When Coke Studio began as a concert show back in 2008, few would have predicted that it could have the kind of impact it has had. Closing in on ten years, the music television series was conceptualized by Vital Sign’s Rohail Hayat, who along with his wife kick-started the series not knowing how radically it would shape Pakistani music for years to come.
In 2008, when Coke Studio appeared on the scene, the Pakistani music was in doldrums and in desperate need of a saviour. There were very few music channels that were local and the ones that were, chose to air Indian artists as they were the ones that the public wanted to hear.
Indian content was being shown and talked about on our TV channels and discussed, and the public had become accustomed to thinking that Indian music (like their movies and TV shows) were superior. This along with the turbulent law and order situation in Pakistan, which put a stop to concerts, meant making a living as a musician was not easy for local artists.
In 2008, when Coke Studio appeared on the scene, the Pakistani music was in doldrums and in desperate need of a savior.
The post 9/11 world encouraged Rohail Hayat to dive into the folk music of the nation, something he admits he had never known much about before. To truly understand eastern music, he looked beyond what was simply Pakistani music. In an interview with NewsLine, he explained this: “I suffered a serious phase of identity crisis in terms of who and what I was, especially post 9/11.
Anybody with whom I brought this subject up would never ever own up to being Indians at one point. Their response was more like, ‘Our history is 65 years old and everything else before that is not us.’ But this is the Indus Valley Civilization you are talking about. How can you dismiss that just because they were pagans or non-Muslims? They are our ancestors and that’s who we are. We have inherited all that, we’re from that.
This region was a melting point of Central Asia, Buddhists, Dravidians, Persians, Arabs; everybody came and settled here. I was told Lal Shahbaz Qalandar was a gora, a Central Asian Gora. He settled here and learnt the language. We don’t know these things. We assume he must’ve been a Sindhi. Amir Khasrau was Turkish.”
And thus began the idea of fusing the older folk music with contemporary music. The Coke Studio concept was created in 2007 in Brazil, where musical performances were held on a concert-like platform and Hayat took this concept and tweaked it, turning it into the Coke Studio that we know and love today and has become one of Pakistan’s largest cultural exports.
Hayat recruited notable names like Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Ali Azmat and Strings. The first season was an instant rating hit because the show featured a lot of well-respected and known artists, audiences were instantly hooked. Subsequent seasons brought more talent to the forefront.
Atif Aslam, Abida Parveen, Josh, Arif Lohar, Hadiqa Kiani are just few of the names to lend their talents to the show. Coke Studio also did the monumental task of uncovering some of the best new voices in Pakistani music. The series effectively brought previously unknown artists like Meesha Shafi, the Jaswal Brothers, Momina Mustehsan, Zeb and Haniya, Zoe Vicaji and Bilal Khan to the public eye, making them stars overnight.
With their mix of modern and contemporary artists, Coke Studio reinvented old songs, making them popular for a whole new generation. Capturing the need of the youth, Coke Studio paired its well-established singers with some relative newcomers, making eclectic combinations of artists, some which worked, and some that didn’t.
Indian content was being shown and talked about on our TV channels and discussed, and the public had become accustomed to thinking that Indian music.
Where else would fans get to see California based Punjabi rapper Bohemia with the dhol gheet musicians Chakwal Group, or see rock band Overload member Shafi collaborate with Punjabi folk singer Arif Lohar to bring to life a 17th-century poem. The series has gone through stronger and weaker seasons as many changes have been made behind the scenes; Rohail Hayat produced the first six seasons, Strings managed the next four and now Ali Hamza and Zohaib Kazi are the ones calling the shots.
To say that the impact of Coke Studio has been profound would be an understatement. The TV series can be credited for not only reviving our dying music industry but also purging any notions that Indian music was superior to ours. And because of how popular Pakistan’s Coke Studio is among Indians (including actor Hrithik Roshan and actress Anushka Sharma and singer Rekha Bhardwaj), the fact that music from Pakistani Coke Studio is better than Indian music isn’t even up for debate now.
