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          A.R.Rahman is one of the foremost musical artists in India. In a music industry dominated by film scores, Rahman has churned out more than two dozen hit singles over a span of 8 films, all of which surpassed sales of 2.5 million units. With his mop of dusky curls, t-shirt and jeans, he looks like a teenage college student, but his first film score, Roja, fetched him the National Film Award in 1992 , and thrust him into the limelight. In the five years since Roja, he has created music for blockbuster Indian films including Roja, Pudhiya Mugam, Gentleman, Kizhaku Seemaiyilae, Duet, Kadalan, Bombay, May Madham, Indian, Muthu kadhal Dasam, Love Birds ,Dil se, Tal , Takshak, Pukar and others. His 1995 soundtrack for Bombay crossed 5 million units and Rahman had arrived as the "King of Indian Pop" with sales of more than 40 million albums over a period of 3 years.

                

AR Rahman is today the most sought after music director in the business. Roja proved that traditional tunes can also be blockbuster hits. Songs such as "Thiruda Thiruda", "Gentleman", "Rangeela", "Kadhal Desam" and "Minsara Kanavu" established him as a prodigy. Modest, religious and totally dedicated to his craft, Rahman has a great penchant for fusing music of different traditions. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, reggae, rock and Carnatic music are his musical preferences.

His inspirational, infectious numbers have won him nationwide praise in India. The Tamil film Minsara Kanavu got Rahman the award for Best Music at the 44th National in May, '97. Rahman also been honored with a Rajat Kamal Award for Best Music Director, the Filmfare award, Cinema Express award, Telegu Academy Purashkar award for the year 1992-94, Bommai Nagi Reddy award, Sumu award, Rajiv Gandhi awards and others.

Renowned world artists including Nusrat Fateh Al Khan, with whom he performs a duet on Vande Mataram, have hailed Rahman as a musical genius. Rahman has in collaborations with artists such as L. Shankar, Zakir Hussain, David Byrne, Talvin Singh and Apache Indian - both recording and on tour. On a recent trip to India, David Byrne met Rahman and was so impressed that he went on to record some sessions with Rahman for a project he is currently completing (as yet unreleased).

Singing has always been Rahman's personal passion and very few of his fans are that he has sung on a number of his film tracks. Vande Mataram, his first pop album, will also be the first to showcase Rahman the singer, and his ambition is to put his unique Indian sound on the world music stage. Today, Rahman restricts his work to only 2 or 3 film tracks a year and has made only a few live stage in recent years. A sold out concert was held in Kuala Lampur (Malaysia) in October 1996, where he performed to an audience of 40,000 fans.

AR Rahman, 30 years old, was born into a musically affluent family. His father, K.A. Sekar, was a well known music director based in the Southern India. Growing up in a background filled with music, Rahman began playing music from his early childhood. After his father died when he was only 9, Rahman began performing on the keyboards, and later as an accompaniest for various music directors in the South Indian film industry including Ramesh Naidu, M S Viswanathan and Illaiyaraja. His work with these musicians placed him in good stead through some very difficult years. Finally, Rahman overcame these hardships and qualified for a scholarship to the Trinity College of Music (London).

Afterwards, Rahman returned to Madras with a dream to bring an international and contemporary world perspective to Indian music. He established a state of the art sound and recording studio and began experimenting in sound engineering, design and production. He also began a collection of sound samples, creating one of the most comprehensive sonic libraries in Asia.

Rahman started his commercial musical career in advertising, where he spent 6 years composing jingles. Some of his memorable ad campaigns were with leading Indian corporations such as Parry's, Tata, and Titan Watches. It was a chance meeting at a party with Trilok Sharadha, cousin of Mani Rathnam, brought him in contact with the renowned director and launched his stunning debut as the music director of Roja.

AR Rahman was born A.S. Duleep Kumar, but adopted the name AR Rahman when he coverted to Islam. Ar Rahman is the first of a thousand names of Allah, and Rahman is a profoundly religious person. As an individual, Rahman leads an extremely devout religious life and credits all his musical inspiration to Allah. He comes across as an extremely reticent and humble individual and says, 'Music speaks, statements don't. Nobody can be completely original because the notes are already there ... from the notes we form a raag and from the raag a tune ... it is a process. As far as possible, to my conscience, I try to be original. The rest is up to Allah.'

