Coke Studio Season 3: Press Conference.

It's safe to say that Coke Studio has become a summer staple for music lovers across Pakistan—and perhaps the world.  They load up their mp3 devices, computers, and phones with songs from the first two seasons, and nearly everybody has their very own personal favourite Coke Studio track.

Photograph by Kohi Marri
Just recently Coke Studio announced its highly anticipated return in a press conference.  It was attended by the house band, featured artist and the guest musicians; and members of the Coca Cola company as well. At its centre of all was maestro Rohail Hyatt, whose constant presence, influence, and guidance has churned out some of the most interesting music to be heard on the airwaves for a while now. It's interesting to keep in mind how Coke Studio came about and the core idea behind it. According to Rohail "I was making an album with Rahat [Ai Khan] and listening to the recordings, I realised nobody would hear see how this was all put together and made. I was sort of privileged to have seen the process and that's what is at the core of Coke Studio."

Coke Studio is not just interesting in its content, it is also interesting in how musicians are paired with each other to bring out some of the finest fusion tracks to be heard. Which is why this time around there are many musicians and many interesting combination of musicians. This year it features Abida Parveen, Amanat Ali, Arieb Azhar, Arif Lohar, Aunty Disco Project [A.D.P], Entity Paradigm [E.P], Fakir Juman Shah, Karavan, Meesha Shafi, Noori, Rizwan & Muazzam, Sanam Marvi, Tina Sani and Zeb & Haniya as the main artists.

Also returning is the house band, however with some interesting new additions this time around, Asad Ahmed on guitar, Babar Ali Khanna on dholak, Jaffer Ali Zaidi on the keyboard, Javed Iqbal on Violin, Kamran “Mannu” Zafar on Bass, Louis “Gumby” Pinto on Drums, Omran “Momo” Shafique on guitar, Saba Shabbir on backing vocals and Zulfiq “Shazee” Ahmed Khan on multi percussions. Newcomers include Sanam Saeed, Sikander Mufti, Zoe Viccaji. Guest musicians include husband and wife duo Ali Kazim on vocals and Noor Zehra Kazim on sagar veena and also welcomes back guest musicians Baqir Abbas on the flute and Sadiq Sameer and his rabab.

The renowned classical singer Tina Sani brings with her not only her voice but also an awe-inspiring presence. What was her Coke Studio experience like? "It wasn't strange or awkward. It just felt normal, we came in to play music and we did." The venerable artist added that, "To be very honest, I actually had a lot of fun doing this."

Arif Lohar, who collaborates with Meesha Shafi, said that "Coke Studio is a beautiful panel whereby we can share cultural activities." The cultural icon added that, "I think this is a brilliant step by Rohail Hyatt not just in terms of music but also in terms of national pride as well." He added that it was important to bring older artists into the limelight for newer generations.

For Omran Shafique, it was exciting being here third time around. "It doesn't get old," says the Mauj frontman, "It's as exciting as it was." Omran enjoys being one of the few musicians who are not only part of the house band but have also been a part of Coke Studio as a part of a band as well. Which does Omran prefer? "I enjoy being in the house band more, simply because it helps me to interact with more musicians, which has always been a goal of mine."

Also this year sees the Aunty Disco Project get their break in Coke Studio. What's it like for them to hit the big time? "It's absolutely terrifying," says Omar Bilal Akhtar, in a good way of course. The band was disappointed in not being able to make it last time around and Omar is quick to address that. "I think our expectations were out of whack, last time around. We needed to be in this position, in our career, to be a part of Coke Studio."

EP returns not only to the limelight in general, but also makes an appearance in Coke Studio along the way. "I think it's an enormous opportunity  and it's something with great meaning,"  says the EP singer, Fawad Khan. However, it's not only Coke Studio that the band have been busy with. "We're going to be releasing our first video [from the upcoming album] very soon, it's in the editing stage at this moment," said Fawad.

Qawwals Rizwan and Muazzam recalled when they were called for the project. "When Rohail bhai called us, it was a great feeling and when we showed up to perform it was an even greater feeling," said Rizwan and Muazzam. The duo, who have been signed to Peter Gabriel’s influential Real World record label, were also excited about playing fusion music with some of the best musicians. "They're all professionals," added Rizwan and Muazzam, "who play some of the best music around."

Tanseer Daar from Karavan added, "It takes you away from your routine, it's something that will stay with me forever now." And what about the band itself? "The album is out, we're doing another video soon."

This is a very special return for Noori to Coke Studio. Their contribution and collaboration last year were extremely well received with a memorable performance with the venerable Saieen Zahoor. How can one top that? You make it a family outing. Joining the brothers are their parents, Ali Kazim and Noor Zehra Kazim—who brings with her a custom made, one of a kind instrument, the sagar veena. "It was an enjoyable experience, particularly it was because with my sons and my wife was playing," says Ali Kazim, father to Ali Noor and Ali Hamza. Was it last year's show that convinced him to come on the show with his sons? "To be honest, it was my two sons that convinced me, I'm not a trained singer by any sort and I admit I was a bit nervous." And adds, "My wife on the other hand is a trained classical singer and musician."

Finally, Rohail Hyatt himself shared what was it like producing Coke Studio for a third time around. "First time we had no idea what we were doing, but we did it anyways." He added, "Second time around it was iffy and difficult. We had a lot more of folk music in and it was very, very risky." However it seems that the second Coke Studio paid off as the third time around there was a very much relaxed atmosphere in Coke Studio 3. "But it was still as risky as ever and I wasn't trying to do another season 2." He also added that in the journey of Coke Studio if the first two was all about starting a journey and opening doors, the third one is about exploring. Season 2 explored a lot of interesting folk and modern combinations, in particular the epic combination of Noori and Saieen Zahoor, and the Zeb and Haniya track Paimona. Is this why they are more folk heavy this time around? "Oh we're not folk heavy, we're more balanced," Rohail said, adding that the key is not having more folk artists but having more combinations of different kinds of artists—thereby creating diversity. Coke Studio is an interesting concept and although it gets bigger and better how can it grow and evolve? "I think the next logical step would be to have these performances live," he said. "It makes sense."

Photograph by Kohi Marri
Finally, at the press conference, there was also a sneak preview of the third season. From what one heard it was clear that Coke Studio is fast becoming a musical experience that would rival even the greatest music from anywhere around the world.