It was inevitable that Indians would love Coke Studio.
The concept that began in Brazil, attempted to bring musicians of two genres together, as a fusion. It then moved to Pakistan, and thanks to YouTube, millions of Indians watched the Coke Studio productions.
Why would Indians lap up Coke Studio?
Because saar, we have no music industry only. Indipop is dead, and classical music and rock belong to very small segments. Most of the music we listen to is film music. In fact, everything is film music.
And till a few years back, all our film music would be the same set – lead singers, drums, some synthesiser, and chorus. Of course, the last few years have been slightly better, but essentially all the music we listen to is made for films. Which means that there is an image we have in mind, there is a context in which the songs appear. Which doesn’t make it music in the true sense. There is nothing to interpret or make out of it. It’s an accompaniment to some moronic film.
Coke Studio Pakistan, under the guidance of Rohail Hyatt as Producer, churned out one beauty after another. Whether it was the stranglehold on your senses by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan in Garaj Baras, or the rustic sound of Jugnoo, every song had it’s own personality. It told a story.
Also, I think, when something is nice in Pakistan, Indians immediately feel a certain connect. I mean, the guys look like us, we use the same words in our songs, and even the instruments are the same. They have Wasim Akram, and we have Sanjay Manjrekar. They are our brothers, only.
And when it was announced that MTV and Coca Cola were bringing Coke Studio to India, I was anticipating it eagerly.
The first trailers of the Indian series appeared one evening on MTV. It had Kailash Kher and a woman singing together.
Even though it was a Friday, I sat in front of the TV at 7 PM to watch it. I was watching it for Kailash Kher, and the whole novelty of it. But after the song was over, it actually felt calm. The song was more noise than anything else.
One after the other, every Friday, MTV spat out one disappointing episode after another. The main problem was that we had heard all the artists earlier. And half of them were singing film songs. Film songs, for fuck’s sake!
In the Pakistan version, relatively unknown artists became heroes – Aik Alif, Alif Lohar, Noori to some extent. Here, the singers were KK, Shaan, Kailash Kher, Shankar Mahadevan.
And then, I realised who the producer was. Leslie Lewis.
I liked his work in Colonial Cousins, and this time there wasn’t even Hariharan with his honey voice. Leslie Lewis was the guy who had started the Remix trend, ruining my teenage years, and in a way causing the death of Indipop.
Most of the songs were remakes of Hindi films songs. Some of them simply atrocious – like ‘Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho’, where you start frantically looking for a chainsaw after the first two minutes. Why would you do that?
Why would you show us these guys who we have been listening to for decades? And how was this fusion of any sort?
I stopped watching after the first three episodes, I guess. The guys at Coke Studio even invited Shafqat Amanat Ali to sing for one of the episodes. Things must have been really bad.
The worst wars, of course, were fought on YouTube.
While earlier Indians would comment – “I’m frm India bt I luv Pakistani muziq. You guys rawks!’ on their videos, you now had Pakistani guys replying with “Hey, I’m from Pakistan. This is a good attempt, it is not so bad. I am sure in a few seasons, things will good. Love from Pakistan.”
It was humiliating, in a way. Stale music that should have been called Campa Cola Studio.
I forgot about the entire season till I saw the trailers for the second season on MTV again. I was as excited as a Kaurava soldier going to battle on the seventeenth day of war.
The first trailer was a clip of Vishal Dadlani singing with a girl.
The guys at MTV must have realised what a shitfest they had created the last time, so the trailers clearly mentioned that the producers were different for every episode – from Clinton Cerejo to Hitesh Sonik.
I watched the first episode cursorily. But boy, was I pleased!
Clinton Cerejo brought his years of experience in Bollywood and thankfully used none of it on the episode. The episode contained a mix of genres. Nothing was epic, but it sounded good on the ears.
The second episode had Amit Trivedi. Having acquired a cult status for his films, I was a little skeptical. But Trivedi saab managed to surprise me all over again.
There was something different about this season. For one, the musicians seemed to be having fun doing what they were doing. I know all that is just camera work, but the sound was new, and fresh. It managed to surprise me in small, little ways.
I know this is a little late in the day, but I present below my Top 5 songs from the second season:
5. Nimohiya (Amit Trivedi feat. Devender Singh, Harshdeep Kaur)
Punjabi meets jazz in this number that packs a neat little surprise with Shankar Tucker blowing away on his clarinet. Easy tunes accompanied by Trivedi’s trademark backing vocals and sublime interludes. This one was a surprise after Harshdeep Kaur fucked up Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho last year.
4. Mauje Naina Laage (Clinton Cerejo feat. Bianca Gomes, Shadab and Altamash)
This one is dark and brooding. The slicing voice of the female lead only made the cuts, and when Shadab sprinkled some vintage Indian angst into the song, it was a frothing, bubbling song of anger. This one made the list for the mood it creates on the listener.
3. Chaudhary (Amit Trivedi feat. Meme Khan)
The last time I heard the two collaborate, it was on ‘Aitbaar‘ on ‘No one Killed Jessica’, with explosive results. This time, Meme Khan sings to words written by Shelley. A song that talks about a hapless middle aged zamindar of the village who is smitten by a young girl. I could imagine Khap Panchayats enjoying this song a lot.
But that tasteless joke aside, this song leaves a sweet aftertaste long after it is over.
2. Madari (Clinton Cerejo feat. Vishal Dadlani and Neha Kakkar)
This was the first song I heard of the season and it remains my favourite. Vishal Dadlani would be the last person I would approach to sing a song that has classical touches in it, but the gamble paid off, and how!
Along with Dadlani, was this diminutive singer I had never seen, but definitely heard. A Google search led me to her page. It’s sad that someone as gifted as her should be known as the singer of ‘Babuji Zara Dheere Chalo’.
The song shifts gears when you least expect it, reaching a crescendo in the final lap, a song that is not brazenly clear in the mood it is creating. You could make whatever you wanted of it, and it is this aspect that makes this my favourite among the songs of the second season.
1. Husna (Hitesh Sonik feat. Piyush Mishra)
Having worked under Vishal Bharadwaj for years, Hitesh Sonik is the guy who has produced the music for films like No Smoking, Gulaal, and Omkara. Apart from composing fantastic background scores, Hitesh Sonik also happens to be married to Sunidhi Chauhan.
In this song, the sublime Piyush Mishra – actor, singer, composer, sidekick to Sardar Khan in the GoW movies – performs Husna, a heart-wrenching song about partition. His magical vocals, combined with the subtle but powerful music of the house band, ranks on top of my favourites of the season.
Interestingly, all these guys – Trivedi, Cerejo, Sonik, were all people who had worked in Bollywood for years. And yet, nothing of what they made sounded like it was from a film. For once, I felt happy that there was Indian music that I could listen to when I was high.
Ghar ki murgi tasted better than pardesi daal.
But the good things didn’t just end there.
A few days back, Rahman’s first song for Coke Studio Season 3 premiered on YouTube.
If his MTV Unplugged episode was anything to go by, Rahman established that he could give goosebumps to the average Indian once every five minutes. Even better, while the concept of Unplugged is not to use electric instruments, Coke Studio is a compilation of original scores.
I can’t wait for the third season, but I have only one worry.
I have written earlier about my theory – ‘Rahman Knows‘. He always does.
He knows if what you are producing is sincere and from the heart, or you’re just whoring out and signing him for his fame. Anu Malik fusion. Himesh Nose. Rahman Knows.
And I sincerely hope he watched the Second Season of Coke Studio India, and not the first.
Else, we are all doomed!