As Rahman considers taking his new project, Vande Mataram, to the world, he reflects on his immense popularity on the sub-continent and whether the rest of the globe will follow his musical lead, "music is international - only cultures are different".

. Within the first couple of years of his Bollywood career AR Rahman established that he was here to stay, with his digitized sound based on pop-rock and reggae fused with traditional Indian - mainly Carnatic-folk idioms. Carnatic is a classical Indian music form whose leading international proponents include L Shankar (the violinist of Shakti fame), M S Subbalakshmi - the vocalist, Vikku Vinayakam (the percussionist from Shakti). To quote one of the leading South Indian music directors, 'Rahman's music is of the computer age. It is digital but intelligent , not just noise. He concentrates on his melody and has not deviated totally from his traditional sounds."

Questions & Answers

Given below are a few excerpts from interviews he has given over the last few years. Sources - The Hindu - a leading daily.

Q. How did you come into films?

A. My father, R K Shekar was a music director in Malayalam films. He assisted Salil Chowdary, Devrajan and others. He died when I was nine. At eleven I came into the field, playing on the keyboards and later as an accompanist. I worked under various music directors in Tamil, Telegu and Malayalam- Ramesh Naidu, MS Vishwanathan and IllayarajA. It started becoming a bit monotonous. I thought advertising would be a good alternative. This went on for three years. I built my studio and took to different forms of music- pop, rock and so on. It was then that I met producer Tirlok Shardha, cousin of Mani Rathnam at a party. He (Mani) came to my studio and heard some of my tunes. We agreed to work together though we did not decide on which movie. Only later he told me it was to be Roja, which he directing for K Balachander.

Q. Despite your success you do not seem to be working on a lot of films?

A. Rather than making money I believe in making people happy, all other things are secondary. That is why I am not interested in al Lot of movies but only in one at a time. I like directors whom I can vibe with. Ten years of experience in this field has made me quite frustrated. I've evolved a technique, which requires a lot of time. Other music directors record a song in 7-8 hours. But I am different. We do a basic sitting and we record it. We record the voice and I add instrument by instrument to improve the quality.

Q. Do you use computers in your film tracks?

A. No, not computers. The technique is different. In fact they say the music in Roja was computerized. As I said earlier the recording takes time. You can hear the same flute in a different way. It is not computerized music. Nearly 40% "Veerapandi Kottayily" (a song from "Thiruda Thiruda") that does not sound like computer music and "Vellai Mazhai (from Roja) is synthesizer oriented. I do not restrict the musicians but ask them to play whatever they feel. Then I record what I want. I spend a lot of time on lyrics too. It takes around 4 days. We write something in the first instance and then improve. So it take about a week to complete a song.

Q. You say you are choosy in your projects, but you also go in for populist songs. Why so?

A. Different people need different songs. I want to go down to the people at various levels. When I toured Tamil Nadu, I found that people wanted songs that would make them happy. There is nothing vulgar in my songs. I want my music to reach everywhere. If I play rock, only youngsters will understand, while older people will say, "Why is he shouting like this?" Each category of music reaches only one circle; for the class audience "Thiruda Thiruda" and for the masses "Gentleman". I am learning Carnatic classical music from Dakshinamurthy and Hindustani from Krishnan Nayar. I like traditional music. I want my job to be interesting and fun. I just don't want to get stuck again in monotony.

Q. Are you being repetitive in your musical style?

A. In recent times I've done films with a similar outlook. These films are aimed at the young generation and therefore have to be beat oriented. Yet I've tried for a distinct sound every time. After Bombay I haven't got stuck in the hip-hop groove. What I did for Rangeela and Indian were zestful and fast paced but quite unlike Bombay. As for the gentler paced songs of 'Kadhal Desam' if you care to notice they are rooted in melody.

Q. What are your views on the Indian film music scene today?

A. Its going through a cyclical process. The techno stuff has reached a saturation point. Soon we'll be back to simple and soulful melodies. When you here the songs of 'Aanandam' you'll see I've used an acoustic rather than an electronic base on three of the songs.

Q. How does it feel to be on the top (of the film music industry)?

A. I don't really think I'm at the top. Basically I came into this field not intrude on anybody else's success.

Q. What music do you like?

A. Bach, Beethoven and Mozart and Carnatic music. I was into rock and fusion. I like to bring all these into my music.

Q. Your views on film music in India?

A. Film music in India is like pop music in the West. Movies are the channels for this music.

           

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Rahman Interview for The Week Magazine

 

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