Music show a source of pride for Pakistanis
// Millions of Pakistanis will gather around television and radio sets
today to listen to a music production that has become a national
Coke Studio is a result of a collection of
well-known musicians coming together to create songs that fuse
traditional Pakistani forms with modern pop.
It has been a
distracting salve for a country that has limped through a blazing
summer of bloody fighting between militants and security forces,
electricity shortages, monsoon floods and economic insecurity.
The talk of chat shows, blogs, newspaper columns and the victim of
rampant pirating, the show has enjoyed unprecedented critical acclaim
and is now hugely popular.
In a country desperate for good news,
it has arguably given Pakistanis longer lasting relief than their
country’s victory in the Twenty20 cricket competition in June.
has caught the imagination of the public and has become a symbol of the
modern Pakistani tradition and identity, and it is a source of hope,”
said Musharraf Zaidi, a leading political and social analyst.
Today is the fifth and final episode of Coke Studio’s second season.
episode has been dubbed “Unity Day” – after the motto of the founder of
Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, “Unity, Faith and Discipline” – and is
timed to coincide with the day Pakistan celebrates its creation and
independence from British rule in 1947.
The show is broadcast
simultaneously on at least 14 television channels and five radio
stations. One fan affectionately described the blanket coverage as
“musical martial law”.
behind the production is Rohail Hyatt, a former Pakistani pop music
star who became inspired by Sufic and other subcontinental musical
“The nation has taken to it. Pakistan is in a strange
place going through something of an identity crisis. It has given
people something to hold onto and say, ‘This is us’,” said Mr Hyatt.
have to fight against the Taliban extremism on the one hand and the
negative western media perception on the other with something and music
has given us that,” added Mr Rohail.
One of the featured songs, Bulleya, based on a poem by the 17th
century mystic Bulleh Shah, is a moving statement of identity, as the
singer proclaims that he is “neither of the mosque but neither an
infidel”. “We do not have a 60-year but a 4,000-year-old tradition of
music – which for those who think that life began in this area at
partition is something of a blasphemy,” said Mr Hyatt.
know and love the music and poetry of the subcontinent’s Muslim
traditions. A vast number can recite dozens of verses of the region’s
Sufi lyrical poetry in several languages, including the classical
“True” desis, as Pakistanis endearingly refer to themselves, from
all classes enjoy sinking into trances with their heads leaning over
crossed legs, meditatively tracing a musical path to “ishq”, the high
of divine love, or spontaneously jigging to the spine-tingling drum
beat of the dholki.
Coke Studio is produced by Mr Hyatt’s wife,
Umber, and features artists on each episode – which are titled with a
positive buzzword such as “harmony” or “equality” – who are backed by a
house band and guest musicians.
Rizwan U Khan, the country manager for Coca-Cola Export Company,
which has sponsored the production, said, “Coke Studio prides itself on
providing a musical platform which bridges barriers, celebrates
diversity, encourages unity and instils a sense of Pakistani pride.”
It was recorded earlier this year in a studio in Korangi, Karachi.
year’s line-up included musicians ranging from well-known pop artists
such as Ali Zafar to traditional performers who have moved into the
fusion style, including Javed Bashir and a female duo, Zeb and Haniya,
from Kohat in the troubled North West Frontier Province.
Singing in Pashto, Persian, Urdu, Punjabi, Baloch and Sindi,
musicians use instruments ranging from the rubab, a string instrument
from Pakistan’s northern provinces, to the banjo, the dholak and
sarangi. An Indian musician, Gurpreet Chana, was also invited to play
Perhaps the most unusual figure in the line-up is Saieen
Zahoor, who is revered for his mesmeric renditions of kalaams –
spiritual compositions by saintly Sufi poets.
Mr Hyatt said that when he first entered the studio everybody was hypnotised.
with strands of beads and large rings on his fingers, he had the air of
the impish Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean
Mr Zahoor learnt the Sufi musical tradition at shrines
from the age of seven and is now 72. He writes his lyrics in drawings
and has made arduous pilgrimages to shrines wearing chains and bells.
During the studio jamming sessions he said he carried the ecstasy inducing rhythm of dhamma to the proceedings.
held his hand to his stomach, and said: “Music is a diet for the soul,
it is nourishing. When I recite Allah-u my heart absorbs the pleasure.
Once you feel that, there is no return.”
“Music is not forbidden [in Islam]. It is a language and you cannot forbid talking,” he added.
said that music industry had previously stifled artists but that Coke
Studio had given them an open platform that encouraged experimentation
and cross-pollination as well as treated them as professionals.
“Usually we have poor production, poor sound, but this project was
different because Rohail is a musician. We had genuine teamwork and a
feeling of pride and nostalgia. And we got paid and on time,” she said.
Hyatt accepted a criticism made by purists that Coke Studio was not
classical music, but he gently brushed it off by pointing out people’s
enjoyment of it.
“It is hybrid in nature,” he said.
For Mr Hyatt, a moment that encapsulated what Coke Studio signifies
was when Atif Aslam, a pop singer, improvised a beautiful, spiralling
solo in classical Sufi style.
“That’s what it’s about: allowing the space to let creativity flow”.