Behind the scenes of ‘Coke Studio Bharat’: Meet the artists

From Seedhe Maut and Rashmeet Kaur to the Shillong Chamber Choir, the artists discuss their respective musical journeys, working on ‘Coke Studio Bharat,’ and teaming up with unusual contributors

Updated - February 22, 2023 05:46 pm IST

Published - February 13, 2023 05:44 pm IST

Artists posing at the ‘Coke Studio Bharat’ launch event

Artists posing at the ‘Coke Studio Bharat’ launch event | Photo Credit: Sruthi Darbhamulla

Coke Studio recently launched a brand-new avatar Coke Studio Bharat, which arrives after a nearly decade-long hiatus, and plans to offer opportunities to voices from every corner of India across regions and languages. Ankur Tewari helms its curation, supported by veteran lyricist Kausar Munir, and music producer K.J Singh as part of his think-tank.

Nearly 50 artists are participating in the venture, ranging from emerging folk artists and indie musicians to established Bollywood names; The Hindu caught up with some of them...

Repping India’s burgeoning hip-hop scene, rappers Prabh Deep and Seedhe Maut were present and gave us the lowdown on their journey. They are a part of Azadi Records, an indie label founded by Uday Kapur and Mo Joshi, focused on the largely underground hip-hop scene.

Prabh Deep says he is glad that Ankur, producer Donn Bhat and K.J. Singh supported him and let him do what he does while creating his track Takdeer. “They are seniors in the game, but they tolerated my tantrums and understood that it was never personal; it was art. It’s bigger than me, and bigger than all of us.”

It is exciting to hear him recount his journey. Prabh Deep found rap as a teenager and exploded onto the scene with Class-Sikh in 2017. His first full-length record debuted at No. 2 on the India iTunes albums chart. Since then, he has continued to scale new heights and is a core part of Delhi’s rap circuit, along with producer Sez and collaborator Seedhe Maut. His latest album, released in 2022, is titled Bhram.

Prabh Deep

Prabh Deep | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

When asked about his influences, he credits “life in general.” He says that as a kid, he was away from technology since they had no money and that it made him an observer, someone who sees life differently.

“Things that people tend to understand later in life, I understood way early because I was observing. I was observing the behaviour and decisions around me. And that is the reason I reached here,” he says. “Otherwise, a guy from Tilak Nagar? The last person who made it from here was Virat Kohli,” he says, explaining that in their neighbourhood, one bad decision could take someone down the wrong path. He adds that 2023 will be a big year for Azadi Records, and he hopes that it brings a lot of positivity.

Labelmates Seedhe Maut have big plans too. Seedhe Maut is a bilingual hip-hop duo comprising Siddhant Sharma (who goes by MC Calm) and Abhijay Negi ( Encore ABJ). They debuted with the album Bayaan in 2019. “It has been surreal since we started to rap which was seven years ago,” Negi says. “Since we came together, it’s felt like something special and the overwhelming feeling has stayed since then,” he says

Seedhe Maut on stage during the’ Coke Studio Bharat’ launch event

Seedhe Maut on stage during the’ Coke Studio Bharat’ launch event

Describing the Coke Studio experience, Sharma explains that they received a “wholesome call” from Ankur, saying that he wanted a song about Holi, and they agreed.

They call their collaborators Maithili Thakur and Mahan Sehgal “amazing artists” and recount with amusement that while they weren’t too familiar with Maithili’s work... their mothers were. Negi shares that he never thought they’d work with a singer who specialises in bhajans. “It’s like a whole different world, and getting to collaborate is a blessed opportunity,” he says.

 

On their musical path, Sharma says that they have nothing against commercial music. “We would love to make it as long as we can do it our way,” he says. He believes that the idea of underground music is more about perception. “See, a song is a song. Underground, mainstream, commercial — this is all perception. An artist may be underground or mainstream, but that art itself is never underground or mainstream, it’s just music.”

The duo is currently working on an album, the work for which started even before their previous one Nayaab came out. “We’re planning on releasing the next one this year,” Sharma says. In fact, they are filming for a music video on the side as we speak, with Negi pausing in between to lipsync a few bars.

