Monday September 27, 2010

Coke Studio in India? A wish-list!

Posted by Karthik

Supriya Nair’s piece on Coke Studio, in OPEN magazine is l-o-n-g overdue! While it explains beautifully about what makes the show and its music unique, what it leaves is for me to opine and ponder. Here goes!

If we (as Indians) are left wondering about the future of non-film music in India, I see the Coke Studio model as THE only way out. I’d LOVE to see the Coke Studio equivalent in India nurture pop music in India across Indian languages.

What Coke Studio has achieved is not necessarily spectacular quality music – many of the tracks are standard material, though I agree that the good ones make up for them and are in good numbers too. What I think Coke Studio has truly achieved is to offer a respectable and popular platform to non-film music – what we love to refer to as ‘pop music’. Pop music in India is anything but ‘pop’ular – film music, on the other hand, is incredibly popular.

But as Supriya rightly says, film music is rooted in the film’s context, in most cases and that works against free will of the artists too. Indipop is mired in a mess created and nurtured by record labels – they demand artists do 10 genres in one album and perhaps interfere way too much in the creative process while not promoting it as much as they should.

So, the first thing is to get Indipop away from record labels, who back artists and music solely based on saleability. Saleability itself is not an evil thing, but an entire album for one or two saleable tracks really doesn’t make much sense in India which looks at value-for-money. Plus, we do not follow (neither will it work) the release-album-and-promote-one-single-each-month model for the simple reason that singles haven’t found a way to proliferate, ever, in India.

The solution is to create and nurture a respectable platform akin to Coke Studio in India, where Indian pop artists (not singing in English, I’m referring to people singing in Indian languages) jostle to get a space and showcase their composing, arranging and vocal skills.

The other reason why Coke Studio is considered respectable (besides incredible production values made possible thanks to Coke’s sponsorship – what a stupendous association for Coke!!) is because of the individual standing and credibility of Rohail Hyatt, who produces and masterminds the show. I seriously wonder if we have anyone of this caliber in India!

The person needs to be ‘popular’ – that is, known and identified for quality music sense across genres/audiences. That leaves ‘popular’ folks like Alisha Chinai, Baba Sehgal or Daler Mehndi out of the picture – the first 2 are manufactured pop artists while Daler is usually rooted to a single genre. The person also needs to have individual credibility as a composer/music creator beyond films – so, leave largely filmy choices like A R Rahman, Shankar Mahadevan or Vishal Dadlani. Remo Fernandes could be an interesting option, but is perhaps too self-styled for comfort. Other interesting options could be people like Louis Banks and Leslie Lewis, who are known for their composing skills for Indipop, for a long time, though with varying degrees of success.

From that point of view, someone like Hariharan may make a great choice. He spans musical and linguistic interests across states and is popular enough to represent a pan-Indian audience. He has dabbled in a range of genres – his ghazals were brilliant, to start with, and he made his transition into Indipop too, very successfully. He sings and composes…and has been doing it all, since the early 80s. He’s choosy about his film songs (not so much in Hindi, but has a phenomenal repertoire in south Indian languages) that his vocals have come to indicate a certain sense of quality.

This remains a wish-list, but I’m sure we all have our own opinions on who should be behind a Coke Studio India equivalent and how it would work. Let us hear them all…share them in the comments.

The strangest thing is that Indian brands/record labels have still not copied the concept in the country. In a country which has many, many television channels and each of them looking at newer shows copied or legally localized from international shows, if no channel has thought of launching a show like Coke Studio even two years after it’s debut, that shows how badly Indipop fares in India and how horribly pop artists are treated in the country! I’m all for film music, but definitely not at the cost of killing independent artists and folk music.

Waiting in hope…!

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