Shri A R Rahman on his musical inspiration and influences
Shri A R Rahman on his musical inspiration and influences. Music composer
A R Rahman received the Padma Shri in the civil honours awarded this week.
He's the musician and keyboard whiz who's just announced plans for a stage
musical in London with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. Rahman's father was
Malayalam film music composer R K Shekhar. Rahman won a scholarship to the
Trinity College of Music in London. He then worked with musicians like
Ilayaraja and Shiva Mani before composing the hit music for Mani Ratnam's
Roja, which put his very original brand of music on the film map. His
biggest non-film hit is the memorable Vande Mataram....
you surprised when the Padma Shri was awarded to you some months ago? How
did it feel receiving it from the President this week?
felt very good because so far, this is the best award that I have got in
the first time, a music director is getting it. Usually, classical
musicians get it. It feels special.
most interesting piece of recent news is Bombay Dreams, a stage
musical in London with Andrew Lloyd Webber. In fact, Webber said that the
purpose of his trip to India was chiefly to meet you. What's the project
a musical play in English based on big songs, like Bollywood numbers. It
is very complex and at the same time simple.
did you and Bharatbala productions conceive the idea of getting the
country's top musicians and singers, like Amjad Ali Khan, Shobha Gurtu,
Kavita Krishamurthy and Parveen Sultana, to perform Jana Gana Mana,
the national anthem? What was it like working with such a complex range of
it was a great honour to do a project like this one. We never got a
"no" from anybody. We didn't even get an "okay, we will do
it later." They gave the dates immediately, and it was great to meet
all these musicians.
the idea come from Vande Mataram?
main idea sprang from the fact that we wanted to do something for Kargil.
Kanika and Bala of Bharatbala Productions wanted to do the national anthem
in a soulful and slow way. Later, we developed ideas for the whole album.
was it like working with this vast range of musicians, combining all kinds
of music and instruments?
was amazing because each instrument has its particular pitch, and they
can't be played comfortably on another pitch. But in this case, we managed
to get a common pitch in D-major. We almost got it in that pitch, which is
great cooperation on the part of all the musicians.
or how exactly, does a melody start for you? Is it musical notes, or the
sounds of certain instruments or even the tone of a particular singing
voice that gets you going?
very unpredictable. The concept comes suddenly, either as a song, a
rhythm, a raag or a lyric. You never know when it originates.
you did your first hit, Roja, where did that music come from? Where
did the songs come from?
songs were created from scratch, and we reshuffled most of them.
Initially, I had done Dil hai chota sa as a sad sequence, but Mani
said that we should make it a happy song. Then we put happy poetic lyrics
into it. For the other songs, we had a chant. For the first time, we did a
song without a antara and a mukhra. This was a nice change
since every song has this formula,. So we tried to do away with it in that
song. And each song was fun to do.
back now, who would you say were the early or key musical influences in
your life? Was it your father?
father and most of the composers that I have worked with. I think I'd
listen to Mr. R D Burman and Naushad. Later, I started listening to the
other great legends.
was that experience like, to get involved with a whole lot of Western
music and sound?
that's the way I started. I was playing Bach and Mozart on the piano. I
gave practical exams, where the playing was counted, the feel of the
playing. It was only when I started working on commercials that I started
to compose tunes.
the keyboard in which you have developed great expertise. How did that
father had left a lot of equipment, and I had to use it. In fact, I was
more interested in the guitar. But since we had such costly equipment at
home, my mother asked me to learn and make use of it.
early experiments were on the piano and mostly came from the Western
tradition. But where did the Indian sense of sound come from?
simultaneously learned Carnatic music with a tutor. I learnt from most of
the music composers I worked with. Each song was a learning experience.
is this ability to switch from jamming to jingles to musicals?
is a learning process. Once you are a section musician, you have to do
everything. They don't believe in specialization. They say that you have
to be a John William, a this thing and a that thing. So I had to learn
several things rather than stick to just one.
for you, it really all comes together. All kinds of sounds.
a lot of influences, a lot of demands.
kind of demands?
you are doing ad films and commercials, a whole range of things come into
play. They will expect you to do a John William kind of song or an
ordinary Ba Ba Black Sheep kind of thing, or a Carnatic school number. So
it depends upon each job.