Coke Studio isn’t just another music show in Pakistan. Since it began in 2008, the Coca-Cola Company-backed music venture has developed a cult following within the country, and even across the border in India. But now Coke Studio is trying to reach out to a different sort of audience: Pakistan’s deaf community.
With Coke Studio for the Deaf, the makers of the show are trying to take their music to a section of Pakistan’s nine million people who suffer from some form of hearing loss. With its ninth season underway, the current producers, Pakistani band Strings, partnered with the Deaf Reach program to allow the hearing-impaired experience music through lights and vibrations.
“As producers it becomes our responsibility to reach out to the whole of Pakistan,” explain Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia of Strings. “Coke Studio is created to blur all boundaries through music.”
The idea itself isn’t entirely new. For some years now, there have been repeated attempts to help deaf people to experience sound using lights and vibrations. In 2013, for instance, a team of students from Qatar University developed a bracelet that used LED lights and vibrations to alert deaf users to important sounds around them like loud sirens or car horns. Coke Studio for the Deaf, though, is perhaps the first time a major south Asian television show has used this technology.
“Working together with Coke Studio has been a really amazing experience,” Deaf Reach founder Richard Geary told Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper. “Not just because we got to see the experience the young people enjoyed, but to create awareness in the country and internationally about the need to provide more opportunities for the deaf community.” Less than 2% of the 1.25 million deaf children in the country currently attend school.
For Coke Studio’s newest listeners, it was an experience unlike any other.
“Whatever my body felt, whatever my brain thought,” an audience member with impaired hearing said, using sign language, “even though, we can’t hear the music but we can feel it”.