Bless­ing in Dis­guise

Coke Stu­dio has re­vived the mu­sic in­dus­try in Pak­istan giv­ing new mean­ing to mu­si­cal col­lab­o­ra­tion, from western in­flu­ences to tra­di­tional roots.

Southasia - - Contents - By Taha Ke­har

Coke Stu­dio rev­o­lu­tion­izes the Pak­istan mu­sic in­dus­try

Coke Stu­dio is ar­guably one of the largest mu­si­cal ex­trav­a­gan­zas to emerge from the sub­con­ti­nent. From its in­cep­tion in 2008, Coke Stu­dio has gen­er­ated rave re­sponses among mu­sic lis­ten­ers and, through its di­verse menu of en­thralling melodies, es­tab­lished it­self as a force for so­cial change. Over­all, the ini­tia­tive has been a bless­ing in dis­guise for Pak­istan; a coun­try that cur­rently finds it­self in a quag­mire. Geno­cide has be­come the or­der of the day and po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity per­me­ates all spheres of life. Un­der these cir­cum­stances, Coke Stu­dio has en­abled Pak­istan to climb out of its predica­ment and negate the com­mon mis­per­cep­tion of be­ing a volatile coun­try.

Now in its fifth sea­son, Coke Stu­dio has placed con­sid­er­able em­pha­sis in pro­mot­ing an eclec­tic mix of mu­sic gen­res. The pre­dom­i­nantly western in­flu­ences on the lo­cal mu­sic scene have now taken a back­seat to en­thralling folk songs and Sufi melo- dies. For­eign mu­sic styles have been skil­fully in­ter­spersed with lo­cal gen­res to pro­duce a pow­er­ful fu­sion. The suc­cess and pop­u­lar­ity that Coke Stu­dio en­joyed, in­spired In­dia to cap­i­tal­ize on the pop­u­lar­ity of the mu­sic se­ries.

In 2011, MTV In­dia and the Coca Cola Com­pany launched the In­dian ver­sion of Coke Stu­dio, called Coke Stu­dio@MTV. The In­dian se­ries at­tempted to break through the stereo­typ­i­cal mould of Bol­ly­wood mu­sic and pro­mote a di­verse range of gen­res. But since it fea­tured only well-known mu­si­cians in or­der to at­tract view­er­ship and sig­nif­i­cantly com­pro­mised on the qual­ity of mu­sic, the In­dian ver­sion of the mu­sic se­ries did not mea­sure up to ex­pec­ta­tions.

Crit­ics have re­al­ized the abun­dance of tal­ent in the sub­con­ti­nent and feel that In­dia and Pak­istan should col­lab­o­rate on the mu­sic se­ries. Both coun­tries can draw upon their shared cul­tural legacy and pro­duce a rich fu­sion of mu­sic. While such an ini­tia­tive could po­ten­tially push for­ward the peace process be­tween the coun­tries, it has largely been viewed with skep­ti­cism.

The idea of such a mu­si­cal col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the coun­tries re­stricts the scope of the mu­sic se­ries. South Asia has a rich mu­si­cal her­itage,

which is in des­per­ate need of be­ing re­stored lest it is for­ever lost in the sands of time. By lim­it­ing it­self only to In­dia and Pak­istan, the Coke Stu­dio ini­tia­tive would stand the risk of ig­nor­ing cer­tain mu­si­cal gen­res that are in dan­ger of ex­tinc­tion. In or­der to pre­serve in­dige­nous mu­sic from South Asia, all coun­tries in the re­gion should col­lab­o­rate and pro­duce a ven­ture that is sim­i­lar to Coke Stu­dio. As a con­se­quence, a di­verse ar­ray of mu­sic would be pro­duced and sol­i­dar­ity would be main­tained among coun­tries in the re­gion.

