At a time when the music scene in Pakistan was breathing its last, The Coca Cola Company introduced Coke Studio in 2008.
Under the supervision of producer Rohail Hyatt, Coke Studio produced music that made its mark internationally and artists like Meesha Shafi, Arif Lohar, Zeb and Haniya, Saaen Zahoor and Javed Bashir became household names in Pakistan and across the border. The hype of this unique sound in a Bollywood music-driven Indian market inspired a collaboration of Coca Cola India and MTV India, resulting in the birth of Coke Studio @ MTV (CS @ MTV).
“In no time, Coke Studio Pakistan had taken over the Indian market,” Wasim Basir, the director of integrated marketing communications at Coca Cola India tells The Express Tribune. “It’s something that we [CS@MTV] always look up to.”
“We had conducted research in 2010 which revealed that 25% of all Google searches in India were for Coke Studio Pakistan – this was amazing!”
Thus in 2011, CS @MTV released its first season under the supervision of producer Leslie Lewis. Despite the inclusion of many mainstream and folk artists, the Indian franchise turned out to be a major let down.
“I would not agree that it was a letdown, but we failed to meet expectations,” says Aditya Swamy, the executive vice president and business head of MTV India. He explains that “demanding 50 songs in 60 days was too much for a solo producer”.
“I picked up the phone and called Rohail Hyatt, to get his blessings before starting our own Coke Studio,” says Swamy. “Rohail is a genius, but no producer in India would ever dedicate themselves to one project with so many opportunities present.”
With its second season, CS @ MTV proved all critics wrong by setting new standards in world and fusion music. They used six different producers and composed sheer magic with viral songs like Husna, Madari and Chad De, which went on to be discussed and appreciated by top Pakistani musicians.
“The strength of India is diversity,” explains Swamy. “All we did was give a two line brief to all the producers and we had seven different expressions of India and Coke Studio,” he adds.
While the result of a change in format proved to be spectacular, involving so many producers must have stretched the project’s budget quite high. But Swamy chuckles and says, “If I had to pay all of them their standard amount, then Coke will need to sell a trillion more bottles to recover the cost.” He continues, “It’s more about the love of music and less about the financial return. The producers are getting the best audio and video facility available and an album too. We at MTV are like a creative filter and no one is setting any restrictions. It is the creative freedom that has made this project viable.”
A Pakistani influence
Wasim Basir of Coca Cola believes that CS @ MTV has delivered what it had envisioned and the returns have been more than substantial. He describes Husna, a song sung by Piyush Mishra for the second of CS @ MTV that talks about two lovers who were separated during the partition of India. The lover left in India asks his beloved Husna, whether Pakistan is still the same.
“Husna gives a statement worthy of a brand like Coca Cola. We always believe in celebrating happiness through diversity and songs like these tell you that from a cultural perspective, ties are healthy between the two countries,” says Basir.
Coke Studio @ MTV has successfully created an alternative sound for India, a country identified by Bollywood music. Despite a small group of artists like Euphoria and Lucky Ali, there has been no consistent parallel music industry before this venture.
“Places like the well-known Hard Rock Café are playing our music and asking us for live performances, which is never the case for Bollywood music,” he says with pride. “The level of acceptance has been great. Industry professionals and all other stake holders who were primarily concerned with Bollywood have delayed their commitments to be a part of CS,” he adds.
While album sales have worked out well for CS @ MTV, its Pakistani counterpart has unfortunately not been able to capitalise on album sales due to the illegal distribution of music. But at the end of it all, Basir and Swamy are more than willing to pay credit where it’s due; to Rohail and other Pakistani musicians for changing the trends of music in the region.
“As a local radio jingle goes these days ‘Britney chali gayi or sufi agaye’ – this is how Coke Studio and Pakistani musicians have changed the game!” says Swamy, who is an avid fan of Pakistan’s Coke Studio. “There was a time when we [in India] used to just have a particular DJ night at clubs, but now we have Sufi nights. I am really happy that this influence is coming from our neighbouring country,” he says.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 30th, 2013.
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