It’s not just India that the hit music series has impressed, with billions of streams and counting, Coke Studio’s appeal is universal. Following Pakistani Coke Studio extraordinary success, similar shows have been launched in India, Philippines, Africa and the Middle East. The success of the series even brought in international talents like Indian playback artist Shilpa Rao and American EDM duo Krewella.
What’s remarkable about Coke Studio is that it has not only ushered in a new legion of Pakistani music aficionados and unearthed hidden talents, the series has also revived the careers of many of the legendary singers of Pakistan. Popular Punjabi songstress Humera Arshad recently talked about the importance of Coke Studio: “We never had a shortage of talent in Pakistan. We have always had a lot of capable people.
The series effectively brought previously unknown artists like Meesha Shafi, the Jaswal Brothers, Momina Mustehsan, Zeb and Haniya, Zoe Vicaji and Bilal Khan to the public eye, making them stars overnight.
However, there has always been a lack of opportunities and platforms for newcomers. When there are no platforms like Coke Studio, it’s hard for these personalities to show off their flair and so, their talent goes to waste too. Coke Studio did a wonderful job at boosting the careers of many such artists.”
The success of Coke Studio has not only brought more music channels to our TV again but also propelled companies like Nescafe and Pepsi to launch their own music television shows, providing more platforms for Pakistanis to shine. One of the smartest things Coke Studio did early on was to embrace the digital revolution and use Youtube and Soundcloud as a medium for reaching even more people.
The subsequent success of these songs also brought in Pakistani owned streaming sites and apps such as Taazi and Patari which have done their share in promoting Pakistani music to Pakistani and international audiences. Season 8 of the Coke Studio was one of the highlights of the series’ run as hit after hit from Coke Studio continued to dominate Soundcloud and other popular South Asian apps, and was heard in over 150 countries.
The 9th season also had almost 4 million views on the social platform. With its new pair of producers, Ali Hamza and Zohaib Kazi, the phenomenon that is Coke Studio is shaking things up in its eleventh season. The series launched a prequel web series, Coke Studio Explorer which follows the musical collaborations of Ali Hamza and Zohaib Kazi will unknown artists from different regions of Pakistan.
By shedding light on artists from Chitral, Rural Sindh, Muzaffarabad and Baluchistan, the series has expanded its horizon and once again surprised and impressed Pakistanis and the world with the high calibre of talent tucked away in our country. All five episodes have been met warmly by fans and critics which bears well for the ongoing eleventh season of the show.
The success of the series even brought in international talents like Indian playback artist Shilpa Rao and American EDM duo Krewella.
The lineup for the eleventh season has already been met with raucous acclaim and been praised for including transgender artists Naghma and Lucky. The lineup also includes rock star Ali Azmat, actor Ahad Raza Mir, bands Kolachi, Khumariyan, Lyari Underground, Young Desi and Mughal-E-Funk. Joining them are veterans Abida Perveen, Abrar Ul Haq, Jawad Ahmad and Attaullah Esakhelvi among others.
When asked what made Coke Studio Pakistan such a hit, Coca Cola’s IMC Manager Sadaf Zarar had this to say: “Some of the Coke Studios elsewhere have actually not been as successful if I may say so, as much as Pakistan, because Pakistani Coke Studio is inherently grounded in Pakistan.
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So if you go in and try to make the best song then you are competing with anything and everything that the young people are listening to whether it’s the Beyonces of the world and anything. So you need to be very aware of what your niche is and you need to be the best at it.
So Coke Studio doesn’t try to be the best popular music in Pakistan, Coke Studio essentially creates the best Pakistani music there is to offer.” Whether the eleventh studio of Coke Studio makes as big of a mark as the previous installments is yet to be seen, but under its new producers and with the new Explorer spin-off, Coke Studio continues to deliver.