Beggar at Ghazi Chowk


Coke Studio’s Possible Timelessness.

5 Nov 2011


To Kia Hua played on shuffle on Monday and got me thinking on the levels of interaction in Coke Studio. I thought I’d write a short post before I forget what I was thinking.

The process represented by To Kia Hua epitomizes what makes the Coke Studio discourse compelling and revolutionary. ┬áIt’s perhaps best to point out here that this is not my favorite Coke Studio song, not from this season, certainly not from the ones past but the process was illustrative.

Here’s a look at the levels of interpretation in the song:

  • Bilal Khan takes emotional sentiment from college-aged fellows around him and writes a song of lost love and discovering your way. He said once that this was perhaps the one song he wrote about general feelings not necessary those of his own.
  • The original underground aesthetic of the song is presented in a bootleg video of trademark Khan on acoustic guitar. It’s a style to me, made necessary by expensive studio time, lack of studio space, perhaps even lack of electricity to plug an amp (although that’s stretching it I admit)
  • Rohail Hyatt listens to presumably a slightly more semi-professional recording of the song, and his head starts whirring with ideas
  • Khan plays it live for Hyatt, Hyatt brings in Babar Khanna
  • Babar Khanna formulates a dhol groove to accompany the song, this becomes it’s new centre. So the process thus far has changed the focus from Khan’s guitar to Khanna’s percussions, orchestrated by Hyatt.
  • The House Band builds off of Khanna’s dhol groove. The more I listen to it the more I realize what Rohail Hyatt said in an interview. The entire song is based not on a reworking of Khan’s underground recording, but on Khanna’s improvised dhol groove. Sure, Khan’s song remains, but it is Khanna that runs it now.
  • Hyatt then reinterprets the whole process in his own vision, mastering and producing to a final version, emphasizing the dhol groove, creating strong emotional starts and stops. It is the flamingly progressive look to Khan’s original which was deep but stationary.

Of course there’s other stuff going on too. Watching the song with the visuals is so much more powerful than the audio. The amount of people and effort (and money) involved shows. The bridge (arguably the most interesting part of Khan’s compostions) is more prominent.

And the simple fact that Coke Studio itself can be so many different things. It is simultaneously a curated look into Pakistani music, a massive Coca-Cola ad, a Rohail Hyatt thought experiment, and a window to Pakistani music for internationals and estranged locals alike. To many others it’s sheer power stalls the music industry by being the centre of attention and grabbing all the big names, and more importantly telling everyone who the big names are and should be. Many are estranged but I tend to take the Studio’s side, not theirs.

What makes Junoon timeless to me is the discourse that goes on there. The east meets west persona is not a reinterpretation of one musical genre, it is many people’s takes on many ideas put together, and packaged with one strong emotion. Similarly Coke Studio, orchestrated by Hyatt is packed with cycles on decoding everything around us and then putting it back together in a nice package that sells ridiculously well.

Sure it’s somewhat formulaic now. Pick new starts, a couple of old timers, put a few together, add traditional elements to Western Rock, package with high quality video and good sound and that good old disclaimer before you download. Part of the charm of Seasons 1 and 2 is gone because the formula appears to be turning static. I’m sure Hyatt himself would disagree. But some greatness remains.(I wrote this Monday but delayed to put it up because I wanted to put up something on Imran Khan’s rally first, too much emotion there to let go with my random Coke Studio analyses)