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Coke Studio: The Symphony of South Asia

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Wo Eid ki Eidi, Lambi Namaaze, Sevaiyyon ki Jhalar 

Wo Diwali ke diye sang mei, Baisakhi ke Badal

O husna meri, ye toh bata do,Lohdi ka dhua kya ab bhi nikalta hai

Jaisa nikalta tha us daur mei waha

The gifts of Eidi, the long Namaaz stretches, the tassel like vermicelli sweets 

The lamps of Diwali and the clouds of Baisakhi 

O’ my Husna, tell me, does the smoke of Lohdi still rise 

Like it used to during that time? (before the partition of India and Pakistan) 

An excerpt from one of the Coke Studio (India) hits, Husna. The song depicts the plight of two lovers, parted by national boundaries set up between countries of India and Pakistan.  

The painfully beautiful tale of Husna and Javed was captured in Season 2 of Coke Studio India by several fine artists including Hitesh Sonik and Piyush Mishra. Husna explores several supra-national themes that are beyond the rigid yet fluid national boundaries. Love is certainly one of these themes but the song goes beyond that. Originating from the same civilization, India and Pakistan share more than just a national boundary which is glorified in ultra-patriotic movies. Immense similarities can be easily found in the popular culture, traditions, and beliefs of both  countries. No matter how much the mere existence of these similarities trouble the Indian Right Wing or Pakistani fundamentalist elements whose political endeavours stand upon the perceived animosity between the two states, an identical culture cannot be neglected.  A living testament to it is the dynamic music venture Coke Studio, which initially originated in Pakistan but later marked its presence in India too. By virtue of the wide-ranging themes it covers and the fusion of elements that it carries, Arab News calls it a ‘Pakistani cultural shock’ to the world. Besides relishing the soul of the listeners, Coke Studio creations, when analysed with the context, make some very powerful statements. With iconic recreations like Hum Dekhenge, Coke  Studio constantly makes political statements in favour of inclusion and freedom and against despotic regimes.

Fusion indicates the epitome of creative arts whose production and dissemination was curtailed in Pakistan under the religious nationalism of military dictator Muhammad Zia Ul Haq between 1977 and 1988. It was only after this period that various artists from Pakistan started exploring the theme of fusion and eventually it influenced Indian music tradition. The inclusion of fusion is a musical dissent since it marks a distance from the traditional musical traditions. Coke Studio beautifully blends Eastern music with some Western aesthetics along with emphasizing and highlighting folk genres. The tradition of Sufi Samas was blended with Western musical sensibilities in Season 4 of Coke Studio by releasing Kangana sung by traditional qawwals, Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhabbad. Chaudhary, released by Indian Coke Studio in its season 2 brought folk music to an international platform. Aao Balma, from season 3, diffuses Hindustani, Carnatic ,Western music and amazes the listeners. 

Coke Studio induces an aesthetically pleasing yet artistically fine idea of devotion and spirituality. Rational atheists, like me, seem to lose control over their rigid beliefs when a devotional Coke Studio hit plays. The way it refutes Islamic dogma while answering all quests and dilemmas of an unsettled mind is inexplicably beautiful. Take, for instance, a contrast between Jawab-e-Shikwa by Natasha Baig, Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad and Aaqa by Abeeda Parveen and Ali Sethi. Both of them deal with a dialogue between the divine (Allah) and a devotee. Still they appear in stark contrast with each other. In Jawab-e- Shikwa, the devotee complains to Allah (though it later finds the answers to those complaints as well) – Shikwa Allah se khakam badahan hai mujhko, meaning, unfortunately I have a grievance with my creator. On the other hand, in Aaqa, the devotee asks ,with all its rights, for help from its creator and expresses its immense gratitude towards Him – Tum hi se maangen ge tum hi do ge…Yeh sab tumhaara karam hai aaqa, which means, You are the one we will turn to and You are the one who will help us…It is all due to Your blessing, O Lord. Apart from such beautiful contrasts, the blend that the lyrics, music and the artists create savours every soul and appeals to a local perception. 

When people fall in love, it is in the tales and music of their own land that they find respite in. Though Pop culture is becoming fairly popular among Asians, the idea of love that Coke Studio brings with it is more familiar, relevant and legendary. For example, the essence of Chaap Tilak by Abeeda Parveen and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan lies in Sufi origins and relates with the loss of one’s identity when it meets with the divine. The idea is commonly used in terms of romantic relationships. It will be quite ambitious to expect from a person, born and brought up in a completely Westernised setting, to understand and relate to the layers of meaning that the song attempts to convey. Similarly, songs like Aaj Jaane ki Zidd Naaa Karo and Ranijsh Hi Sahi portray the pain of separation in the most beautiful way.

Ranjish hi sahi dil hi dukhane ke liye aa

Aa phir se mujhe chod ke jaane ke liye aa

Let it be anguish, even to torture my heart, come

Come even if only to abandon me to torment again.

The idea of feminine empowerment in Coke Studio creations is extremely peculiar to the South Asian identity.  Par Channa De is a song depicting the tale of a woman called Sohni, extremely keen to meet her lover, Mahiwal by crossing a flooding river. Her unusually firm conviction, driven by love, is rare to see in the ‘submissive’ women of the time in which the tale was written or codified. Zeb Bangash and Haniya Aslam’s Rona Chorr Diya deals with some emotional issues very common to South Asian women. Liberation depicted in the song is very different from the themes of sexual liberation discovered in Pop albums, perhaps like those of Megan Thee Stallion. Rona  Chorr Diya is a story of growth and a woman’s identity and happiness beyond a man. By including trans singers of Pakistan in the classic recreation of Iqbal Bano’s Hum Dekhenge, Coke Studio initiated the process of defiance of the gender norms. 

Amidst the disturbing socio-political conditions of both the countries, brought about by religious nationalism in one and unstable polity in another, a music venture like Coke Studio reminds us of the shared culture and  the sense of a common cultural identity that subconsciously remains in the masses. The concluding lines of Husna best describe this scenario.

Dhuen mein gulistaan ye barbaad ho raha hai,ek rang syaah ke ijaad ho raha hai

Heeron ke Ranjho ke nagmein kya ab bhi sune jaate hain wahan o Husna

Aur rota hai raaton mein Pakistan kya waise jaise Hindustan o Husna

The smoke (referring here to the fire from wars) is destroying this garden of flowers, its as if a new black color (darkness) is being created 

Do they still listen to the melodies of Heer and Ranjha there (in Pakistan)  O’ Husna? 

And does Pakistan also cry just like Hindustan during the nights?

Srushti Sharma

Delhi South '20

Just trying to strike a balance between personal havoc and societal farce in whatever I write :)
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