Bilal Tanweer in Chapati Mystery:
There are no billboards on the streets. For the last four years, a week or so before the new season of Coke Studio is launched, most of the important billboards in major Pakistani cities are taken up by snazzy advertisements announcing the featured artists of the season. It’s the biggest annual ad campaign for any TV program and this is Season 5. It’s being touted by many to be the mother of all seasons, mainly on the basis of a wildly circulating promotional video of Episode 1 of the new season. The first artist on the promo video is a rapper: Bohemia. The video shows him in a hoodie and dark glasses, slamming out a rap number in Punjabi. ‘This is an opportunity for me to tell you what rap is—it’s poetry, it’s a message,’ he says in a close-up shot of his 3-second interview. The video cuts back to the song. By his side are the Viccaji sisters – Zoe and Rachel – who do backing vocals and harmonies but they appear to be in a more prominent role for this number.[sepoy notes: Bohemia was featured on CM a long time before “Coke Studio”]
The clip is followed by Hadiqa Kiyani, among Pakistan’s leading female vocalists, singing what sounds like the hard rock version of an AR Rahman’s composition. She is singing the Sufi poetry of Bulleh Shah. She’s followed by Atif Aslam, arguably Pakistan’s biggest rock star, also a sensation in India for the last four years. He has teamed up with ‘Qayaas’, an underground band, to do a version of a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan qawwali. The last singer on the promo is of Humayun Khan’s who is singing Larsha Pekhawar Ta, a popular Pushto folk song. The absence of billboards is unexpected. For the last three years or so, Coke Studio is the soft drink brand’s main marketing strategy in the country. In fact, the entire marketing campaign of Coca Cola Pakistan is designed around Coke Studio: artists featured in the program are on Coke bottles, cans, television adverts, newspapers, television, radio and billboards. But there is no visual clue of it this year. Maybe it is a scaling back by the soft drink company. But the other interesting thing I notice is that on Coke Studio’s Season 5 website there is no ‘About’ tab either – meaning nothing to introduce a newcomer to Coke Studio. Taken together, these could mean a number of things, but they unmistakably do mean that no one needs to be told What Coke Studio Is and What It Does; and second, nobody needs reminding that Coke Studio will start airing on May 13. It’s common knowledge.
In other words, if there is a confirmation of Coke Studio’s status as a cultural behemoth in Pakistan, this is it.