Blessing in Disguise

Written by Taha Kehar  •  Features  •  July 2012 PDF Print E-mail

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

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 melodies. 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. Skeptics 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 Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

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