Coke Studio 10’s version of the National Anthem features all of the artists who make up the current season, including the likes of Sajjad Ali, Javed Bashir and Momina Mustehsan.
The inauspicious start to the music show, courtesy a lackluster National Anthem, does not bode well for its future.
Coke Studio is celebrating 10 years of its existence in 2017. I still remember the first year; it was the only edition to date in which a select audience was invited to witness the performances. Ali Azmat, for instance, was in a particularly jovial mood during his inaugural Coke Studio set and reminded the audience to get into the music while wearing dark glasses and singing some of his catchiest melodies.
The kinks were worked out and by second season, Coke Studio with its incredible mix of genres, ideas and musicians, reinvented the idea of fusion, particularly in context of the Subcontinent. The mission statement then was to create a scenario where artists would have cross-over appeal and the collaborations were designed accordingly. Noori fans were introduced to Saeen Zahoor with ‘Aik Alif’ – easily the show’s most important production in terms of the message it imparts – while Saeen Zahoor fans learned that Noori is much more than your average rock band. And on and on it goes.
From Sanam Marvi to Kamran Mannu Zafar to Farid Ayaz and Abu Muhammad, in those earlier years, artists who appeared on the show found themselves with a different kind of audience in the aftermath. In addition to the presence of several pop stars, the show also brought to surface greats like Ustaad Naseeruddin Saami, Fakir Jumman Shah and paved ways for artists from neglected parts of the country to shine. The presence of artists like Akhtar Chanal Zahri, who comes from Balochistan and Humayun Khan, who is from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, in season four and season five respectively, were meant to signify the inclusive nature of the platform.
The presence of one band or two in earlier seasons (like Mauj, Aunty Disco Project, Karavan, EP, Mole, The Sketches, Mizraab and Qayaas) was a not-so-silent nod to the emerging music community that there is room for you too. But that was then. No more is it the same.
Current production lacks current
As we embark on another season, the landmark tenth year to be precise, a glimpse of which can be heard in the National Anthem, the story remains the same. The show’s past glory continues to pose a lasting shadow and remains its one true adversary.
Coke Studio 10, scheduled to arrive on August 11, in some ways remains Pakistan’s most well-known music property still, both at home and abroad. It is also the most contested production we have – especially now that the multiple producer format has been introduced (more on that experiment later).
Though the creative spark felt in its early groundbreaking seasons is long gone, it is the one place where you can find the most number of established artists from pop, rock, folk and film music backgrounds throughout its duration. Given the simple fact that many mainstream artists are perfectly content releasing singles, it is often revered because every season leaves us with a body of work.
In the last three years, the Coke Studio comeback is announced, not just via revealing interviews from producers/ artists, social media campaigns, billboards and nonstop advertisement, press events et al but also through the arrival of an all-star patriotic number that is meant to evoke feelings of patriotism.
In season eight, we heard all featured artists on Coke Studio 8 coming together to sing ‘Sohni Dharti’ which was a beautiful effort even as one wondered what it is that we’re meant to celebrate in these polarizing, divisive times. Celebrating for the sake of celebration makes no sense.
With Coke Studio 9 came another patriotic number - ‘Aye Rah-e-Haq- Ke Shaheedo’- a rendition that was unquestionably moving but also served as a tragic reminder that the perpetual violence and deaths in our midst cannot be escaped and has spilled into every part of life, even something as benign as a music show.
Moreover, to some degree, it perpetuated the glory of martyr culture that is so prevalent in Pakistan at a time when we need to stop looking at innocent deaths in such binary terms.
The patriot act of Coke Studio is, therefore, now wearing thin and needs to be done away with in the aftermath of the lackluster National Anthem that has heralded the return of another new season.
Though the Coke Studio version of the National Anthem features all of the artists who make up the current season, there is plenty wrong with this production. First, it lacks energy of any sort. What felt innovative once –iconic songs with a not-so-hidden message reinterpreted - now looks and sounds a lot like pandering for the sake of ratings and numbers.
The musical treatment also doesn’t help matters and feels disjointed. The pairing of musicians within this song is it weakest link. Rahat Fateh Ali Khan overshadows Ali Noor, Arieb Azhar overshadows Faiza Mujahid while Ahmed Jahanzeb and Shafqat Amanat Ali do not complement each other at all.
Strings, the executive producers of Coke Studio since season seven, produced this particular rendition and said in a press statement, “By bringing together some of the biggest names in Pakistan’s music industry to sing our revered National Anthem, we hope to rekindle the spirit of patriotism and social consciousness in the heart of every Pakistani. This is more significant now than ever, as we are marking seventy years of our independence.”
I’m not sure what counts as spirit of patriotism and “social consciousness” but in a year where death, disease, terror, losses, misogyny and grief have defined proceedings and so many are mourning deaths of loved ones and suffering, the true meaning of the spirit of patriotism feels lost somewhere in translation.
It is also true that every August brings with it a number of patriotic songs; it is a trend that Coke Studio is cashing on and after ten years, they need to think outside the box.
Another year of Independence, especially the 70th year, should bring with it introspection and the will to change, not another rendition of the same. If the patriotic fever can’t be done away with, then artists need to create new melodies and stop ruining things that remain sacred at a time when even the sacred is not safe from forces of extremism.