Coke Studio (India) @ MTV: The Studio Experience

Nagendra S

The Coke Studio fever hit us when were studying at IIM Lucknow, sometime in the second year. The show was on air in MTV Pakistan and it was one show that we music aficionados in India craved for. The idea was simple: get a bunch of talented musicians together, ask them to create awesome music and air the whole thing in a studio setting. Some of the best talent on the various instruments were the common factor while multiple lead artists shared stage.

The best part about the whole package was that it brought together the traditional and modern genres together brilliantly. Sufi music is traditional to Pakistan and has inspired many a band earlier (remember the classic Sayonee from the band Junoon?). In the Coke Studio format though, it gave the Sufi artists the opportunity to share the stage with new-age artists, thus enhancing the effect even more.

My favourites from this format are: Aik Alif and Alif Allah (youtube links provided below). Aik Alif was played so many times on our speakers that neighbours in our hostel blocks thought we had gone crazy.

Anyway, back to India now. Guess there was a huge pent up demand for such a show in our country. The comments on the youtube videos voiced this repeatedly. So, it was only time before the show took shape in here as well. And the folks at MTV have responded! Yes, the good news is that the show will be on air sometime next month on MTV at a prime slot. The clamouring of lakhs of Indians has finally been satisfied!

MTV was eager to get some fan following and publicity before the show and towards this had invited the press (ahem, some bloggers and tweeters essentially) to the recordings of the show so that they could generate some buzz. The Facebook page has already been a huge success and inching towards the 15000 fan mark! According to Nikhil Taneja (many thanks to him, more later), who handled the press (ahem, again) at the recording, all this has been a completely organic fan build up and they have not spent any major monies on this. Remarkable considering that the fan page has been up for a few weeks only now!

The Experience:

Finally, now to the actual experience at the MTV recording studio in Mumbai. The studio is in a rather remote setting, somewhere off Malad and getting there was quite a ride.

Once there, we were escorted to the actual set where the recording was being conducted. To see the lit-up Coke Studio background and the set with all the musical instruments stacked orderly was a visual treat. We had only seen the photos on Facebook and this was a real wow moment.

Completely unaware who was recording that day, we trudged along taking some random pics around the stage. The crew and artists were on a break and we used this time to look around the place. The set is truly well designed and reflects the spirit of music perfectly.A centre pedestal with couple of chairs flanked by a circular setting of instruments on either side. The Coke Studio symbol formed the background for the pedestal. The strings (read guitars and bass) along with the back-up vocals on the left; the percussion and the harmony vocals on the right. All this of course from the viewer’s perspective. Reverse the same for the artist’s perspective.  There are some nice musical instruments inlaid into the pictures on the walls with soft lighting in the back. Wonderfully done!

Soon we discovered that the artists of the day were none other than the legendary Colonial Cousins! The one and only Hariharan made a brief appearance before disappearing into the rehearsal area. We could hear him train the back-up vocalists and the harmony vocals to the smallest detail. The man is gifted with such a smooth voice! Though I have had the opportunity to hear him live, hearing him live (read without any mic / amps / speakers) was heavenly!

Leslie Lewis was moving around with his characteristic braid. Leslie also happens to be the music producer for the show (the equivalent of Rohail Hyatt). Leslie has also composed most of the originals that are on air. The other major artists were Benny Dayal, Suzanne (both famous post success of Slumdog) and the ever smiling Kavita Seth. Such an array of artists and we were waiting for the first take. Since this is a television show, there was as much emphasis on the video aspects as on the audio. A total of 8 cameras were operating in unison to create some exquisite transitions.

Back to the music: the composition was by Leslie and was set to a soft tune. The wordings were sprinkled with ‘Rama, Rama, Krishna, Krishna’ and reminded of the good old ‘Krishna nee’ rendering by the Colonial Cousins. The best part of the composition were the ‘swaras’, in true Carnatic style that were subtly interspersed with rest of the song. The fact that Hariharan was singing them in his brilliant soothing voice made it even better. The song transitioned between Hari, Leslie, Kavita, Benny and Suzanne smoothly and was lingering in my head a long time after I left the studio. The song was shot thrice with the third attempt being the final cut. To finish the day on a high-note (pun intended), we heard the third take direct from the mixer with some studio quality headphones. Boy-o-boy, that was one amazing experience! We could not help but close our eyes and enjoy the soulful music. The sparse audience heard with rapt attention. On completion of the song, the artists were given a standing ovation and it took some time before the applause subsided.

On a scale of musical awesomeness, this was second only to hearing AR Rahman live. Only this time it was in a closed environment with headphones on!

And as for the inevitable comparison to the Pakistani version, there is no doubt that this is going to be equally good. The line up of artists is equally good, the accompanying artists are up there too. The studio set is well designed and the music production team has some great names. The show itself is produced by Idiotbox, the television arm of Red Chillies, another big name. There is no doubt that this is going to be a revelation for the music audience in India.

PS: A special thank to Nikhil Taneja from Viacom who organised the whole event and organised for quick photo shoots. A couple of them have been uploaded for a real-life feel of the studio!

(The author is a good friend and batchmate from IIML, currently working with Mahindra and Mahindra. You can visit his blog here, and he is available on twitter as @nagendra_s)

Sonal says:

Wow, must have been quite some experience. Waiting eagerly for it to go live 🙂