Rohail Hyatt, the man behind Pakistan's revolutionary TV show featuring live musical performances, is a musical genius. Coke Studio is unique. There the focus is on the fusion of the diverse musical influences in Pakistan and Northern India, including eastern classical, folk, and contemporary popular music. The show provides a platform for renowned as well as upcoming and less mainstream artists, from various genres and regions, to collaborate musically in live studio recording sessions.
What's great about Coke Studio is that each broadcast session is, in fact, a live recording session. That way you get to see the energy of the performers raw and at their best.
Season 4 has just gone live on air. In Episode 1, I was treated to an exemplary piece of fusion. Hyatt brings together a village folk singer and poet from the Baluchistan area, Akhtar Chanal Zahri, and Pakistan's hiphop and urban queen, Komal Rizvi. The result is a seamless and unmitigated mixture of modern funk groove with a conventional folk song written by Zahri, which proudly sings the praises of the province he hails from. But this is not what Hyatt does best. Hyatt's excellence stems from his ability to surprise his audience. The surprise in the performance below is when he links in Rizvi with the evergreen Sufi Sindhi classic "Laal Meri Path", well-known to audiences worldwide - and he does it when you least expect it! The result is the spectacular elevation of both anthems to dizzying heights.
Here is the video clip:
If you are interested in understanding Zahri's lyrics, then click here for an English translation. On the opening page, hit the lyrics button under the video.
Through Coke Studio, Hyatt has shown us exactly how to bring traditional folk music back into "mode". Take Sanam Marvi's rendition of Pritam, a Rajasthani folk song, which prior to Coke Studio, had only been heard in the remote villages of the Rajasthan desert. When Hyatt loaded Marvi with the onerous duty to bring Pritam to life for the wider audience, she lived up to it. The result was an earthy and organic song which dwells on the arrival of the desert’s most celebrated season – the monsoon – and describes how it colours the landscape and breathes new life into the desert. Coke Studio brought Pritam to the present-time fusing Sanam Marvi’s strong and textured vocals with contemporary open-tuned guitars layered over an unmistakable folk groove. Take a look at Marvi's rendition of Pritam below - singing in the traditional Madvadi dialect, Marvi’s talent is palpable as she projects the emotions of a woman whose loved one is leaving the desert home:
Click here to see an English translation of the soulful lyrics
Today's audience is not yesterday's audience. Folk has a lot to offer to those of us longing to reconnect with our roots. But it needs to be revamped and redressed. The devil, though, is in the dressing. The original message and soul of the song should be retained. Hyatt, somehow, knows exactly how to do just that! Time for a few more Coke Studio-esque programs on South Asian TV, please. Enough of the factory-produced X Factors and Indian Idols!