Since Pak­istan has ini­ti­ated the Coke Stu­dio project in South Asia and has man­aged to reel in au­di­ence from all over the world, it en­joys an edge over its In­dian coun­ter­part. Pro­duced by Ro­hail Hy­att, Coke Stu­dio has rev­o­lu­tion­ized the mu­sic scene by breath­ing new life into it. It has cre­ated a plat­form through which tal­ented mu­si­cians have com­posed both new songs and mem­o­rable ren­di­tions of old melodies. More sig­nif­i­cantly, it has pro­vided op­por­tu­ni­ties for new tal­ent to be dis­cov­ered. Vo­cal­ists such as Bi­lal Khan, Mee­sha Shafi and the Vic­caji sis­ters are all young prodi­gies who have gained pop­u­lar­ity be­cause of the Coke Stu­dio ini­tia­tive.

The mu­sic in­dus­try in Pak­istan has suf­fered a mas­sive blow af­ter se­vere re­stric­tions were im­posed on the per­form­ing arts dur­ing Gen­eral Zia’s era. Iron­i­cally, this has en­cour­aged mu­si­cians to hone their tal­ent and ex­hibit their craft with com­pe­tence. In­dia, on the other hand, has a thriv­ing film and mu­sic in­dus­try that has re­mained strong de­spite po­lit­i­cal up­heavals. Coke Stu­dio would be just an­other achieve­ment to add to its ré­sumé. Since both coun­tries may de­cide to col­lab­o­rate for very dif­fer­ent rea­sons, it could neg­a­tively im­pact the stan­dard of mu­sic that will be pro­duced.

De­spite this wave of skep­ti­cism, if In­dia and Pak­istan were to work to­gether to pro­duce the mu­sic se­ries, it would in­di­cate that both coun­tries are keen on strength­en­ing bi­lat­eral re­la­tions through cre­ative ini­tia­tives. In re­cent years, both In­dia and Pak­istan have suc­cess­fully col­lab­o­rated to pro­duce var­i­ous artis­tic en­deav­ors. While these ef­forts have gone largely un­rec­og­nized, they are a strong tes­ta­ment to how ef­fec­tively both coun­tries can put aside their his­tory of an­tag­o­nism and work to­wards pos­i­tive change. Skep- tics have pre­dicted that un­fa­vor­able out­comes would de­velop if In­dia and Pak­istan were to jointly pro­duce the Coke Stu­dio se­ries. Such con­clu­sions have, to a great ex­tent, been shaped by long-stand­ing hos­til­i­ties that ex­ist be­tween the coun­tries.

Over the years, both coun­tries have col­lab­o­rated on var­i­ous ini­tia­tives. In re­cent years, artistes from In­dia and Pak­istan have worked across the bor­der on a spec­trum of projects. These ini­tia­tives have not been re­stricted to mu­si­cal ven­tures and the per­form­ing arts. They also en­com­pass phil­an­thropic ac­tiv­i­ties that are geared to­wards main­tain­ing the hu­man­i­tar­ian cause. Given that these projects have been con­ducted suc­cess­fully, it is per­ti­nent to con­clude that both coun­tries would do jus­tice to the mu­sic se­ries through their com­bined ef­forts.

Coke Stu­dio has com­pletely re­de­fined the scope for eastern mu­sic. It has suc­ceeded in bring­ing to­gether the mu­sic tastes and tra­di­tions of var­i­ous cul­tures and al­lowed the world to rel­ish in mu­sic that is both es­o­teric and en­gag­ing. More sig­nif­i­cantly, it has en­abled Pak­istan to re­store and re­in­force its cul­tural iden­tity through mu­sic. While In­dia has made a rea­son­ably good at­tempt at recre­at­ing this rich mu­si­cal jour­ney, it will need a stronger im­pe­tus to en­sure that the qual­ity and stan­dard of mu­sic mir­rors per­fec­tion. Since Pak­istan has done sub­stan­tially well in mak­ing Coke Stu­dio a suc­cess­ful ven­ture, it can help In­dia in achiev­ing the right bal­ance be­tween cre­ativ­ity and so­phis­ti­ca­tion. This can only oc­cur if both coun­tries take the ven­ture se­ri­ously and pro­mote their shared cul­tural legacy through mu­sic. Taha Ke­har is a blog­ger on so­cial is­sues and has pre­vi­ously worked for a me­dia mag­a­zine. He is cur­rently pur­su­ing law at the School of Ori­en­tal and African Stud­ies.

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