The magic of Coke Studio
With the greatest trepidation I come bearing what may not be bad news. In fact, I’m not sure if editorial policy allows me to celebrate something, given tragedies all around us; terrorism and intolerance, Israel and flotillas, Phet and Facebook, the budget, Afridi’s Test captaincy prospects or Rehman Malik’s ties. So at great risk of pricking bubbles of morbidity — and hoping that we don’t spontaneously combust between now and then — tomorrow begins season three of ‘Coke Studio’.
I am unapologetically devoted to Pakistan’s music scene, even if such magnanimity invariably grants forgiveness to Haroon and Faakhir – even after they gave us ‘Mr Fraudiye’. Living abroad during my youth, alongside cricket and PTV, music was the firmest way in which I interacted with Pakistan.
Memory fails me as to which one, but I had a crush on one of the earnest Benjamin Sisters; perhaps more likely it was all three. In the car stereo on drives, the battle would be of age and taste, not nationality; Nayyara Noor or Nazia and Zoheb, Malka Phukraj or Alamgir or Muhammad Ali Shaiki, Mehdi Hassan or Sohail Rana with children so homogenously talented they could only be Chinese or South Indian?
Then, just as I was getting into bad, foreign heavy rock — a genetic failing among subcontinent male teenagers — Music 89 happened. A new world opened up. On annual visits through the 90s, the energy of Pakistan’s contemporary music became clear; Vital Signs, Aamir Zaki, Junoon, Nusrat and much, much else besides, including an incredulously vibrant underground scene. Waves came and went, but were always replaced by new waves.
My arrival here early this decade coincided neatly with another burst. By then, a spell in the UK — musically fresh and open — had expanded my mind and taste so that I worried about keeping in touch. And I couldnÂ’t, but found with much happiness that I didn’t care because there was more than enough here.
Any scene, after all, that can contain Rushk, Meekal Hasan, Coven, Sajid and Zeeshan, Zeb and Haniya, Mauj, Noori, the relentless, driving madness of an Overload beat as well as an entire pop mainstream is rich, thriving in quality and diversity if not quantity. And none of this even touches upon the established and indigenous strains of music, filmi, folk, classical and otherwise.
In particular, the lack of cross-genre snobbery here is precious. In other countries, different genres become different cultures altogether, sneering down at others. The glamsters of house music sniff at skinny indie folk, who sniff right back; the rougher-edged jungle-heads, or garage or hip-hop, look down on everyone. Reggae has its own, minding their business, the herb making love not war. Often people will not take in other genres over an entire existence. Coke Studio’s greatest achievement — besides confirming our contrariness to global norms that say big corporations kill creativity — is to rejoice in this spirit. Here Atif Aslam is as credible as Saeen Zahoor; Ali Zafar branches out from sounding similar to Kishore Kumar; even Strings sound like they may have something new to offer.
Here, if you like it, you listen to it and it doesn’t matter whether it is a ghazal, qawwali, electronica, rock, pop or all in one grand jam. Ultimately, ‘Coke Studio’ makes its own small contribution to an old, tricky dilemma. In an interview with I A Rehman, the ever-lucid Faiz once explained how our cultural tradition consists of two broad, disparate strands: the tradition of Punjabi, Sindhi, Baloch and Pakhtun folk culture and our classical tradition of Urdu, Persian and Arabic. There is friction between them. Post-independence, he said, the rise of an English medium sensibility created a greater muddle, divorced as it was from the other traditions. Unless all three were in harmony, a true cultural identity could not be established.
What else is ‘Coke Studio’ if not an attempt to do precisely this?
Source: The Express Tribune