Learning by trial and error marks Shaan Rahman’s music lessons. His passion gives his music direction.

Shaan Rahman got badly kicked at karate. Taking cue and opting out, he looked for a place where he would be safe, physically. The music class next door appeared alluring. For four Fridays, half an hour each, he pinched the keyboard. Those two hours in toto makes Shaan’s music education. The man behind the anthem-like Muthuchippi…from Thattathin Marayathu, Thira and now Om Shanti Oshana evidently does not believe music can be spoon-fed. Shaan’s music is his solo project, his hard work.

At the appointed time on a scorching Saturday afternoon, Shaan is woken up from his nap for the interview. He admits the appointment skipped his mind, but quickly swaps drowsiness for chirp. Inhibitions are none in Shaan’s narrative. “I don’t know any raga. I studied Western,” he is nonchalant. Tell him it is brave for a music director to say so, Shaan assures, “You can write it.” What about the purists? “I don’t face any,” is his reply.

Shaan, an effortless raconteur, bares all – warts, moles and melody in his music. Humour is his armour and mimicry skill.

Episodes become drama when he narrates them. The story of his first stage show in Dubai when his band Desi Noise sang to speakers switched off and was booed off stage is recounted with wit. “‘How deep is the sea here,’ is what my friend asked. That was our first major performance,” says Shaan. But the boys bounced back the very next day daring to sing a re-mixed version of “Oru madhura kinavin,” much before it appeared so in a recent film, before K.J. Yesudas and drew appreciation.

Music has been a background to Shaan’s childhood. “I would listen to music in a 2 in 1 system and play the keyboard along with it,” he says. He figured out the keyboard through trial and error. “Growing up in the Middle East music was pastime. I never took it seriously. In fact, I wanted to be a pilot, but did not have enough marks,” he quips. Though Shaan veered into sound engineering, music was where he halted in quest of happiness. “I am happy when I compose.”

He arrived at music direction little-by-little, through jingles, a band and albums. If music appears effortless when Shaan talks, he is quick to cut to the unseen hours of hard work. “I would download software and learn using the help menu. But music is essentially the rhythm in you,” he says. A simple belief is his music, “Your music should touch people’s heart. It is in having a fire and passion for it. My music rides on my passion and a good bunch of friends. I will stop the moment passion dies.”

First notes

Though Shaan wanted music, he worked away from hotbeds and continues to do so in Kozhikode. Friends egged on the sound engineer working in Thalassery at vital points. Colleague and now director Mammas prodded Shaan to go beyond sound to a jingle. The first was for a bathing bar produced by the firm Shaan worked for. “I created a jingle and it was fixed. I was like ‘Are you sure? I can re-work,’” recalls Shaan. The jingle took him to Chennai and a music studio for the first time. “My knees were knocking against each other. It was sung and released. Though nobody called me after hearing it,” Shaan says.

“Mammas told me if I could do a 30 second jingle, why not a four-minute song. The song was ‘Sneham’ written and directed by Mammas, our first video.” The video, shown on music channels, eased things at home. Shaan’s parents were beginning to be worried. “Dad is an engineer and mom’s dad was a doctor. We were used to having salaried people around us. Mom would call and I would tell her, ‘Don’t worry, I can see the shore somewhere’,” Shaan says. Post the video, Shaan moved to Kochi, formed the band Desi Noise and shot two more videos. But he still hadn’t broken in. “I was living off my dad,” he says impishly. But Desi Noise won the boys a show in Dubai from which they returned confident and at the airport Shaan met the man who would become his friend and collaborator — Vineeth Sreenivasan. With Vineeth, Shaan would dream music and discuss musicians, A.R. Rahman to be precise. Eventually, it led to Coffee @ MG Road, a video that woke up the young to Malayalam albums. Protagonist Salim Kumar in wacky clothes and a dollar neckpiece singing about the woman he lost stayed in mind, invited counters and won a ticket to fame for its makers. It came trifle before YouTube and going viral was norm. “I called up Vineeth and said, ‘Either we are mad or the world is.’ He told me Kerala loves losers.”

Shaan drifted to films with Pattanathilbhootam, Malarvadi Arts Club and Thattathin Marayathu. Even when he gets together with Vineeth, it is the clear-headed view of what might work that makes their partnership tick. Thattathin Marayathu, they knew, was clichéd, but they banked on its treatment, strictly the music. “Vineeth asked me to create my best songs for it. He wanted the music to be a velvet drape around the story, the kind that will create butterflies in the stomach.” Shaan created songs that whispered into souls and gave a new voice to them too when he realised Muthuchippi in the unlikely voice of Remya Nambeesan. Thattathin Marayathu astounded his parents and won a handful of awards. Shaan treasures music director M. Jayachandran’s words as he gave away the Eenam Swaralaya award to Shaan. “He said ‘Muthuchippi’ was his favourite song of the year and that his own songs that year had not given him the satisfaction this song gave,” says Shaan.

Shaan continues to mostly work with friends in projects he has been part of from initiation. His newest release Om Shanti Oshana directed by Jude Anthany Joseph boasts breezy numbers. Shaan is getting busier though. He is doing music for the Telugu version of Thattathin Marayathu. Mammooty’s Praise the Lord is Shaan’s next release. Also music in the films of a few friends, including Vineeth. As he moves on Shaan says, “The only time I am not confident is when I cannot communicate with the director.”