Crimson Tide: The Return of Coke Studio

It's back. Some say it's bigger and better, some say it's more of the same—in a good way. Whatever the case may be, one cannot deny the force Coke Studio has become. Sure it had its fair share of critics but that, and tumultuous times, did not waver the determination the forces behind Coke Studio.

The concept of Coke Studio is pretty simple, take a contemporary artist and a regional one, add a dash of production courtesy of Rohail Hyatt, sprinkle with a lavish set up and you achieve the perfect blend of fusion that bridges barriers, celebrates diversity, encourages unity and instills a sense of Pakistani pride. And that perfect combination, is about to return – with some old pieces and new ones too.

Coke Studio 2 was announced at a press conference, held by members of soft drink giant Coke and members of the crimson concert. Surprisingly, the event started fairly on time and was smooth sailing all the way through. Unlike the previous arrangement, this time around there was easy access, the entire set was elaborate and reflected the spirit of Coke Studio.

Speaking at the conference, the country manager for Coca-Cola Export Company, Rizwan U Khan has said “Coke Studio prides itself on providing a musical platform which bridges barriers, celebrates diversity, encourages unity and instills a sense of Pakistani pride.”

Rohail Hyatt started off being associated with Vital Signs, but long after Pakistan’s premiere rock and pop band parted ways, Hyatt is finding plenty to do. Speaking on his involvement as the lead on the project, Hyatt said, “This time round it seems as if I have a big brotherly sort of role and I don’t know why that is so but I am enjoying it thoroughly. Last year it wasn’t like this! Everybody’s paying attention now or maybe, I don’t know, looking up to me in some way I mean I don’t know what it is, but its great and that’s the bottom line. I'm very proud and honoured to be working with all the team members of coke studio. They are all an amazing bunch and are nothing short of family for me.”

After the announcement, Images on Sunday was invited backstage, in the Red Room, a small section of the studio converted into a small eatery, complete with lavish sofas for the who's who of Coke Studio.

This year's line up includes, Ali Zafar, Arieb Azhar, Atif Aslam, Javed Bashir, Riaz Ali Khan, Saieen Zahoor, Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan, Strings, Josh, Zeb & Haniya. Accompanying these formidable is the power-house band, which includes the talents of Babar Khanna on dholak, Kamran Zafar on Bass, Gumby on Drums, Omran Shafique on guitar, Saba Shabbir on backing vocals and Zulfiq “Shazee” Ahmed Khan on multi percussions. In addition, they are joined by Assad Ahmed, also on guitar, Jaffer Zaidi on the keyboard, Javed Iqbal on Violin, Natasha De Sousa as backing vocalist, Sikander on dholak and Waris Baloo on multi percussions. This year also welcomes guest musicians Gul Mohammad on Sarangi, Gurpreet Chana on tabla, Rakae Jamil on Sitar and Sadiq Sameer on Rabab. And they’re all mingling together, laughing, smiling and anxious for the world to hear their music.

Rohail Hyatt was visibly tired but seemed relax when speaking about his experience, "It's been awesome. Tiring, but awesome. My reward this year is just watching these gifted artists perform." How difficult is it to get people for Coke Studio and did they not get anybody this time around? "It's a simple choice really, you look at the artist and hear their music, you hear what they can bring to the table and then you invite them. We got everybody that we wanted this year." And how did he finally manage to get a hold of Saieen Zahoor, a legendary artist, who was supposedly in the first season, but then not? "We didn't go through the proper channels," admits Rohail, "apparently he had made commitments elsewhere and the timing of the schedules was conflicting."

The venerable artist Saieen Zahoor admitted that last year the timings were off, but this year everything is in tune and on track. "Every generation has its colors," Saieen Zahoor said, "and it's only natural that this one has its own. And it's been an exhilarating experience working with all the new colors of this generation."

Emerging from absence this year is rock band Noori. "This is exactly the kind of thing we were looking for," says Ali Noor, "The level of sound quality here, the production, it's just way beyond to what we're used to." There is also talk of their new album, which Ali Noor confirms, "We're ready, we have to get some final touches in, but we're ready." Ali Hamza’s contribution isn’t just limited to the music, in fact, he’s also part of the sound team. “I don’t feel like I’m just part of the music team, I feel like I’m a part of Coke Studio on a whole.” CS2 brought about an interesting collaboration, one that was now difficult to imagine, that of the temporary re-unification of Gumby and Noori. Both the band and drummer are excited about the re-union of sorts, but make it clear that it is only for Coke Studio and not for any future Noori albums.

CS2 also sees the likes of Atif Aslam into the fray of the Crimson Concert. "I've completed work on my new album which I've worked on all by myself, right down to the arrangements.” What can his fans expect to hear? “My performances will be a complete surprise to my fans." JoSH have been a popular band in Pakistan and this time they bring their popularity and their songs to CS2 and Q of JoSH was most excited about the project. "This has been a memorable experience for us, we're working with some of the top artists of Pakistan."

Also joining in from abroad is the Tabla maestro Gurpreet Chana. "It's quite exciting, this is my first time here in Pakistan," he said. And what was it like working with all these artists? "Amazing experience, this is something that I'm really looking forward to." Chana learnt the Classical Tabla in the Punjab Gharana (style) from his Ustad Ji Professor Parshotam Singh. He started by playing at the Gurdawara with kirtan and continues to do so, but as of late he has added a unique flavour to his music and mesmerizes crowds with Tabla Fusion which is perfect for Coke Studio 2.

It's not the returning and new bands people are looking forward this year. CS2 also marks a change in production direction thanks to the likes of Zeeshan Parwez and Adnan Malik. "I was part of the band last year, but this year Adnan and me are overlooking the look and feel of the project," says Zeeshan.

Coke Studio 2 has proven that no matter what it is that divides us, the sound of music unites us all. The warmth and the genuine passion present in the air in and around Coke Studio gives hope. To see such diverse stars gathered amid times like these gives hope to those who shall listen to them.

Coke Studio 2 will be aired later this year, during the summer.