Almost the first thing we asked Wasim Basir, Coke's director of marketing, was: What took you so long? He laughed. "There are a lot of reasons why now is the right time to bring it here, but I guess the best way to apologise for the delay is by giving you some great music!"
Coke's breathless press release says that Coke Studio @ MTV (to give the show its formal name) aims to "reinvent the way music can capture the spirit of a nation, opening hearts and minds, and of course, Happiness!" The effervescence is forgivable when one looks at the list of performers in Season One. mtvindia.com/cokestudio/artist.php will give you the full list. Here's a sampler: Advaita, Bombay Jayashri, Colonial Cousins, Kailash Kher, Shaan, Shafqat Amanat Ali, Shankar Mahadevan, Shruti Pathak, Sunidhi Chauhan, the Wadali Brothers. Plus a crack studio band, and some guest musicians, all held together by musical director Leslie Lewis, veteran singer, musician, composer and producer.
"I'm not the technical director, or the mentor or the judge or the anchor," he says, laughing. "Just making sure you know that." Apparently he's been called all those things by journos unused to nomenclature outside that of reality TV, which is the only reference point they have to slot the show by.
The challenge, Lewis says, was in "keeping to our roots. At the same time it's not a folk show or a ‘cultural music programme.' It's contemporary, very modern; it's what young people will understand but it's got the sound of India in it." Something like what he and Hariharan were doing with Colonial Cousins back in the '90s? "It's another degree of a similar thing. With this, I've tried to keep it very folksy. I've grown up on folk, I love it."
The format for each episode will have one popular artist, one folk legend and one promising new talent.
How's it been handling what must be a bunch of disparate style and, yes, large egos? "I've worked with most of them at the beginning of their careers — some I introduced, or produced — so today there's confidence and trust in me. The traditional guys, they don't see me as just a ‘Western guy.' I never made them do anything outside their tradition. All I did was make them do things they've never done before. They trusted me. [That trust] began with Coke and MTV: They trusted me, and they won. Coke Studio is an awesome concept, and I just love Coke for having done it. Look at music on TV: It's all ‘reality'-based, but where's the real music? Coke Studio @ MTV is bringing music back into the country. Think about it: No anchor, no voting, no SMSes, no judging. What more can a musician want?
The schedule has been gruelling. Over 40 days of two, three hours sleep a night, composing, arranging, rehearsing, bringing the marquee artists in, rehearsing with them, then the shoots. "What you hear is what you see. If something went wrong, we went back and started from the beginning." The actual shoot ran over 15 days, and 51 songs were recorded.
"I thoroughly enjoyed myself. And I think all my joy is there in the music. It's going to pass on to all those kids. And their mummies and daddies.
Everyone's going to love it."
Coke Studio @ MTV launches on June 17. It will also be broadcast on Colors. [Colors is a channel co-owned by Network18, which also publishes Forbes India. Viacom, which owns the MTV brand is a Network18 partner.]