Close by, singer-songwriter Rashmeet Kaur speaks to the cameras at the brightest spot in the room with a glittery sequined dress and many braids. Known for viral hits such as Bajre Da Sitta and Jadi Buti (with Major Lazer and Nucleya), Kaur derives her work from the Punjabi folk tradition, besides other genres and languages. She worked on the track Takdeer as well, along with Prabh Deep and a few other noted artists.

Rashmeet Kaur poses with Ankur Tewari after the ‘Coke Studio Bharat’ launch event

Rashmeet Kaur poses with Ankur Tewari after the ‘Coke Studio Bharat’ launch event

When Ankur approached her with the proposal to be a part of Coke Studio Bharat, Kaur was in Kashmir. “It just happened. So I made the song literally at the airport restroom, recorded it and sent it to Ankur, telling him this was what I’d come up with!”

She is also working on a lot of songs currently. “And a lot of other things also apart from songs, which can be…acting,” she pauses, with a twinkle in her eye. “Let’s see…I’m just keeping all the doors open,” she says, adding that an artist should be open to opportunities and keep experimenting.

At a table close by, singer and lyricist Aditya Gadhvi, a noted name in Gujarati film scoring, shares his story. His family has been a part of the Gujarati folk music tradition for six to seven generations; his father has been in the field of folk music for years, while his grandfather was a poet. “I got folk music in my blood,” he says.

He feels like his journey has come full circle; from being inspired by Coke Studio from his school days to being a part of it himself. He used to sing traditional folk, but after listening to Coke Studio and its artists, he decided to present his Gujarati folk in a “way that youngsters love.” So when he was approached for Coke Studio Bharat, it was like a dream come true. “It was a bigger surprise for me when I was told that we are doing music with Achint because he’s really popular. He’s doing amazing work, and Soumya Sir [Soumya Joshi] has written the lyrics. So we all sat together and we had a jamming session.”

While Gujarat has been known for garba and Navratri music, the team wanted to “give a different colour.” So they created a new song, with Soumya Joshi “giving a beautiful thought, which is not only about Gujarat, but also a spiritual journey.”

“When you will hear the song you will understand the whole thing,” he says, and that everyone will connect with the song and its music regardless of language.Gadhvi studied in AR Rahman’s institute — the KM Music Conservatory— for four years and views him as an inspiration. “Especially because he gave the sound of India,” he shares.

Lending a voice from the opposite end of the country is the Shillong Chamber Choir, a multi-genre choir founded in 2001 by the late Neil Nongkynrih. In 2010, the group won India’s Got Talent, and also won three golds at the 6th World Choir Games for Musica Sacra, Gospel and Popular Music.

Singers William, Donna, Ibarisha and Rishila are present to highlight what the choir does.

The Shillong Chamber Choir

The Shillong Chamber Choir

“The Shillong Chamber Choir stands for something that is very diverse,” lead singer William says. “We have singers from different backgrounds, songs in about 40 different languages, a repertoire that captures almost every major genre of music, and at the same time, we bring something fresh to all of it.”

On January 16, the choir completed 22 years, with a track record of performing on the world’s biggest stages in front of personalities ranging from the Obamas to the Trumps to the Bachchans. They’ve also collaborated with the likes of Shankar Mahadevan, Usha Uthup, and the Vienna Chamber Orchestra.

When the Coke Studio opportunity came up, there was a little back and forth. But as they went along, they decided this was something to which they could add the Shillong Chamber Choir touch. And they were given the space to do so, for which William calls the producers “gutsy and bold.”

The result? Maria, “a beautiful piece of music... a whole lot of fun, but there are some daring bits there.”

The choir may have also discovered a new collaborator through their Coke Studio Bharat journey: Bombay Brass. William adds that 2023 is a “big, big year for the choir” and offers a teaser for the future — a spiritual album in English, Khasi and Hindi, an association with a huge label, and a potential Bollywood debut on the cards.

And now, Coke Studio Bharat is officially in session. The first song of the edition is already out; Udja, featuring OAFF, Savera, Burrah and Jasleen Royal, dropped on February 7. Both artists and audience wait in excitement for what’s yet to come.

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