Coke Studio, now in its second season, blends Khaleeji pop with RnB.
The collaboration of Shamma Hamdan and Jay Sean in Dubai
Over the last month, MBC4's Coke Studio has pushed artists out of their comfort zones by pairing them with a performer from a different genre. The aim of the partnership is to create an original fusion piece blending both their respective styles.
Like a musical trapeze act, the final performance is watched by awe-inspired and nervous audiences hoping the two artists complement rather than clash. It is a challenge the second season's music producer Hadi Sharara (the first being Michel Elefteriades, a composer and the owner of Dubai's and Beirut's Music Halls) relishes.
"Today, people in the region are more educated about fusion music," he says. "The challenge of working with the most talented stars from around the globe and to bring out the best music of both worlds is very exciting."
The 45-minute programme, which is broadcast every Thursday, is split between a documentary and a performance. The first half is dedicated to the careers of the artists, with interviews that focus on their rise, influences and their artistic process. The second half is dedicated to the performance of the fusion piece.
Therein lies the show's true value: for audiences used to seeing pop stars rarely challenging themselves, the chance to witness an artist come to terms with a new piece is revealing - you could leave with a new-found respect for such performers.
The guest list
Tonight's guests are hot property in their respective genres. Dubai's Shamma Hamdan is already having a stellar year. The Emirati Arabs Got Talent alumni is now a pop starlet; she has released the singles Ytama and Yaheb Gheiri. She also headlined the du World Music Festival in March alongside Amr Diab and Hussein Al Jasmi.
Meanwhile, the UK's Jay Sean is a rising star in the American hip-hop and R&B world. His smooth stylings earned him hits with Down and Do You Remember, and he is now part of Lil Wayne's powerful Cash Money Records. Other performers this season include DJs Yves Larock and Dimitri as well as the crooner Mustafa Sandal and the Egyptian political rockers Cairokee.
Most of the collaborations are courtesy of Universal Records MENA, whose managing director Patrick Boulos says the show breaks new ground in a television market obsessed with talent contests.
"The Coke Studio project is one of the most challenging yet exciting experiences in this region," he says. "It is the first time that we managed to bridge East and West and produce smashing hit tracks with such an incredible assembly of global and local superstars."
A new challenge
It was an eye opener, explains Hamdan. After performing with her idols at festivals and concerts, the singer welcomed the chance to express herself in a new environment.
"Since I was young, I have been following developments in the music world," she says. "The opportunity to showcase my style will, I think, expose me to a new audience and show that Arab music can cross over to a brand new audience."
While Hamdan's performance will surprise some fans, challenging herself is part of the plan. "I'm always looking at developing myself," she says. "Tonight's show will be amazing and entertaining."
A welcome return
Tonight's episode is Sean's second stint on Coke Studio, such was the enjoyment of the first experience last year when he teamed up with Egyptian singer Mohamed Hamaki.
"I am a big fan of Arab music, particularly the scale," he says. "It is so evocative; to explore that in a show like this is fantastic."
Sean, who has collaborated with big names including Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj and Drake, has nothing but praise for Hamdan. "She is so sweet," he says. "We worked really well together and when you will hear the song in the episode you will realise that we took this really traditional song and totally flipped it on its head. You will enjoy it."
Watch Coke Studio on MBC4 tonight at 9pm