Mr Aakar Patel’s article of June 10, in this newspaper, “Coke Studio’s Indian mystery”, has highlighted a number of issues concerning the failure of “Coke Studio @ MTV” — the Indian version of the show. Being a Pakistani music journalist, I feel it is my duty to clear some misconceptions that he seemed to have regarding Pakistani music, “Coke Studio” and “Coke Studio @ MTV”.
Firstly, the reason for the lack of popularity of “Coke Studio @ MTV” compared with its Pakistani version is not a mystery. I believe that the Indian version can easily do better and the solution is simple: remove Leslie Lewis as the programme’s producer. I fail to understand why Mr Lewis was handed the reins of the programme when there are countless talented musicians in India that could have done a much better job.
Mr Patel discussed the Mekaal Hasan Band’s (MHB) music in some detail and I agree with him that the band’s music is great, but did it pioneer that genre of music in Pakistan? Certainly not. Who came up with the idea, which Mr Patel has described as “traditional Hindustani music made palatable for ears accustomed to listening to more popular music” is a question that is difficult to answer. I saw this happening years ago when Aamir Zaki introduced the now well-known Shafqat Amanat Ali, who did what the MHB does today, in an event that took place in the mid-1990s and whose coverage is present on Youtube.
Let us draw a fine line between what Mr Patel calls ‘traditional Indian music’ and what we call folk music, or to be specific, ‘Pakistani’ folk music. I believe that the most popular songs that have been featured in “Coke Studio” cannot be clubbed under the genre of traditional Indian music. Instead, they can safely be termed as contemporary takes on folk melodies. One might identify some shades of traditional Indian music in them but that is not the same as classifying them under that genre. In fact, in the case of a song like “Peere Pawande Saan”, which is a Sufi kalaam by Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, you cannot exactly do much in terms of giving it a “popular interpretation” as Mr Patel calls it because Bhittai’s kalaams can only be sung in specific surs, as instructed by the great mystic himself. It should also be noted that similar attempts at giving a contemporary touch to folk melodies have happened long before “Coke Studio” came on the scene — Mohammad Ali Shaiki and Allan Faqeer’s “Teray Ishq Main” instantly come to mind.
Mr Patel’s point about Pakistanis not willing to pay for music is certainly valid and quite sad. At the same time, I do not think that having a corporate entity like Coca Cola putting up some money for the Pakistani music industry’s benefit is a bad thing. But what depresses me is when a similar venture fails in culturally-rich India.
I feel that brilliant Indian musicians, even if they are given a chance to produce music for such a venture, won’t opt for it because this requires creating an entirely new formula of music, different from the usual Bollywood item numbers. By following pre-determined formulas, Indian musicians are depriving the Indian audience of enjoying diverse forms of music. This may not hurt the Indian music industry financially, but it does mean that the industry is far from a versatile and diverse one.
It is cruel to say this but it is true.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2012.