Beggar at Ghazi Chowk


Rock the Airwaves in Pakistan.

6 Jun 2010

Coke Studio, my eternal love, goes on air again tonight for a third season. Its not just a television show, an expensive ad campaign. For most it means so much more.

A little history first. Coke Studio is spearheaded by Rohail Hyatt, one of the three permanent members of the Vital Signs, Pakistan’s late 80s and 90s pop sensation. Think of them as our beatles. After they stopped operating in the late 90s, Rohail went on to production and soundtrack work, and then got on to Coke Studio.

In its most elementary form, Coke Studio is a massive ad campaign for Coca Cola Pakistan, as the channels are paid to broadcast the show on radio and television all over the country. Content is then made available for free download on the Coke Studio website.

The show has created a house band out of the best musicians in the country, and then invites bands and vocalists to add a new twist to their own songs or to performs new ones with a maestro orchestra of sorts.

Coke Studio has opened doorways for traditional sufi and folk music to enter the mainstream media to huge success. Some say it is the only outlet for this to happen at the moment, others say it is the only successful one. Eitherway, it has made headway never made before. It embodies the spirit of Pakistani folk and rock and roll coming together for 21st century youth.

Rock and roll still rules the airwaves in Pakistan. Some pop from the 90s makes its way, but that is mostly nostalgia tinted. Even the Vital Signs, the Rock Kings of Pakistan had shifted to a more soft rock genre in their last album Hum Tum by 1995/96. The album lacked the commercial and critical success of the Vital Signs at their prime at the time, but has now gone on to become a local music legend featuring hits such as Jeetain Gay, Maula and Aitebaar (Unplugged).

Traditional sufi and folk music, played at shrines, road sides and melas (carnivals/festivals) has a very rock spirit to it. Its soulful, meaningful lyrics, often hypnotic, mystical tendencies and crowd aesthetic mimics the synergy at rock concerts. The harmony has led to the creation of Pakistani genre called Sufi Rock, pioneered by 90s rock sensation Junoon.

And so Coke Studio becomes an amalgam, almost representative of the modern Pakistani voice. It picks up underground rockers, road side troubadours and household western and eastern style musicians. One of this years biggest names is Abida Parveen, once described by The Guardian as the best voice on earth. Behind the Scenes of the first episode are out, and below is Abida Ji talking about her love for music. An amateur attempt at translation follows, hopefully it conveys the spirit of the message she was trying to give. In times like these, this remains one constant source of energy, hope, fun and entertainment.

The truth is connected to reality. But you have to find it, figure out where the truth is, that’s what everyone is looking for. You shouldn’t leave the truth when you find it. We have to enchant people with this Sufi, Dargahi (from shrines and darbaars) music; take them away from worldly things. Music is a journey of the wind. This is my only passion, I have no other world. It’s only love that is a shiny gift.

Don’t look at who it is, look at what he’s saying.

Only from vision is the heart’s judgment made, Without pride in our vision what is love?