Coke Studio. Photo: Wikimedia
Coke Studio. Photo: Wikimedia

Since its inception in 2008, Coke Studio has become Pakistan’s most popular TV music show and an international franchise with a huge following on social media. It is seen as something that promotes a positive image of Pakistan, a country that often makes headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Coke Studio started airing in broadcast syndication in 2008 with former member of popular Pakistani pop and rock band Vital Signs (1986-1998) Rohail Hyatt as executive music producer. It was a terrible time for the Pakistani music industry, with record labels going bankrupt, music channels shifting to foreign content, piracy increasing, and suicide bombis going off across the country.

In spite of all the chaos in Pakistan at the time, the masses found faith in Coke Studio, ultimately leading to critical acclaim for the show and Hyatt. Apart from the first season, which was performed in front of a live studio audience, from the second season and onwards the show took a different turn, with artists performing in a closed studio setting. Hyatt was the executive producer for seven seasons until he left and Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia, members of Strings, one of Pakistan’s most popular pop-rock groups, took charge from the seventh season until the tenth and final one.

While it is true that Coke Studio has garnered a positive response, it hasn’t avoided criticism either. There are several reasons for that. When a show becomes a household name, people start expecting more and more, and are disappointed when a certain brand doesn’t exceed the expectations of its supporters; such is the case with Coke Studio. Other reasons include allegations of nepotism, a lack of room for independent artists and new talent, and the fact that it was generally becoming a bit monotonous. As far as the latter is concerned, audiences and critics became fed up with the concept of doing covers and the lack of original music at Coke Studio. Many people believed that what was once was regarded as a savior of the Pakistani music industry ultimately become its own enemy.

Many people believed that what was once was regarded as a savior of the Pakistani music industry ultimately become its own enemy

As compared to other seasons, the tenth season drew a mixed to negative reception from both fans and critics. Coke Studio 10’s rendition of the Pakistani national anthem, despite being collectively performed by some of Pakistan’s most well-known musicians, was criticized for not being up to standard. The rendition of the song Sayonee, which was originally performed by the popular band Junoon, pioneers of the Sufi rock genre, was heavily criticized by fans. Another threat to the show came from Coke’s arch-rival Pepsi with its Pepsi Battle of the Bands, featuring underground groups competing against each other. The show had been revived after 15 years and it featured heartthrob Fawad Azfal Khan’s and lead vocalist of the rock band Aaroh Farooq Ahmed’s as judges, marking their return to music after a lengthy hiatus.

Although Season 10 wasn’t well received, the Strings members did have a decent run as music producers. Now with Strings focusing on their music, the responsibility of Pakistan’s biggest music show lies in the hands of Ali Hamza, member of the popular Pakistani rock band Noori, and musician Zohaib Kazi. The decision to select them as music producers received a mixed response, but they have been off to a great start with Coke Studio’s new segment, Coke Studio Explorer, which is an initiative to discover new talent throughout the country. It consists of five episodes, with the first episode being released on July 2, featuring the duo Ariana and Amrina from the Chitral district in Pakistan, and the second episode being released on July 5, featuring the voices of Shamu Bai and Vishnu from Deewan Lal Chand in  Sindh province.

With a new segment launched as part of Coke Studio that promotes undiscovered talent nationwide, it will surely be worth the wait to see what the music producers have in store for the show’s fans.

Turyal Azam Khan

Turyal Azam Khan is a Pakistani writer, blogger, and journalist who mainly focuses on current affairs, social issues, lifestyle, and culture. He has written for Daily Times, Dunya Blogs, EACPE, The Nation, Naya Daur, Surkhiyan, The Times of Israel, Street Buzz, IBC English, Mashable Pakistan and The Diplomat.