih khatum,” she calls out to her absentee beloved.
Stepping in to console his young mentee is Baba Bhatti, in the form of vocalist Shahab Hussain. For Shahab, this is his first time on the mainstage as a featured artist on Coke Studio. With his wisdom and foresight, Shahab’s fictional, “najoomi” Baba recognizes the sincerity in Zoe’s affections and promises to be her friend as she pursues her beloved. In this way, the girl finds a humsaya in Baba Bhatti and the two sing together in what becomes a fun, upbeat duet between two members of the Coke Studio family.
Ram Pam is the creation of Sahir Ali Bagga, a songwriter known for his versatility with the theme of love, presenting it in soulful ballads, Punjabi bhangra duets and, now, quirky Urdu banter. “Sometimes in romance, you can be funny too, right?” says Bagga. “You can be happy, but you don’t have to be dancing around like crazy, you can just be chilled out and funny with it,” he explains the thought process behind Ram Pam. For Bagga, the lyrics came straight from a sentiment, from a mood of merriment and innocence that he decided to pen down, and the poetry made its way to Coke Studio’s mainstage in Zoe and Shahab’s voices.
When asked to give the song’s protagonist her voice, Zoe was drawn to it because of its happy, playful vibe and mix of genres. “It’s a pop song ... and goes into a jazz section. Because I come from a jazz background, and that’s the kind of music I really love ... I get to show my jazz chops. Then it goes into a very Eastern section, so it’s really a mix of different genres [and] that’s essentially what pop is.” Mixing these genres was also challenging for the singer, a challenge that only added to the fun of the song, “Murkis (eastern singing technique) don’t come naturally to me so it’s been really fun to see how I can play with them and merge them with [contemporary] styles.”
Shahab happens to be an old friend of Zoe’s so, for the two, this was a duet they fell into with ease. “Shahab and I go way back. We used to write songs together, like 7 years ago. I was really happy to find out that he was doing the part with me,” says Zoe. The chemistry between the artists is important, Shahab explains, because of the unusual, quirky nature of the relationship between the characters of the song: “That relationships needs to show [in the performance]. We’ve tried our best to show our connection, through our words, our singing and also our actions.”
For Shahab, while performing with an old friend was a welcome leap onto the mainstage, the nerves still existed while preparing: “It was a transition, going from a chorus of four people to standing, just me, next to the artist. Everyone is treating me like an artist and trying to buck me up. Everything is happening around me, I’m not working around the artist, everyone is working around me.” As he starts performing however, Shahab’s nervousness falls away, and the thrill of the performance takes over: “My hands started moving along to the song, I seemed to grow four extra hands,” he laughs, “From inside, I think I felt the same because when I stand at the backing vocalists’ space, I’m giving it my 100%, I’m singing from my heart, I’m like that 5-year-old kid who is singing with all he’s got, and I felt the same on the mainstage.”
The production experience behind this song is one of friendship and collaboration, in the end turning out to be as fun as the song’s lyrics, a collective experience between colleagues and friends who have worked together, on and outside of Coke Studio. Shahab’s fellow house band members tease and encourage him during the recording. Coke Studio resident Rachel Viccaji chimes in as Zoe rehearses, telling her sister to be less nervous, sharing inside jokes. “It’s like coming back home,” Zoe says of the experience, “It was a lot of fun, especially with the band because [they] were very upbeat. Everyone was laughing, interacting, there was good energy, so I had a really great time.”
Ultimately, Ram Pam is a light-hearted take on romance, a reminder that, maybe, love need not always be a serious or tragic business, and much like the protagonist of the song needs a friendly ear to hear her plight, at the end of the day, we all need our friends in times of angst, excitement and silliness. Ram Pam is a song that invites listeners to participate in the fun that was had during the experience of creating it.