July 26 2016
Global music superstar tells us why he has devised a different style to his forthcoming UK concerts and what inspires him…
THERE isn’t a musician like AR Rahman anywhere in the world right now – in fact, there probably hasn’t been anyone like him at any time, anywhere.
This autumn he comes to the UK to perform in London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester – the last two he has never even visited – on what is being billed as the ‘intimate tour’.
Slightly shy, retiring and extraordinarily egoless, (for someone who has two Oscars and two Grammys to his name, alongside a bunch of other Indian and international awards and accolades) he spoke to www.asianculturevulture.com about his forthcoming tour, what inspires him and why he thinks he’s been able to break through into the West coming from a quite different tradition.
Relaxed, self-effacing and a tad boyish in demeanour, he comes across as your beautiful cousin and someone who takes life as it comes and can be impish and a little naughty when appropriate – in a way that will bring a smile to your face, not a scowl.
“Last year, we did 18 concerts in the US, it was real fun,” he said explaining the thinking to his forthcoming UK tour.
“Some were to very small audiences, though some were also in front of big crowds, but the whole vibe was about enjoying the music and not having 80 people on the stage.”
There will be a smaller number this time – four singers, and a band of a dozen or more – the point is – and this is very clear from his infectious enthusiasm – is that he is very excited by this format and perhaps for good reason.
“What we found in the US was the new interactivity with audiences, every place was different and had a different energy,” he explained.
“There’s less pressure (without so many being involved), and you feel in more control. The sound is much better – before it would get muddled with so many things and so many tracks and so on.”
The big stage show format and its carefully crafted production is out – and something a lot less rehearsed (in a show sense) and choreographed is in. It will provide the opportunity to be intimate and different – even though these UK venues are by no means small.
“A lot of my music is film music and it’s about interpreting it in a different way,” he continued.
Based in Chennai, India, he is in the UK to talk to director Gurinder Chadha about scoring her forthcoming Partition epic, “Viceroy’s House”; his ability to pick the right tune for the visuals is really unsurpassed.
Whether it be “Slumdog Millionaire” (two Grammys, one Oscar, and his other Oscar came for Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours“) for which he is best known in the West or “Bombay” which made his name in Bollywood, he is almost always working on some film score or another.
His music for the latest film by “Lagaan” director Ashutosh Gowariker, “Mohenjo Daro” is already wildly popular – “Tu Hai” which is something of a signature tune from the film, set in ancient times 2016BCE and starring Bollywood megastar, Hrithik Roshan has already knocked up nearly seven million views (and counting ;).
There is huge anticipation around the release on August 12 – Gowariker is much admired for his historical and cinematic eye and Rahman’s ear is essentially unique. The film will close the Locarno International Film Festival (August 3-13).
“We did do a lot of research and I had to use my imagination but we also saw a lot of pictures…you have to use your imagination,” Rahman laughed, discussing “Mohenjo Daro”.
He revealed that he has used the Kora, a-21-strong lute-bridge-hard instrument that originates from West Africa in “Mohenjo Daro” and described as it one his most recent inspiring finds.
“I was listening to some French music from a festival on Youtube, there were some beautiful North African tunes, very rhythmic Ethiopian too. I’ve used the Kora in ‘Mohenjo Daro’.
“I am always searching for inspiration, it’s not only in music, it can be in people’s kindness or technology and what inspires you – it’s like ‘hey, that’s cool’. It’s seeing what others are doing and thinking, why don’t we do that with music – it triggers what could be done in music.”
He has a team around him and collectively they decide if he should work on a new film.
“They’re very switched on and it’s a collective thing,” explained the musician, sometimes called ‘The Mozart of Madras’.
His next film project – other than “Viceroy’s House” – is one very close to his own heart, called “99 Songs”.
While not a biopic, he has penned the script and it is a tale about a struggling musician who finds himself and his art. Director Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy is signed to the project. To date only a poster has been released.
He told www.asianculturevulture.com it’s his biggest challenge and quite purposefully, he has kept away from directing himself.
“No, it needs someone’s undivided attention, you need two or three years to work on a film and you lose your freedom, it’s better to dump it all on a director,” he said, slightly mischievously.
No other musician has so successfully broken through into the West from India. How does he think he has succeeded where others have not?
“I am lucky,” he countered but he agreed – he likes to evolve, take risks.
He trained in western music and probably has a deeper affinity for it than others in India or the East generally, but what marks him out, is his knowledge and understanding of Carnatic and other forms of Indian classical music too.
He brings it all together in a remarkable synergy and interplay.
“I’ve always liked the Western vibe, the quality and the production values and the melody definitely.
“Nobody listens to the a melody but they listen to the baseline (in the west) and for some people it can just sound like some shouting and just goes over the head,” chuckled the father of three.
He said what he has done is adapt eastern sound and be prepared to compromise – some Indian musicians won’t.
“The tabla and the dhol are the main backing (in Indian music), and have been used for so many years and that has not changed. It’s not that I don’t like them, I love them, but used in the usual way it’s boring,” he explained.
He has founded a music college and remains very passionate and closely to attached to it. It’s what keeps him in Chennai and he believes it’s crucial to sponsoring and inspiring the next generation of talent to follow in his inspiring footsteps.
There’s much to be excited about – an AR Rahman concert is always an event and an experience and listening to one of the great musicians of our age and probably way beyond – is hard to encapsulate in mere words.
For his fans he told us this: “I want to thank them all for all their graciousness and I want them to come and support us for the concert and be a part of it.”
AR Rahman, ‘The Intimate Concert‘
Thursday, September 22 – London, The SSE Arena, Arena Square, Engineers Way, London HA9 0AA
Saturday, September 24 – Birmingham Barclaycard Arena, King Edwards Rd, Birmingham B1 2AA
Friday, September 29 – Leeds First Direct Arena, Arena Way, Leeds LS2 8BY
Saturday, September 30 – Manchester Arena, Hunts Bank, Manchester M3 1AR
Look out for our competition to win tickets soon!