TV Review: ‘Coke Studio @ MTV’ Season Two
Some people may know Clinton Cerejo as the producer of many fine Hindi film soundtracks composed by filmmaker and music director Vishal Bhardwaj. Others may know him as the man who helped introduce the gospel-led chorus, so loved by directors such as Karan Johar, into Bollywood. This weekend, Cerejo was the musician manned with the daunting task of reintroducing the much-maligned Indian avatar of Coke Studio to TV audiences.
As opposed to the first season where the show’s music director Leslie Lewis got playback and folk singers to reinterpret traditional tunes, Cerejo is just one of seven producers tasked with composing a set of five to six new songs for their episode. Having listened to both Leslie Lewis’s recent work and that of the producers enlisted by MTV, it was almost certain that the second season would deliver an aesthetic upgrade. And to that extent, Cerejo did not disappoint. His songs were almost instantly infectious, the kind you might find yourself humming after just one listen. The main difference: this Coke Studio keeps its association with Sufi and folk loose.
Instead, it (presumably) gives composers such as Cerejo the dream job of being able to create music that’s unrestrained by story lines, commercial compulsions or filmmakers’ whimsies. The result, surprisingly, is songs of the kind not too unlike the stuff we’ve heard in multiplex-targeted movies or fusion pop. The other key difference: when they are used, the folk singers aren’t relegated to the background but firmly in the spotlight. Sawan Khan Manganiyar book-ended Cerejo’s episode with tracks that differently employed the rustic Rajasthani texture of his voice. Episode opener “Saathi Salaam” swathed it in electric guitar, and juxtaposed it with Hindi vocals by Cerejo to create a catchy power ballad. Show closer “Dungar” took a Rajasthani folk song in Sindhi and melded it with a gospel chorus rendered by the Salvation Singers to make for a melodious if tad cheesy meeting of musical traditions. The fusion was seamless, but then Cerejo is a pro at this sort of thing, having done it in numerous Hindi films, most recently in Kahaani on Amitabh Bachchan’s version of “Ekla Cholo Re”.
The most immediately appealing tunes were the melodically similar “Banjara” and “Madari”, which showcased respectively the well-known vocal talents of Nandini Srikar and Vishal Dadlani. “Banjara”, which featured a funky groove and playback singer Vijay Prakash delivering an introductory verse of sargams, would not sound out of place on Srikar’s debut album Beete Pal, a collection of Hindi pop infused with Indian classical and jazz rock embellishments. “Madari”, on the other hand, gave Dadlani a rare chance to mellow out. However, the most experimental track came in the form of “Mauje Naina”, a slightly dark tale of unrequited love that meshed Bianca Gomes’s English R&B verses with a Hindi chorus by the vocal duo of Shadab and Altamash. The melodramatic lyrics and big strings however, turned the song into something that, like the rest, we could easily re-imagine as part of a readymade Hindi film soundtrack.
We suspect it will be the same for the other Bollywood producers (Hitesh Sonik, Ehsaan Noorani-Loy Mendonsa, Amit Trivedi and Shantanu Moitra) who will get an episode each (Asian underground pioneers Nitin Sawhney and Karsh Kale are the two other producers while five Indian indie acts get a song each on the last episode). And if it’s quality not quantity that counts, then we’re happier with the idea of having fewer folk musicians but giving them more face time this time around. Shame though that while the opening graphics boast of “264 artistes” along with the “12 producers”, apart from lyricist Manoj Yadav, we’re told little of the backing band (though the cameramen continue to lovingly zoom into them). But as far as second seasons go, Coke Studio v2.0 is a definite improvement. Perhaps it’s time to let go of comparisons to Pakistan. Our Coke Studio is a Bollywood bastard, one that seems to have finally been placed in the right set of (changing) adoptive hands; if we learn to accept that, we might finally begin to enjoy it.
Coke Studio @ MTV airs every Saturday at 7pm.Tags: Bianca Gomes, Clinton Cerejo, Coke Studio, Coke Studio @ MTV, Manoj Yadav, MTV, Music, Nandini Srikar, Sawan Khan, Sawan Khan Manganiyar, Shadab and Altamash, Television, TV, TV reviews, Vijay Prakash, Vishal Dadlani