Perhaps it was meant to be. The year was 2007. I sat holding my breath inside Rohail Hyatt’s private studio. I went to his studio to interview an elusive icon of Pakistani music, but little did I know that this interaction with the very private, suspiciously talented, Rohail Hyatt was about Coke Studio.
Outside his studio — constructed behind the house — lurked the many wild cats that the Hyatts had taken in as a part of their ‘extended’ family. Rohail and his wife, Umber Hyatt, or ‘Ma’ as most of us later began to refer to her sat in the studio next to him. Rohail was no longer the frail ‘boy’ from the Vital Signs, and his golden-brown hair had grown out and was long. Umber was a tall, slender, graceful woman, her hair as short as Rohail’s were long. From being completely poker faced, Ma had a tendency of suddenly breaking out into a smile or a laugh, often when you least expect it.
“Hi Madeeha, Rohail,” he offered his outstretched hand. Umber nodded in silent approval. I pulled my notebook out to start making notes. “Would you like to have anything?” he gently asked.
It took Rohail six months to grant me the privilege of interviewing him; he had chosen to remain elusive from the public eye for a long time. Rohail had thoroughly vetted me for those six months, through an exchange of emails and text messages, and ensured that my philosophy on life, music and journalism were all acceptable to him.
Before I knew it, Rohail had pulled me into a conversation about a new music project — the mechanics of which were rather abstract. Something seemed to be bubbling inside his head, but it wasn’t quite clear to me exactly what he had in mind. It was Rohail Hyatt, and that was all the validation I needed.
What did become amply clear was that I was no longer there for an interview. Rohail was instead recruiting me to be a part of a very fancy-sounding ‘Producer’s Team’. The job description was extensive: list all the artistes and musicians working in Pakistan, write short descriptions of each, list their pros and cons, and at times call them to come in for meet and greets.
Then there were promotion tasks: find a photographer and/or photographs to use for the project, arrange for the audience, set up a Coke Studio Facebook page, and put out little snippets of information regarding the project to assess feedback. And along with my colleague, find and talk to the company that would create and manage the Coke Studio website.
Before we could begin working on the project, we had to study a little bit of the artistic endeavours Coke had invested in or initiated around the world — that included artistic exhibitions and, Estúdio Coca-Cola a music show in which different artistes collaborated and later performed in front of a live audience. This was to give an idea of what to expect — otherwise there are fundamental differences between how the two shows came out to be.
Slowly but surely, Rohail’s studio began to fill up as musicians and artists began arriving to have their first meeting with him. One by one, Rohail would meet with artists, bonding with them over their purist love of music. “Music is a language that speaks to everyone,” he once said. From an initial unsure hello to jamming together soon after or engaging in never-ending conversations seemed to become a permanent feature of the producer-artiste introductions.
The Hyatts were gracious hosts. They had invented a sort of ‘apple tea’, which later became their signature. Cut a slice of an apple and add it to piping hot jasmine tea to add touch of zing to the flavour. It soon became a favourite among the people of the studio. As the studio shifted from their home to the warehouse, so did their personal mugs.
The hours that we worked were long. In fact, sometimes there seemed to be no distinction between night and day when working on the project. Getting done in the wee hours of the morning while having worked through most of the day was ‘normal’. Even after recordings ended — usually around 3-4am, a ‘core’ meeting would be held back at the home studio to reassess the day. What just happened, what went wrong, what went right, what needed to be done — everything was discussed. I was officially spending more time at the Hyatts than at home.
Next week: putting the ‘fizz’ in ...