Ever since its inception back in 2008, Coke Studio has been a trend setter not only in Pakistan but on the other side of the border in India as well. After its first season received praise from all over the world, Coke Studio fast became Pakistan’s biggest platform for music, with a unique focus on the fusion of the diverse musical influences in Pakistan, including eastern classical, folk, qawwali, bhangra, Sufi, and contemporary hip hop, rock and pop music. The show provided a platform for renowned as well as upcoming artists of various genres, regions and languages, to collaborate musically in live studio recording sessions. The voices of Abida Parveen, Noori, Rahat Fateh, Zeb & Haniya, Misha Shafi, Sajjad Ali, Atif Aslam, Ali Zafar and Strings, to name a few, have echoed within this dimly lit studio.
But, Strings not only featured as artists in Season 1 and 2, but also as producers and directors for Season 7 and 8. If anyone still does not know, Strings are one of Pakistan’s most popular pop bands, comprising Faisal Kapadia on vocals and Bilal Maqsood on vocals and guitar. Formed over two decades ago, the band quickly grew into international pop sensations, loved for their music, powerful lyrics and energetic live performances. Strings worked as producers for the last two seasons of Coke Studio, which were both huge successes, and are also attached to the upcoming Season 9, which we expect will make further waves in the music industry.
Minahil Nawaz, our Youth Correspondent in Lahore, Pakistan travelled to Karachi to visit the studio. While there, she sat down with Mr. Faisal Kapadia of the hugely successful band Strings, to discuss the Pakistani music industry and the new season of Coke Studio.
Minahil: Good morning Mr. Kapadia, and welcome to Radio Azad. To start off with, let’s talk a bit about Coke Studio’s impact. Coke Studio entered the music industry back in 2008 and it’s produced 8 very successful seasons. How do you think Coke Studio has changed the music industry since it entered?
Faisal Kapadia: I remember we were part of the 1st season as Strings, performing. And Rohail Hyatt was the producer when we started. That was the year when the Pakistani music industry was actually going through a very rough time. I think that was the first year when the Pakistani music industry felt that, I would say. Because since 2000 or the late 90s, the music industry was just going up and up, but somewhere in the middle in 2006, 2007 or 2008, it just collapsed. Coke Studio played a very important role in basically sustaining something which wasn’t there. Suddenly, pop music went down. There were so many albums out, but because of our country’s political situation, people were not in the mood of listening to music. Even bands were not in the mood of making music. I remember we, around that time, made 2 videos. One was “Abh Khud Kuch Karna Paray Ga”, and the other was “Mein To Dekhoon Ga.” They’re both political songs. So the frame of mind was that. At that point, Coke Studio played a very important role, because there was no music happening. There was only one platform. And if it wasn’t backed up by a corporate, it wouldn’t have sustained because the times were really rough.
Minahil: But do you think that right now, even with Coke Studio’s presence, there are many problems in the Pakistani music industry?
Faisal Kapadia: The Pakistani music industry is still struggling. We don’t see the old good times of the early 90s or mid-2000s. Right now, actually pop music is struggling world over. A big part is played by digital music because now with streaming services, albums are out. So people don’t buy albums. And streaming music through Spotify, Saavn, Itunes and all these different mediums, artists do not get paid that much so they don’t have any incentive. And plus, somehow in Pakistan especially, people do not follow pop music as such, which they used to. Even in India, there is film music. Earlier, there was pop music which was huge but now film music is huge. Even in America, if you see, rock music has gone down. It’s all R&B and hip hop- what you hear in the clubs and all. So songs which are radio friendly in the West, they work. The songs which are club friendly, they work. But rock musicians are actually struggling over there too. So yeah, the music industry is still there, and Coke Studio is actually playing a very important part right now. Because I think, after Season 7, the one thing which we tried to do was involve maximum musicians in this platform. This time we have 40 artists and we have around 30 odd musicians. We’re talking about 60-70 people all over Pakistan being part of Coke Studio, which wasn’t there before. Coke Studio right now is playing the role of the Pakistani music industry. So now you see all the genres of music: pop, rock, folk, Sufi, qawwali, classical, they are appearing. And basically right now, Coke Studio is pop industry.
