Coke Studio is ten years old and we’re expecting a coming-of-age experience of sorts this year, in 2018, as it sets foot into its 11th season with Ali Hamza and Zohaib Kazi as producers. While one has always read the producers’ vision and the artist experience of being part of the show, this year I had the opportunity of getting to the core of Coke Studio when I met Fahad Qadir, Director Public Affairs & Communications, Coca Cola Pakistan, on a trip to Beirut. It’s quite rare to find cool and fun people in the corporate world but Fahad had an interesting energy and a love for both music and fashion, which was just as refreshing.
Fahad has also been with Coca Cola for around ten years and is considered one of the founding members of Coke Studio; he handles the asset’s marketing in Pakistan and around the world. “The concept of Coke Studio started from Pakistan,” he shared, “and now it’s in over 20 countries. We get hits from almost 180 countries all over the world. A lot of songs have already crossed 10 million views, so that’s a benchmark that we have.”
While he was extremely careful in not giving away too much of Coke Studio’s upcoming season, we did manage to exchange many views on what we consider Pakistani pop culture’s biggest export.
We spoke about the way Coke Studio had gone international, the upcoming season 11 of the show and what he predicted as its future.
Instep: Do you think Coke Studio has achieved what it had envisioned 10 seasons ago?
Fahad Qadir (FQ): To be honest, the first year was a blind card; we never knew that we’d continue for 11 years. But I think over the years it has developed and has become much more than just a marketing campaign for us; it’s become an asset. We genuinely feel people dictate and decide what happens to Coke Studio and what happens next, where do we go, how do we transition, how do we transform. A lot is dictated by people’s sentiments. So, I think the people own it as much as we do. Our expectations have really evolved year on year. Each year keeps on getting bigger and bigger.
Instep: Coke Studio is the biggest music property in the country and yes, numbers have risen over the years, but the show has also seen massive criticism. The cover of the National Anthem last year, for example, did not go down well at all.
FQ: The Anthem is something very personal; we’ve had so many renditions since Pakistan came into being. Some people like the instrumental, some like the vocals. I think people feel very personal about it so I won’t call it criticism; I’ll say it meant something different to each individual.
To be honest, whenever you experiment with anything, I think you have to remain open to feedback. That’s what happened with the anthem and many of the songs. So as far as criticism is concerned, Coke Studio has really thrived on the feedback that we get. That has just helped us get better. I’m not saying we didn’t face any shortcomings in any of the songs/ seasons, and not that we won’t have any in the seasons ahead. But I think we’ve reached this far because of the criticism and appreciation that we get.
Instep: Given that, how much creative control is being given to the producers this time?
FQ: Creative decisions are always left to the producers; it’s their call. We generally do not interfere in the creative process. Of course, we all sit together and we discuss things. But as far as the producers are concerned, they have a lot of liberty in deciding who fits in the season or episode’s agenda.
Instep: How did Coke reach the decision to go with Ali Hamza and Zohaib Kazi this year?
FQ: I think it was a natural evolution. Rohail came to a point where he thought change was good, he thought he couldn’t do justice to Coke Studio anymore. Hats off to him; he brought Coke Studio where it is today. Strings had a different sound and brought in a different bag of producers. If you see the music right now it is a very different sound than 10 years ago. This sound did not exist 10 years ago. I think music has its evolution and so does Coke Studio. These are the producers we feel have the right blend, the experience, the history with Coke Studio the understanding of Coke Studio to take it to the next level. Ali Hamza, of course, has been with Coke Studio; he’s performed, he’s directed and he’s produced. Zohaib has also worked with Coke Studio for a number of years (with Rohail and Strings).
Instep: What can we expect in the upcoming season in terms of look and sound?
FQ: You’ll see and feel a lot of new things in the coming season. Not only because of the fact that there are new producers, but some things have been changed like the look and feel of the set, to the music, to the instruments.
Instep: Everyone wants a lead to the new line-up.
FQ: I’ll give you the biggest hint; it will be a new line up, not the same as before! (laughs) You’ll see some of the biggest names, new artists, unexpected faces and individuals as well. The big names will be there. We feel there’s a value of people coming back and performing again. For example, Ali Sethi; people like him give so much variety. People love what he does, how he does it. From ‘Tinak Dhin’ to classical, people like him offer so much variety to Coke Studio. Our producers love it! They have to be on Coke Studio.
Instep: One feels that the show has been depending too much on covers; will that change? We do need to hear more original music.
FQ: I think covers have their life. I think the best part about Coke Studio is that it has brought those covers back. A lot of young people hadn’t heard those songs before, so I think that’s been one of the biggest advantages. I won’t agree with the fact that there has been no original music, I think a lot of people have come up with their own songs, for example Mohsin Abbas’s ‘Uddi Ja’. So I would say there has been a lot of original music too. Covers are risky but they have a lot of potential as well.
Instep: Lastly, will Coke Studio Season 11 begin with an anthem, as has been the tradition?
FQ: We’re not sure we’ll begin with an anthem this year. We’re still thinking and debating about it but of course, it does make sense to start like that. Majority of our hits are international on YouTube, which tells us that Pakistanis living outside the country really are passionate about this. Nationalism is something that thrives within Pakistanis wherever they are. Nothing hits you as well as a patriotic song.