For a man who has composed thousands of songs, spanning everything from advertising jingles to full-length movie scores for films such as ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and ‘127 Hours’, music maestro AR Rahman surprisingly doesn’t listen to any music in his free time.
“I don’t listen to anything, sometimes I just keep quiet. When you do so much of music, sometimes you just keep quiet,” the 48-year-old composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist said in an exclusive interview with inSing.
Rahman was in Singapore last week as part of a promotional tour for his upcoming 'Infinite Love' tour, which will be held at The Meadow at Gardens by the Bay on 30 April. It will be his third time in Singapore after playing at the Indoor Stadium (2005) and Marina Bay Sands (2011).
'SLUMDOG MILLIONNAIRE' AND MORE
From heart-racing tracks such as the hugely popular ‘Jai Ho’ (from 'Slumdog Millionaire') to the sweeping and grandiose statements of the theme song of the Tamil film ‘Bombay’ (1995), the composer is behind some of the most memorable tracks in Indian cinema. But from his quiet, introspective demeanour, you would not guess that this is the same man who produced these larger-than-life hits.
Arguably Rahman's biggest international hit, 'Jai Ho'
Rahman (whose name is Allah Rakha Rahman), was born AS Dileep Kumar in Chennai, Tamilnadu in India, and he has had a decorated music career spanning 24 years.
Responding to the call to make music was almost inevitable. “My father was a composer. My mother insisted that I go for music. It’s the other way round in other families, (where it is) ‘leave music and go to school’, isn’t it?” he asked.
While it is Hollywood film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ that won him international acclaim in the form of two Oscars, two Grammy awards, a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) award, and a Golden Globe award, his career began way before.
His first big break was working on Mani Ratnam’s Tamil film ‘Roja’ (1992), followed by a string of Hindi films and the steady takeover of the Indian film music industry. Arguably, he is responsible for making Indian film music a global phenomenon.
Be it Bollywood, Kollywood (the Tamil film industry) or Hollywood, when any project presents itself, Rahman makes sure that “it compels me or directs me into one particular zone, and at least make it interesting for myself”.
Rahman revealed that he had just finished scoring the upcoming Disney film, 'Million Dollar Arm', which is a baseball film about two Indian cricket players who become baseball pitchers in US Major League Baseball. The film stars Jon Hamm, Suraj Sharma (‘Life of Pi’) and Madhur Mittal (‘Slumdog Millionaire’) in the lead roles.
The trailer for 'Million Dollar Arm'. AR Rahman just finished composing the score for the film.
The composer noted that the working styles in the two film industries in US and India are completely different. “Back in Hollywood, I do one thing at a time. Here, I juggle around so much, with seven to eight things at the same time.”
INSPIRATION FROM THE DIVINE
Rahman traverses music genres effortlessly, incorporating traditional Indian music, Qawwali (Islamic devotional music), dub step and electronica in his compositions. The distinctions does not matter to him. “I don’t see it like that. I see it like a song that has soul, a song that has thought. The capsules of everything changes, but as a songwriter, (the song is) my main focus.”
He said it may take him anything from “three hours to three days to three weeks to three months to three years” to compose his music.
A deeply spiritual man, he draws from that realm when coming up with new material. “For me, spirituality is inspiration: to get energy from the divine source, energy from purity, from nature and from lyrics,” he said.
“I think it’s all a part of music. Music is one universe by itself.”
Having worked on Broadway in the US and the West End in London with musical spectacular ‘Bombay Dreams’, he is looking to do more for the music community.
“(For) the past five years I’ve been into music education to pass it on to the next generation. So I have my music college, KM College, back in Chennai. A lot of students are (wanting to become) singers, musicians.”
A SINGAPORE MEMORY
Singapore is special to Rahman, being the first city he visited outside Tamilnadu in 1985. He recalled that “(it was) unreal when I first saw Singapore from the flight. Those images are still in my mind”.
For the ‘Infinite Love’ tour, he will be accompanied by longtime collaborator Ranjit Barot as well as popular playback singers such as Mohit Chauhan, Javed Ali and Vijay Prakash. “It’s probably half the industry,” he joked.
A trailer for the 'Infinite Love' tour concert, happening on 30 April in Singapore
While his shows are usually visual extravaganzas, complete with backup dancers, lights and lasers, he has realised that ultimately, the audiences “are coming for the music” and not the bells and whistles.
He said: “You don’t have to juggle too much to make a very satisfying concert. I don’t have to hang on a rope. They understand who I am.”
AR Rahman ‘Infinite Love’ Live in Concert | Date: 30 April 2014| Venue: The Meadow, Gardens by the Bay, 18 Marina Gardens Drive | Time: 7.30pm| Tickets: $598 (VIP seats), $298, $198, $98 (standing), via DMLLive.com