The son rises in the West!


GLOBAL APPEAL A. R. Rahman.   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: G. VENKET RAM

Music or the man, A. R. Rahman is a class act

When he makes foreign (read: American) students sing `Maa Tujhe Salaam,' `Rang De Basanti,' `Zikr' (from Bose) and `Veerapaandi Kottaiyile,' you know that Kareema Begum's son is rising in the West.The U.S. Consul General in Chennai, David T. Hopper, earlier this week, threw a party at his residence to honour the musician for his contribution to American society.A. R. Rahman had performed at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles in July, along with Global Rhythms, the world music band comprising American students, die-hard fans of the young legend.From the moment Rahman, sporting a beige Van Heusen suit over his brown shirt and shiny black shoes, slipped into the party quietly, he was a class act. He chatted with absolute strangers with unassuming ease, taking compliments and answering queries with matter-of-fact candour.How busy was he these days, we ask. Rahman has a reputation of being super-productive in the middle of the night."Right now, I'm in the 5.30 a.m. to 11.30 p.m. zone. I have these phases. Earlier, I used to work nights and sleep only two hours between 3.30 a.m. and 5.30 a.m. These days, I sleep by 11.30," says the man often referred to as the Mozart of Madras. We had heard stories from youngsters like Naresh Iyer about the master musician's creative bursts of energy at midnight. Rahman had given the lad four songs in his very first movie. How did he have that confidence in Naresh?"It just happens sometimes. We tried him out for the rough tracks, it worked for us. So we kept it," says Rahman, underplaying his own role. Sometimes, you just don't know if Rahman should take the credit or the blame for the spurt of sound engineers assuming the role of music directors, relying purely on technology."You should do it like a photograph. That's the simplest comparison I can think of. You should lay it out clearly in a way that you should be able to see all the people in it. It's not very different in music. People should be able to listen to every instrument used in a composition, just like the people in a picture. You should know who's on the right, who's on the left and who's in the centre. That's how it works." Do directors tell him what they want in the photograph, filmmaker K. Hariharan, director of L.V. Prasad Film and TV Academy, asks him during the evening."It's good when the director tells you what he wants in the photograph. It makes it easier for us. Every film should have a distinct feel and theme. Some music directors have a formula. Directors go to them for that formula. But when they come to me, they expect something different every time. So that puts some more pressure on me," he explains. Hasn't technology made it easier for sound engineers today to turn music directors? "Yes, it has become much simpler today. You buy a Mac (PC or laptop), you get Garage band free, (an application for arranging music) which gives you a lot of pre-recorded preset loops to choose from. You can arrange it yourself and the quality of sound is pretty good."We point out that Rahman was responsible for the trend of music directors taking to the computer and recording one instrument at a time. It changed the way music was made."No, I don't do it like that anymore," he says. "Earlier, we had constraints that we could not record everything at the same time. Today, I have an elaborate studio where I do live recordings with all the musicians." How did he first hear about his international tribute band and how did it feel? "It was unbelievable. It was about two or three years ago when I was a little concerned about events that shook the world and a little disturbed about world politics (post 9/11), I met this guy who showed me a video of American students performing some of my songs. That's when I realised the power of music. It was unbelievable. Not only did they sing the popular songs, they even sang the chaste Urdu lines bit from `Zikr' in Bose. I felt happy because I realised that it was only politics that separated people; art and music still continue to build bridges between people." Rahman's next for Mani Ratnam's Guru will be out by Diwali and the musician will also be doing his next project with Aamir Khan, Lajjo. With the audio of Sillunu Oru Kaadhal rocking the city, Chennai is all ears, all over again. Aren't we glad the son lives down South?

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Rahman magic Suzanne Maier and Kristina Wood joined Nick Grome to give the audience at the U.S. Consul General's residence a sample of the passion with which Global Rhythms follows A. R. Rahman. Suzanne, Kristina and Nick started the evening dancing to "Hello Mr. Ethirkatchi" (from Iruvar) before another Global Rhythms member from the U.S., Arjun Chandrasekaran, came up with his tribute to "Mangalyam Thanthuna." Naresh Iyer joined the members of the Rahman tribute band to sing "Maa Tujhe Salaam." Jason Koontz and Rebecca Fenton are the other two American students representing Global Rhythms in the city this summer as part of their cultural immersion programme. "When they hear and feel the culture, they understand the largeness of the language," says Srinivas Krishnan, founder director of Global Rhythms. Global Rhythms, which has over 150 members (and a base of 500 students over the last decade), has already performed with Rahman thrice this year. "He flew in twice in April and once in July for the Hollywood Bowl."The band will perform with A. R. Rahman in Mumbai and Chennai in February 2007. The woods at IIT Madras will come alive then.SUDHISH KAMATH

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