Asian Music and Dance

Coke Studio in the East of England

Classical, qawwali, ghazal, sufi, folk, fusion – music on film from Pakistan’s celebrated Coke Studio will be a part of this year’s Luton Mela. Jim Hornsby, former Media Lecturer and founder of the Bedfordshire-based not-for-profit film training and production company Runaway Media, gives us the background.

The opening montage in the opening film in last year’s Culture in Conflict season in Luton included Fareed Ayaz’s and Abu Muhammad’s duet as they performed ‘Kangna’. The film was Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist which was largely set in Lahore and paid tribute to Pakistani culture.  

I had never heard of the musicians or the song before and while the upbeat rhythm suited the film’s wedding celebration, it was strange to me. I noticed the singer’s stained teeth, wondered how they could sing while sitting down and of course didn’t understand a word of what they were saying. Later, my friend and guide to Pakistani culture Fahim Qureshi spoke about the country’s rich musical heritage.  

With financial support from the BFI’s regional cinema fund and the Luton Airport community fund, we were planning to celebrate Asian music on film at the Luton Mela. Fahim and the Mela team spoke to me about classical, folk and religious traditions, of ghazal and qawwali and of tabla, rabab and sarangi.

Feeling a little lost, I looked up some of the terms on the internet and soon bumped into music videos from the Pakistani Coke Studio. The recordings showed traditional and classical singers playing alongside the Studio’s resident house band. Pakistani fusion music! And, judging by the number of hits (many running into millions) and enthusiastic comments, it was clear that this music was popular and critically acclaimed. As I watched and listened I began to appreciate the rich musicality of singers and the songs. 

Zulfiqar Ahmed, the chairman of Luton Mela, was well aware of the Studio and encouraged me to get hold of the recordings for the Mela. At first I wasted lots of time emailing the studio without any success and then I called Waqas (aka Awesome Wax) Saeed who I used to teach at the university and who had since become a music presenter on the BBC’s Asian Network. Wax sent me contact details for Rohail Hyatt, the founder producer of the Coke Studio, who replied immediately offering music clearances and support. The door opened.

The internet archive comprises sixty-minute shows for each year from 2008 to 2014. For a beginner like me, choosing was exciting and formidable: as well as liking the songs, I wanted to show the exotic appearances of the musicians, a similar number of love and upbeat songs and a gender balance between the singers. It was all highly subjective but I had the pleasure of seeing brilliant singers and listening to breathtaking music.  

We showed a selection of the films in a mobile cinema to passing audiences at the 2015 Mela and this year, with the Mela’s permission, we plan to expand the programme by showing it on the big video screen during the intermissions between performances on Stage 1. Also in the lead-up to the Mela we have booked Waqas, our charming and knowledgeable music presenter, to show and talk about his selection of the films in a series of evening presentations at the Hat Factory on Tuesday 10 May, Tuesday 14 June and Tuesday 12 July. 

Further details and advance booking: 


Luton Mela: 6 & 7 August 2016



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