Culture & Society

Coke Studio: Feel The Beat

Coke Studio symbolises a clandestine love affair between Pakistan and India. Despite the growing differences, it embodies the love the two nations share for music and the arts.

Advertisement

Coke Studio: Feel the beat
info_icon

On a normal day, you’ll find Indians and Pakistanis at loggerheads with one another under every YouTube video. Comment sections become battlegrounds and squabbling viewers turn into soldiers. However, under a Coke Studio video, the battleground suddenly transforms into a den of amity. Coke Studio, Pakistan’s longest-running annual television music show, has been a stellar symbol of artistic collaboration and innovation since it burst on the subcontinent’s music scene in 2008, charming us with either a catchy Baloch-pop song or an upbeat qawwali. Its 14th season kickstarted on January 14 with Tu Jhoom, a soul-stirring duet by Naseebo Lal (Rajasthani vocals) and Abida Parveen. The season concluded recently with Faisal Kapadia’s first solo Phir Milenge, leaving us with 13 magnificent songs by artists like Atif Aslam and Ali Sethi. 

Advertisement

From the time it was announced to the moment it ended, Indians devotedly showered immense love on Coke Studio Season 14. Some took to social media to rave about it; others came to the comment sections of the videos to ‘send love to Pakistan from across the border.’ Coke Studio has always had a massive following in India, with ardent viewers across the border waiting to devour the soulful music the instant it releases. Atif Aslam’s Tajdar-e-Haram and Afreen Afreen by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Momina Mustehsan are household tunes in India. Every song that Coke Studio puts out is met with a flood of comments from across the globe, but especially in India, and of course Pakistan. India even started the MTV Coke Studio as its own version of this iconic show, but comparisons are futile because Pakistan’s Coke Studio will always have a loyal fanbase in India. 

Advertisement

If one were to explain the relevance of Coke Studio in India, it’s best to put it in the context of an India-Pakistan cricket match. If the cricket match between the two rival nations becomes the quintessential moment of spewing unrelenting hate at each other, then Coke Studio provides the perfect antidote and embodies the love the two nations share for music and the arts. This admiration doesn’t come from a place of seeking something different than what your nation or culture has to offer, as it often is the case with India’s appreciation for western music and pop culture. The love and fondness stem from a feeling of relatability, and belongingness. After all, once upon a time, we were the same country, with the same literature, and the same culture. 

If I were to put this into perspective, then perhaps it’s apt to give the example of Amir Khusrau, the Indo-Persian poet, singer and scholar, who is regarded as the father of qawwali. The ghazals India and Pakistan so beloved cherish were said to have been introduced by him. Coke Studio Season 7’s Chaap Tilak rendition by Abida Parveen and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan is one of his most popular ghazals that has been sung by countless people on both sides of the border. Of course, this example is only symbolic of the larger picture I am trying to paint here, which is that we have a shared legacy that finds traces of itself in the arts, and literature we produce today. In fact, at the risk of sounding unaesthetic, let us say that we borrow from the same source material because our history is one, no matter that our presents aren’t. Chaap Tilak and Amir Khusrau are as much India’s as they are Pakistan’s, and it is this common culture that makes Pakistan’s Coke Studio feel like home. 

Advertisement

When I say that arts give us a sense of belonging, it doesn’t mean that they can be possessed. On the contrary. In fact, it is vital to remember that no one really owns art, and that’s the most fascinating aspect of it. The fact that it belongs to everyone, and yet to no one, not even the artists themselves, makes it a weapon of peace, and a mighty uniting factor. It holds in it the power to dim differences, and bring together countries, religions, castes, creeds, races, and so much more. It is this power that we witness, in the mutual affection that both India and Pakistan have for Coke Studio. A feeling of affection that transcends a bloody history, an ingrained loathing sentiment, and an ocean of differences could’ve easily turned this beautiful show into a point of contention, but it did not. Why? There are two reasons that I can bring myself to think about. One, we have more in common than the people in power will let us believe, and two, in art resides the strength to make people see the good in humanity. In a world that's slowly becoming immune to suffering, art has the ability to make people ‘feel’ things. 

