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Coke Studio or Coke Idol?
Music is what feelings sound like. This is what the Facebook page of Coke studio @ MTV says, and goes on to add that the show is "a divine fusion of music that embraces the essence of India". If by the "essence of India" the producers meant taking a good idea and turning it into scum, well, they couldn't have been more honest. But if they meant giving audiences a taste of new, soul-stirring music, they couldn't be more wrong.
"Coke Studio @ MTV is about starting a journey in a new direction. It's about taking a stand to move away from the popular music show format and just make pure music, " says MTV India head Aditya Swami.
Most people beg to differ. The show has left many musicians feeling that the producers are simply cashing in on a brand name to mindlessly fuse different types of music, whether it works or not. "The whole act is a let down in the name of Coke Studio, " says Sharat Srivastava of the Delhibased contemporary fusion band Mrigya. "It's just like any other Indian Idol or any other Sa Re Ga Ma. Less of music and more of tamasha (drama). "
Forget about embracing the essence of India, Coke Studio MTV does not even embrace the essence of the Coke Studio concept. So far, not once has the show given listeners the kind of goose-bump experience one gets while listening to the soul-stirring, magnificently beautiful music that it has produced in Brazil, where it started out, and Pakistan, where it has been tremendously successful in revitalising the music scene.
Coke Studio Pakistan brought different artistes together, reinterpreting and reinventing several musical forms. The show has reached musical excellence through cross-genre collaborations and seamless fusion of singing styles as varied as qawwali, modern rock, eastern classical, pop, sufi and traditional folk. Performances like Aik Alif by troubadour dervish Saeein Zahoor and contemporary rock band Noori and Senraan Ra Baairya by Marwari folk singer Asif Hussain Samraat and pop singer Zoe Viccaji revealed how different streams of music could be amalgamated with respectful consideration and fluidity. Now in its fourth season, the Coke Studio has become a cultural experiment that the young Pakistani talks of with pride.
When Coke Studio MTV launched in India, the foremost concern was that it would be hijacked by Bollywood. Of course, the producers in Mumbai proved everyone wrong by showing that were several other things that could go wrong too. You name it, they did it. "What Coke Studio created in so many years and what Coke Studio Lahore so beautifully did to the concept has been totally destroyed by the Indian version, " says Sharat Srivastava.
"The producers are giving a daily soap treatment to the show, " says Tochi Raina, a sufi singer who has sung several Bollywood numbers including O Pardesi for Dev D and Iktara for Wake Up Sid, and who performed in the first episode of the Coke show. "If you watch Coke Studio Pakistan, it has a certain thehraav (restfulness) about it. In the Indian Studio, it seems like everyone is rushing through the performance. This is not gayaki, it's just gaana-bajana. "
The camera, with its "a movement a minute" technique, and a set strobed with discotheque lights leave viewers slightly dizzy. And while there's no doubt about the individual talent of the artistes, their collective performance seems like an extremely forced exercise. The spontaneous happiness and energy that one associates with Coke Studio performances is conspicuously missing.
"I personally feel the show is missing out on the purity of music. The producers are sacrificing the art element for the commercial element, " says Ram Ramachandran, a guitarist at the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation in Mumbai. "If Coke Studio Pakistan could create the magic they did with a limited mix of qawwali, sufi and rock, imagine what we in India could have done with each state here boasting a different style of music. "
The opening song O manjhi re, performed by Shaan and vibrant Bhatiyali singer Sourav Moni from West Bengal, is considered one of R D Burman's finest fusion numbers. To the dismay and disappointment of Pancham's fans, the song was not only wrongly credited to his dad, S D Burman, it was also reduced to a flat and lifeless tune. What a waste. Of a lovely song and a singer like Moni.
The jugalbandi Yaar basainda by Tochi Raina and Mathangi Rajasekhar came across as a classic case of forced fusion. While Mathangi sailed through the complex nuances of the Carnaticbased Brova Barama and Raina was convincing in his rendition of Punjabi folk, the two genres simply did not merge well. "I was called in at the last moment for the performance, " says Raina. "There's no interaction between the musicians and the singers in the show. This just limits the depths to which an artiste can go while performing. In this kind of setting, the soul of music gets killed. "
The second and third episodes were monopolised by Bollywood singers Shankar Mahadevan and Sunidhi Chauhan. When asked, Aditya Swami says, "The idea is to try and have one lead artiste in every episode who pulls the listeners into the performance. Then other artistes join in as the surprise element. When you have someone like Shankar Mahadevan and Sunidhi Chauhan, you need to utilise their full potential. "
Swami seems to forget that the regional artistes, overshadowed by the Bollywood biggies in the show, are stars in their own right. By giving them two minutes of fame, are the producers providing them a national platform or a pittance? Excellent folk musicians like Mousam Gogoi, Papon and Megha Dalton are being made to churn out mediocre performances in the name of mass appeal. Why does the entertainment industry assume that the common man is plain stupid and unable to comprehend anything of quality? Or is the industry using the "mass appeal" excuse to mask its own inability to produce anything that is fresh, inspiring and reminiscent of Coke Studio Brazil and Pakistan? One hopes that these initial missteps will be corrected. The show's music director, Leslie 'Lezz' Lewis, who used to be one half of the popular band, The Colonial Cousins, knows a thing or two about producing fresh music. Time for him to think out of the bottle.
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