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I initially wondered how I was going to do it: A.R. Rahman

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Music composer A. R. Rahman addresses the media at the Press Club in Chennai on Saturday.
Music composer A. R. Rahman addresses the media at the Press Club in Chennai on Saturday.

Ramya Kannan

“We have kept the instruments to a minimum so that the words are clear”

CHENNAI: “The Tamil was of a very high standard and I initially wondered how I was going to do it, but thankfully it has come out well.” This was how A.R. Rahman described his experience of working with the anthem for the World Classical Tamil Conference which was released on Saturday.

Apparently, the tune for the anthem came to him immediately, but production was quite another matter. “It took two to two-and-a-half months, but we were working with a large crew – almost 70 singers,” Rahman, dapper in a rich reddish-brown kurtha with an embroidered panel running down the front, told reporters on the eve of the function to release the anthem.

“All of us together worked on the anthem – There was TMS [T.M. Soundararajan], Yuvan [Shankar Raja], Shruti Hassan, P.Sushila…(to name a few). Basically, I have been busy in Hollywood and also touring. Therefore I was working on a tight schedule and was available only for two or three days, so people who could come then joined us,” he said to a question on how the singers were chosen. A new verse on Kamban and Avvaiyar was added almost when the composing was over, and had to be incorporated into the final cut.

TMS begins with “Pirapokkum Ella Uyirkkum,” the first lines of the anthem composed by Chief Minister M.Karunanidhi. Some of the other top playback artistes featuring in the anthem include Harini, Hariharan, Benny Dayal, Srinivas, Vijay Jesudas, Naresh Iyer. Rahman's nephew G.V.Prakash and sister Rehana have also joined the ensemble.

The thing about this anthem, Rahman says, is that it also features singers who have distinguished themselves in other genres of music such as Carnatic (Aruna Sayeeram, Bombay Jaishree, Nithyashree and Sowmya), folk, Sufi (M.Y.Abdul Ghani, Khajamoideen, S.Sabumoideen), and even rap (Blaaze). Another key aspect is that three generations of singers have participated.

Responding to a complaint that the words in his songs were often drowned out by the instruments, he says, “I think you will hear the words in this song. In fact we have kept the instruments to a minimum so that the words are clear.” The traditional Tamil nagaswaram and tavil blend melodiously with the guitar and drums, even as the carnatic notes wind seamlessly with the rap.

And what are his favourite lines from the anthem? For some one who added a line in Tamil in his Oscars acceptance speech, the answer was predictable: “Semmozhiyaana Tamizh mozhiyaam,” the line that runs right through as the chorus.

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