Charlie McCann in The Economist:
In 2006, Coca-Cola approached Rohail Hyatt, a Pakistani musician and producer, with an offer he couldn’t refuse: we’ll pay for you to make a live-music show for television. Don’t worry about the money – just do whatever it takes to ensnare the ears and thus the hearts and minds of Pakistanis everywhere. Hyatt didn’t disappoint. The first season of “Coke Studio”, which aired in 2008, was received with enthusiasm; subsequent seasons with adulation. The show takes viewers inside the recording studio to watch a diverse range of musicians – young and old, rich and poor, Punjabi and Pushtun – perform songs that put Pakistan’s different musical traditions in conversation with each other: devotional Sufi music with pop, traditional monsoon melodies with rock. When “Coke Studio” first aired, the country was in crisis. Benazir Bhutto had recently been assassinated and thousands of people were being killed every year in terrorist attacks and sectarian incidents. The country was tearing itself apart. But for an hour every week, “Coke Studio”, in its own small way, stitched the nation back together again. “Coke Studio” continues to be a roaring success. According to Coca-Cola, each season since 2010 has been viewed, at least in part, by 90% of Pakistanis who own a TV. Coca-Cola is so confident about “Coke Studio” that it has adapted the format for 24 other countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa (including some of the biggest: India, Indonesia, Egypt, South Africa and Nigeria).
…There is no public funding for the arts in Pakistan. The violence that beset the country in the mid-2000s destroyed the live-music scene and spooked many of the foreign record labels, which pulled out. Today, musicians interested in making a living need brand patronage. “It’s basically corporate culture which propels music everywhere,” says Ali Sethi, a Pakistani singer and occasional performer on the show. And the best gig in town is “Coke Studio”. Just don’t see red if you want to wear blue on Coke’s stage. Remember: you’re with the brand.