Renaissance Of South Asian Music: Coke Studio, Pakistan And The World

Renaissance Of South Asian Music: Coke Studio, Pakistan And The World
‘Take Kashmir, give us Coke Studio’, is the response of Indian journalist Jyoti Malhotra to TV journalist Hamid Mir while discussing the Kashmir dispute. In India, Coke Studio Pakistan is the most popular music TV show on YouTube – with a larger fanbase from India than even Pakistan itself.

For the first time in 2008, the world listened to the melodies of Pakistani music with the introduction of Coke Studio by the Coca Cola Company. More than eight years have passed and Coke Studio Pakistan is among the top platforms in Asian mp3 charts and in YouTube viewership all over the world. At a time when Western music has been dominating the tastes of listeners across the world, an alternative musical institution emerged from South Asia in the form of Coke Studio Pakistan.

What makes CSP so special? The answer is their focus on traditional musical heritage – which they are reviving by fusing it with modern musical instruments and singers. They are, in other words, reviving traditional music and texts by fusing them with modern music – and the result is in front of you. Be it the ghazal Aafreen Aafreen, the qawwali Tajdar-e-Haram or the devotional piece Allah Hu; these are just some of the most popular musical melodies recreated by Coke Studio Pakistan.

Consider, for instance, that Season 10 featured qawwali Allahhu Akbar by Shafqat Amanat Ali and Ahmad Jehanzeb. Such compositions and devotional songs are, of course, religious in nature, and that would ordinarily make it difficult for them to find an audience amongst listeners of other faiths. But the school of Coke Studio Pakistan makes it a chartbuster amongst different faiths of listeners.

Until the day Coke Studio Pakistan (CSP) emerged, South Asian music was predominantly within the Bollywood musical system where different movies demanded different music. Thus ghazals, Sufi rock, classical, qawwali, religious music and Kafi music lost its significance in Bollywood music as mainstream Bollywood movies had no place for such genres.

Kafi music – which is the writings of Baba Bulleh Shah, Baba Fareed, Shah Niaz, Kabir, Amir Khusrau and others – has been featured on CSP and their impact was such that Bollywood started composing music from their writings. 'Jugni' from the movie Cocktail, 'Bulleya' from Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Sultan, 'Tajdar-e Haram' from Satyame Jayate.

Coke Studio Pakistan successfully broke the stereotypical Bollywood style music prevalent in South Asia by providing different genres of music to listeners such as Qawwali, Sufiana classical, folk, regional, Western etc in front of the whole world. So, a layman from Asia or from the West gets to listen to different genres of beautiful Eastern music in one show. Similarly they get to hear music and songs in different languages such as Punjabi, Urdu, Balochi, Persian, Sindhi, English. Thus Coke Studio Pakistan represents Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Iran and Bangladesh as people in these countries are familiar with these languages. With this diversity in music, language and genre CSP is known as the music industry of South Asia.

Shahroz Ahmad Siddiqui, aspiring Kashmiri singer based in Dubai, says, “Coke Studio has created a musical composite culture across Asia. And due to the success of Coke Studio Pakistan, studios and music productions like Nescafe Basement emerged which further strengthened the musical heritage of South Asia. In the UAE, you will find artists of Coke Studio Pakistan performing in front of Indians, Afghans, Bangladeshi audiences which are bringing people of this region together – especially India and Pakistanis".

In my opinion, Coke Studio Pakistan is a platform which presents the musical talent of Pakistan to the world. Who could have thought that writings of Sufi mystics will become anthems of love and peace, Quranic concepts will spread through the medium of guitar and music studio, music from Pakistan will transcend all boundaries, barriers and languages?

Let's give it to the composers and musicians of Coke Studio Pakistan, they deserve acknowledgement.

The Coke Studio Effect

In 2012, Nescafe Pakistan started Nescafe Basement, a musical television concert similar to Coke Studio, paving the way for college students and aspiring artists to reach heights of success. Such a marketing method is highly effective, as MNCs like the Coca Cola company and Nescafe are popular not only for their food outlets but for producing quality music.

To our surprise, Nescafe Basement is producing quality music and is an emerging contender to Coke Studio Pakistan.

'Bol Hi,' a song from Coke Studio Pakistan, is a perfect example of manufacturing grassroot musical talent. 8-year-old singer Hadiya Hashmi sings her first song and receives praise from across the world, not to forget leaving Indian playback singer Sonu Nigam teary-eyed.

Amir Khusrau introduced Qawwali singing in India to propagate Islamic teachings and values as people in India were fond of singing and listening to music, the same is true of CSP in propagation of Islamic values, teachings etc. For instance, CSP's 'Tajdar-e-Haram,' which is a naat sung by Atif Aslam, has crossed more than 315 million YouTube views all over the world, with its listeners mostly from India and the West. This is what music does. Non-Muslims in India and in the West are singing 'Tajdar-e-Haram' and uploading it on to YouTube and on Facebook. I have read thousands of comments from foreigners asking Asians to teach them Urdu or Punjabi language in order to understand Islamic mysticism better. Perhaps this reality is something to ponder over for those people who are interested in bans on music itself, etc.

On the 11th of July 2018, Kashmiris all across the globe had tears of joy when Coke Studio released the first ever Kashmiri song titled 'Ha Gulo' – sung by Mohammad Altaf Mir and team, and written by our beloved poet Mehjoor. As usual we all loved the song. And more than love, it evoked nostalgic memories and visuals of the other side of Kashmir, which made our eyes wet again and again.

Similarly, Season 12 of Coke Studio produced another Kashmiri song titled 'Roshe,' sung by Zeb Bangash and written by Kashmiri Sufi poet Habba Khatoon in the memory of her husband, who was captured by the Mughal army.

If we learn lessons of business and promotion, then Coke Studio Pakistan is the best example to learn. Such a method of advertising and financing is something which our entrepreneurs and commercial institutions have to learn. Coca Cola Company is serving two purposes through CSP: one is promotion of their brand name, another is their contribution in promoting regional music of Pakistan to highest level. This is an instance of the corporate social responsibility that we often hear so much of.

I consider Coke Studio Pakistan a platform which presented the musical talent of Pakistan to the world. Who could have thought that writings of Sufi mystics will become anthems of love and peace, Quranic verses will spread through the medium of guitar and music studio, music from Pakistan will transcend all boundaries, barriers and languages. Let's give it to the composers and musicians of Coke Studio Pakistan: they deserve acknowledgement!

The most important contribution which Coke Studio Pakistan has served is in creating a sympathetic, soft and music-loving image of Pakistan. A country identified for its domestic and international problems is now known for its Coke Studio music too. This is the best way of cultural promotion for a state in pursuing its national interest and in creating a people-friendly image all over the world. The concept of soft power in international relations is very well practiced by Pakistan. We, as listeners and lovers of Coke Studio Pakistan, wish to hear a collaboration of Indo-Pak Coke Studio – as it will produce the best from the South Asian region.

Till this collaboration is done, we thank Coke Studio Pakistan for showcasing the rich South Asian musical heritage to the whole world.

The author is a law student and ardent music lover based in Srinagar, Kashmir