Minahil: So you talked about the different genres of music: pop and more traditional music like folk, Sufi, etc. Coke Studio often tries to fuse these together. Do you think the process of producing such music is challenging?
Faisal Kapadia: See, if it’s challenging, then it’s fun. Because if things are coming very easy, then there’s no challenge. There’s no fun. And of course, sometimes, we pick up artists first, and say, okay we want them to do a song. Sometimes, we pick up songs and we say okay, we want to do this song so let’s see who’s going to be able to perform it well. So there are two ways of selecting songs and artists. And then again, we make a conscious effort to fuse genres. And this is an organic process of making music rather than just picking two songs and joining them. So organically, it’s a beautiful process. Sometimes it works out. And sometimes you try and try, and it doesn’t work out. And you just keep it aside. So it is something which is always challenging, but it’s always fun because as a musician, you want to try different things every time, otherwise you become complacent.
Minahil: And even when you’re trying different things, you always try and bring in newer and younger artists into Coke Studio.
Faisal Kapadia: It’s a very interesting balance. We always want to get new artists every time with a mixed blend of senior, established artists. Some old artists have been there for a long time but we haven’t seen them in the recent past. For example, Farida Khanum was there last year. Hamid Ali Khan Saab was there last year. Surraiya Khanum was there last year. These are legendary people who have contributed so much but we haven’t seen them in the past 5-10 years that prominently. Well, Hamid Ali Khan Saab is still very active but apart from him.
Minahil: With these artists who are already so established and as you said, legendary, how is it like producing their songs?
Faisal Kapadia: It’s lovely. It’s a dream come true. Working with Farida Khanum Jee is probably something me and Bilal are going to tell our grandchildren stories about. That hey, we worked with her. And without this platform of Coke Studio, it would have been almost impossible. She’s not singing that actively these days. So it’s a magical journey for the both of us, because we can do whatever. It’s just like kids sitting with toys and you know, you can do so much because the whole industry is there.
Minahil: Yes, especially with the diversity in Coke Studio. But, what do you think is your biggest challenge as producers? Because you want to get your vision across and Coke Studio’s vision across, but also not lose the creative freedom of the artist. Is that hard?
Faisal Kapadia: So music collaboration is actually when there are several musicians sitting together and working. This is the whole process. It’s a very organic process, when the whole house band is there. There’s 3-4 months and every day, we work on songs. Artists are coming, different musicians are there. Everybody has their own energy and as producers, you give them the direction. But you get everyone’s input too because that’s why they’re there. It’s very important that every musician gives his input but as producers you direct them about where exactly we need to go, keeping Coke Studio’s values, Pakistan’s values, our cultural values, that artists values, and keeping something fresh in mind.
Minahil: Just lastly, what can we expect from Season 9 of Coke Studio?
Faisal Kapadia: Season 9 is very different. Because we have 6 more music directors on board, as you know. That was a huge step for us. But we wanted it because we wanted the spectrum to be much broader and bigger. So we got 6 new music directors who are doing 5 songs each. They have their own days, they have their own values and they have their own thinking. And collectively with the house band, with all of us together, we’re trying to create something new. And it’s actually working out pretty nice, pretty exciting. Because music is one thing that you’re always learning. When you’re doing accounting or anything else, you know 2 plus 2 is always going to be 4. It can’t be 5 or 3. But in music, every note, the way it’s played, it takes you to a different direction. It means whenever a person is singing, he can never sing identically. Every time he will take some note here or there, which will be different. So getting these 6 music directors, the scope is broader and the audience will really enjoy this whole setup. And it was important because Coke Studio needs to grow. Coke studio needs to move on with time. You cannot just repeat formulas that okay this happened, this was a hit, let’s do it again. You can’t. You need to be innovative. Forget about what was a hit before and just see what we can do now.
Minahil: Well, we’re really looking forward to what Coke Studio has in store for us in Season 9. Thank you for joining us Mr. Kapadia, and best of luck.
Season 9 of Coke Studio will be released in August on multiple television channels, radio stations, and online on their website www.cokestudio.com.pk