The Evolution of Coke Studio Pakistan

By Ahmad Uzair

Coke Studio is one of the biggest musical phenomenon of the past decade and five years on, it is still successfully running and much appreciated by a wide audience all across the globe. It all started in 2008 when Rohail Hyatt of Vital Signs fame came up with his brain child and an idea that instantly clicked. Although the first season was quite a big hit and introduced a new dimension to the local music scene, but many people were still not really aware of this project and it took some time for them to digest it. At first, it was quite astonishing to see it taking the whole air time at all the channels, when it used to hit the air waves on every alternate Sundays. Obviously, it was the sheer commercial power of Coke behind it.

Being a huge admirer of Pakistani music industry and how it has evolved over the period of time, I still remember telling people even after 6 months of the first season to listen to Garaj Baras (which was one of Coke Studio’s biggest hits). And in response, I used to get cold answers, as people hardly knew about it. It was very surprising for me. But things slowly turned out to be in Coke Studio’s favor and soon in the second season it achieved new heights of glory and success. We saw an influx of some really versatile artists such as Atif Aslam, Ali Zafar, Noori, Saieen Zahoor, Zeb and Haniya, and a good number of smash hits from that season as well. By that time, Coke Studio had already become a household name and anticipations kept on getting high from there on.

Some people might differ with me, but I feel Coke Studio lost its charm after season 3. It just didn’t come up to the high expectations and there was no magic left, which was the reason of its huge success in the first three seasons. Although, it keeps on promoting new talent and comes up with new ideas, but somehow just fails to match the success of earlier seasons. Season 4 has been a big disappointment for me as it went on a totally different route. Coke Studio team may call it a variation in the musical journey, but it did not reach up to the audience that well. Also they seem to be concentrating more on the traditional and folk music, which is a good thing in a way, enabling different cultures to come up and create a harmony, but too much of it was just not appropriate for Coke Studio. Even I heard some people saying that it’s becoming more of a Folk-Studio, which is quite right after seeing the season 4. There were many artists who were given repeated appearances that just does not make any sense. Sanam Marvi might be a good singer, but it was really awful to watch her in back to back seasons. Same goes with Bilal Khan, who miserably fails to make any mark in the on going season despite a call back from the previous season.

The basic and the most important thing, which made Coke Studio such a huge hit, was the collaboration between the two totally diverse and versatile musicians which created a magic fusion. That element surely hit the audience straight in to their hearts, but it was seriously missing in the last two seasons.

The selection criteria also remain a question mark as to who gets a chance. There are still so many mainstream artists who are yet to make their debut on Coke Studio whereas there have been artists who do not even have more than a single song to their credit and directly lands on to Coke Studio. They surely cannot do justice to such a huge and reputed platform where some giant maestros have performed.

Currently Season 5 is going on air which seems to try and come up to it status. Not to forget the come back of Atif Aslam, the addition of versatile Bohemia and the energetic Neray Aah. It seems to be coming slowly back on track after the previous two seasons. But some time it sounds too repetitive and redundant and at times predictive too.

The Coke Studio team might need to sit back and re-think where they are taking the show and where they actually should. May be a break would do wonders in revisiting the fusion in the studio which was its true identity or bring in some more prominent artists to uplift the studio because the feel is that they, in an effort to sound different, have totally gone to a diverse path which might be a special one, but not an appealing one. One thing is for sure that it is unable to keep up with the high expectations and its prior reputation and success. Let’s hope the next season comes up with some extra effort in order to relive the original fused sound of music which was the identity of Coke Studio and is still reckoned to be all time classic hits.