Many a stormy night this past monsoon, I’ve looked out at the rain lashing down like bullets, lightning cracking the sky, sending rivers of light and shaking the black skies back to life, and thought something is missing. Really heavy rain always takes me back to the times we’ve huddled around in a living room, eyes glued to a white wall. With just the stream of light from the projector illuminating the room, quiet with nothing but the music and the rain crashing outside to keep us company. There would be beer and food of course. We’d potluck, everybody would do what they’re good at — ready-to-fry potato wedges, chicken curry and poee, biryani ordered in, and this one time I made a Goan sausage pie, someone would order dessert and we’d lose track of time. When the playlist of 25+ videos would finally end, we’d stretch silently, sigh in amazement — at how we didn’t realise four hours had passed since we began and at how we can do this over and over, every year and not tire of it.
This year, the whole monsoon has passed me by without our customary Coke Studio screening, which has somehow always coincided with one of the stormiest nights of that season. The plan would originally involve a couple of people at best, and we’d nudge each other on telling ourselves we didn’t need a crowd. But organically, it would grow. People would trickle in, odds and ends coming together, all shaking our heads in awe at the same music we’ve come to love. By the end of night, when the lights would come back on, I’d find myself in a room with an incongruous mix of people, the regular bunch, and all the rest who somehow gravitate to where the music is.
I missed the session this year. Mainly because I’m no longer in the company of people that obsess over Coke Studio or any kind of screenings anymore. I have my own private music evenings, hahaha, I pick a list, hit play and soak it up. Cook to it, read to it, stay in the room and let the music linger. But I’ve also missed the session because my interest in recent seasons of Coke Studio has dipped a bit. Last year, they tried a new trick — crowdsourcing of sorts — by producing the music in different parts of the world and melding it together. It didn’t work for me because the tracks were not cohesive, and sounded very haphazard and without a solid soul. I had just one memorable track that was sticky for a bit, but was forgotten sooner than later too.
This year, Rohail Hyatt was been replaced and in just one episode, I’ve felt the quality nosedive, and the spunk get knocked out like a candle flame blown out. Call me harsh and quick to judge, but episode 1 was a revelation in what can happen when the same bunch of talented performers get together, but without the able guidance of someone who can bring out the best in them, and fuse it all together without making it sound cacophonic. The new sound is excessively poppy for my liking, totally devoid of the soul that Coke Studio has had for me. Soul that drips thick and coats a track, making it timeless and never go out of style. Every season I listen to the new, and then find myself going back to the same old classics I love. Like this, and this, and this. Like a stuck record.
I leave you with the only track from episode 1 of season 7 that I seemed to go back to again and again. And I know it has everything to do with the tiny display of Raees Khan’s sitar playing sorcery.
I’ve missed the togetherness that these sessions brought. The excited planning, gathering everybody’s favourites and building up of the playlist, swiping the office projector, planning the food and cooking ahead of time. There was something happy and heartwarming about bonding with people over music. Some of the deepest bonds I share with people, some of my closest friendships are with those I have a kindred spirit of the music kind, and sitting together, listening to your favourite music takes this love to a different high.
It was a short-lived monsoon tradition, while it lasted. I don’t even know if anybody else thought of it as one. I did, because three years in a row counts as tradition, no? That’s a better strike rate than I’ve had for many other traditions in life! The Coke Studio love will last for years to come, the bonds I have over this common love, hopefully longer still. But it’s time to find me a new music tradition, I think.