It’s been just over a year since Hindi film composer and playback singer Clinton Cerejo kicked off Season 2 of Coke Studio @ MTV. Madari, a fast-paced Punjabi-Sufi rock ballad from Cerejo’s six-song set, has been since touted as the sophomore edition’s most popular track. But the song, with vocals by Vishal Dadlani and Sonu Kakkar, only managed to hit the one million mark on YouTube last week.
Compare this to Zariya from A.R. Rahman’s Season 3 premiere and you’ll know this time around, the team behind the show wanted to go big. Launched as an online exclusive on 1 August, the song, with lyrics by Prasoon Joshi, featuring Jordanian singer Farah Siraj, Nepalese Buddhist nun Ani Choying Dolma and master percussionist Anandan Sivamani, registered more than 700,000 hits in just the first week. A fortnight is all it took to cross the one million target.
Signing on Rahman for this season has naturally led to a grander set with advanced technical infrastructure (all songs are mixed and mastered in the UK by Grammy-award winning Steve Fitzmaurice), big-ticket artistes like Carnatic vocalist and Padma Shri awardee Aruna Sairam, Hindustani maestro Padma Bhushan Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan and over 150 musicians.
MTV’s Chandrashekhar L., vice-president, programming, commercial and music content, believes Season 3 will be able to achieve what it set out to do in 2011. “The idea was always to give exposure to the independent, folk and classical guys by putting them on the same pedestal as industry biggies,” says Chandrashekhar.
The new season will follow the same format as last year—a switch from Season 1 after the channel received flak for lack of originality and promoting mainstream talent (music director Lesle Lewis was responsible for writing and composing all the music). There will be eight episodes, seven each for seven well-known Hindi film music producers and a finale where six Indian indie acts will take centre stage with an original song each. Each episode will feature five-six songs, either original compositions or renditions of classical or folk songs along with short vignettes on their making.
For the sappy “India’s musical diversity is our core strength” spiel that comes with every Coke Studio @ MTV press release and interview, it is surprising to see composers Cerejo, Amit Trivedi and Hitesh Sonik, all of whom had their own shows in the second season, return this year too.
Besides Rahman and Salim-Sulaiman, also joining the roster are Ram Sampath, best known for composing advertising jingles and the Delhi Belly soundtrack, and Assamese singer-songwriter Angaraag Mahanta, better known as Papon, who was featured as one of the five non-film acts in last year’s finale.
For the season premiere, Rahman collaborates with his sisters, Rayhanah and Issrath, on two songs and mentions a family music album is in the works. On Aao Balma, Rahman’s guru Utsad Ghulam Mustafa Khan, his sons and his grandson Faiz Mustafa are in a Hindustani-Carnatic jugalbandi with guitarist R. Prassana and Sivamani.
On Salim-Sulaiman’s set list is an up-tempo version of Gujarati folk song, Rudire Rangeele, sung by Karsan Sagathiya, and Sati with ace percussionist Taufiq Qureshi. Sonik collaborates with Sukhwinder Singh and Hans Raj Hans on Punjabi and Sufi rock tunes and with Pandit Sanjeev Abhyankar on a particularly melodious acoustic rock track Mat Kar Moh with Mumbai-based singer-songwriter Nikhil D’Souza on English vocals.
Chandrashekhar says Cerejo’s episode, just like last season, has the most number of musicians playing together—a total of 40. Apart from performing with the Manganiyar troupe Barmer Boys, Siddharth Basrur of metal group Goddess Gagged and Kailash Kher, Cerejo says he’s most excited to perform with his new band, Ananthaal. It was formed earlier this year when playback singers Cerejo, Vijay Prakash, Bianca Gomes and Sonu Kakkar came together for a corporate project—their debut single Aisi Bani, based on the Kabir doha of the same name.
Sampath is the only composer to work around a theme, Devi, with female vocalists—Rajasthani folk singer Bhanvari Devi, who sings with her ghoonghat on, collaborates with Hard Kaur on Kattey, his wife Sona Mohapatra, and Sairam perform solos and sing together on the 13th century Sufi poet Amir Khusrau’s lyrics, a prayer dedicated to goddess Durga and a 16th century padam. Playback singer Aditi Singh Sharma performs Parade of Souls, a song from Sampath’s 1990s band project Colourblind, to Bengali folk song Sundari Komala sung by Usri Banerjee. “We live in extremely conservative and misogynistic times, so I wanted to bring the attention back to celebrating the feminine energy,” says Sampath. “I also feel there’s an overdose of Punjabi or north Indian music on Coke Studio, so I chose to focus on central, south and east Indian musical styles. I think the show is fixing that as well with Papon bringing the music of Assam.”
Chandrashekhar says Papon’s set list has a “healthy representation” of Assam with home-grown talent like singers Dulal Manki, Simanta Shekhar and Kalpana Patowary but it also has a rock ballad, a ghazal and an Afro-funk and hip-hop-meets-bihu dance track with Benny Dayal.
Indie scenesters can look forward to the final episode with 1990s band Orange Street performing their track Naash, Sonam Kalra’s The Sufi Gospel Project’s take on a Farsi poem and New Delhi-based fusion act Adi Suhail Tarun’s (A.S.T.) version of Dama Dam Mast Qalandar. The Winit Tikoo Band, winner of LeapFrog, a fast-track competition for indie acts held in collaboration with the blueFROG, will also perform their winning track Pagal.
“With this season, we have realized we’re not producing an eight-week TV show with a limited shelf life anymore,” says Chandrashekhar. “So this time we have made sure all the songs are produced in a manner that they can not only enjoy a long tail but also compete well on digital platforms.”
Coke Studio@MTV will air on MTV starting 17 August, every Saturday at 8pm. Click here for details.