Advertisement

As for Coke Studio, it gives people a platform to first absorb the art, and then engage with other people who feel the same as they do, or perhaps even differently, but as music and poetry chaperone them, all these people are willing to listen, a quality that couldn’t be more obscure. Amusingly enough, we won’t even have to go quite far to find evidence of this. Under the Coke Studio video of Phir Milenge, a Choudhary writes, ‘Anjum and Yunus are gems of Pakistan, Lots of love from India.’ In another discussion altogether, a Trivedi writes, ‘The lights on the left, change with the tempo of the music and are in sync with Talha Yunus’s words!’ as he comments on a keen observation that he has made. To this, a Siddiqui replies, ‘What an amazing observation.’ 

Advertisement

Had we been living in a better world than we are today, these surnames wouldn’t have mattered, and my mentioning them would have seemed absurd, but we don’t. Ours is a world that is divided, and so these surnames hold more weight than ever. Whether this Siddiqui is from Pakistan or India, I do not know, but what I do know is that his religion is what defines him in our world today. If he is from India, then he’ll probably be told to ‘Go To Pakistan’, and if he is from Pakistan, then he is fortunate enough to not be told every day that he does not belong. He may be anything — good, bad, rich, poor — but, in the end, it boils down to the fact that he is a Muslim, and Trivedi, a Hindu. For them to share a few words of fondness for a work of art that they both appreciate, without ever mentioning each other’s religion or country, is beautiful indeed. It’s sad that something as mundane and normal as this has begun to seem like a kind of rarity, but there’s no denying that this is what our world has come to, or at least will soon enough if we are to keep on with this inhumanity. 

Advertisement

The semantics of war and politics are beyond me, but if there’s one thing that I know with certainty, it is that India’s love for Coke Studio, Fawad Khan and Faiz, and Pakistan’s admiration for Virat Kohli, Shahrukh Khan, and Taj Mahal will keep the two nations united even in separation. 1947 saw one of the bloodiest and most unnecessary partitions in history, and 75 years since then, the two nations have been warring continuously. Politically, India and Pakistan may never be friends, but for the ordinary folks, the similarities outweigh the differences, because the truth is that India and Pakistan can never truly go their own ways; they haven’t been able to for 75 years.

Advertisement

It’s vital to understand that love and hate are the sides of the same coin and that neither can exist without the other; thus, it is love and hate that keeps Pakistan and India entwined. A disentanglement is only possible if we let go of our unrelenting enmity, and expectant friendship, but until that happens, India and Pakistan’s clandestine affair shall go on, and generations after generations will learn to live with it and find something to fall in love with like we did in Coke Studio. Religions shall not matter, nationalities shall become inconsequential, and humans shall finally be humans, and not labels. After all, every time we listen to Tajdar-e-Haram, we do not think even once that it is a song that talks about going to Medina and, thereby, it is not for the Hindus or the Christians. We devour it, unbothered, for the musical solace that it provides, and for the sheer joy, it gives us. We appreciate it for the flair and aptitude it demonstrates, and we forget that there ever were any borders that separated us. 

Advertisement

Beethoven once said, ‘Music can change the world.’ Perhaps, he never knew that this is how it would do it. But I am sure he was aware of the unquantifiable potential that it holds. As Coke Studio Season 14 comes to an end, it’s important to acknowledge it not only for the musical catharsis that it is but also for the broader cultural impact that it makes. It’s gratifying to see that despite the constant changes in the world, despite the growing differences, what hasn’t changed is the insatiable need to ‘feel’, a need that can be fulfilled only by love and art, and aren’t they the very same? 

Advertisement

(Takshi Mehta is a culture and entertainment writer)
 

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement