The son rises in the West

GLOBAL APPEAL A.R. Rahman: `People should be able to listen to every instrument used in a composition'

GLOBAL APPEAL A.R. Rahman: `People should be able to listen to every instrument used in a composition'   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: G. VENKAT RAM

Be it his music or his persona, the reticent 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.David T. Hopper, the U.S. Consul General in Chennai, threw a party at his residence last week to honour India's best known musician for his contribution to American society. A.R. Rahman had performed at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles last month along with Global Rhythms, a world music band comprising American students, all die-hard fans of the young legend.From the moment Rahman - in a beige Van Heusen suit over his brown shirt and shiny 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.

Creative energy

We had heard stories from youngsters like Naresh Iyer about the 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, typically 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 course of 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.

Technology and music

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 (an application for arranging music) free, 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 Deepavali and the musician will also be doing his next project with Aamir Khan, Lajjo. Aren't we glad the son lives down south?SUDHISH KAMATH

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