AR Rahman rocks UK
AR Rahman’s first UK tour gets euphoric crowd response
Text by Ashanti OMkar (www.omkari.net)
Pictures by Akin Falope (www.aworan.net)
Allah Rakha Rahman (ARR), a name that needs no introduction to music lovers around the world, from humble beginnings in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, he has brought Indian music to the world with his inimitable vision and technological expertise. Having sold more albums around the world than Brittany Spears and Madonna put together, AR Rahman is a truly global presence, a deeply spiritual, unassuming, quiet man who has spent his life from the realms of childhood to present day, immersing himself in music and music only. He commands the respect of all around him, particularly musicians from the world over, from Andrew Lloyd Webber to John Mc Laughlin, his talent is much revered and India as a country is no doubt proud of his achievements - striving for the best and breaking barriers with music that is evident when he tours, as the audience is very multicultural and the songs are sung in languages ranging from Tamil to Hindi to English.
Born a Hindu, named Dilip Kumar on the 6th January 1967, AR Rahman, known as the Mozart of Madras, lost his ‘rising star music director’ father, R K Shekhar in tragic circumstances (ARR was 9 years old at the time) and when one of his sisters fell mysteriously ill and fighting for her life, his family, Mother Kasturi (now Kareema Begum), Sisters , the eldest, a singer and music director in her own right, Kanchana (now Rayhanah), the middle sister Bala (now Talat) and the youngest, also a singer in ARR’s troupe, Israt, went in search of the healing energies of the Muslim Pir - Sheik Abdul Qadir Jeelani or Pir Qadri as he’s commonly known, for help, and with her cure, they gave themselves to Islam. Immersing themselves fully, they are all staid practicing Muslims, who pray 5 times a day and are constantly on pilgrimages of faith. AR Rahman often says he feels a certain confidence as AR Rahman, as he felt that Dilip Kumar was a more insecure personality from his younger days - Islam has given him peace and everyday, he wakes up saying “I am born again into this new day” - this is a truly refreshing attitude to life, that no doubt is the secret of his extensive success. Having spent his time supporting his family from a young age, by lending out his fathers instruments and being remembered by his headmistress as the ‘boy who could play the keyboards brilliantly’, AR Rahman is deeply imbued in Sufism and leverages it as a tool to keep developing his many talents, as he never sees success as the be all and end all, but strives to keep encompassing his musical vision further.
His marriage was arranged a decade ago, to the beautiful, demure Kutchi speaking wife, Saira. Her’s is a dialect of the Gujarth state, through which many Sufi Muslim pilgrims passed through as a safe passage to holy Mecca by way of the sea. Saira regularly used to attend a Sufi temple that his mother went to and was his intended chosen one - a devoted wife who ably copes with his heavy schedule and the one he rushes back home to at the end of his many overseas assignments. Since then, he has been blessed with 3 children, daughters Khatija and Raheema and a son who shares his birth date, Rumi (named after the great Sufi poet). Khatija and Raheema are already showing signs of their musical inheritance which can be heard on the latest album, “The Rising”, the ballad of Mangal Pandey, in the song “Takey Takey”.
From his success programming for musical greats like Ilayarajah to touring with Tabla Maestro Zahkir Hussain, working on advertising jingles to his first foray in film music, Mani Ratnam’s ‘Roja’ which took Indian film music to new heights in terms of diversity and sound quality. Since then, AR Rahman has reached great heights, collaborating with Theatre front man Andrew Lloyd Webber for the West end success story, Bombay Dreams; working with CBSO (City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra); making haunting and beautiful music for the Chinese movie, ‘Warriors of Heaven and Earth’ and his latest international project, a partnership with Finnish folk super group Varttina, on The Lord of the Rings musical. A winner of numerous awards, the millennium year brought him India’s highest civilian honour, the Padmashree award. ARR’s Chennai residence, in the very heart of Kollywood (Kodambakkam Hollywood - embraces the numerous films of South India), is also home to his state of the art recording studio, which contains an extraordinary library of music and samples, amidst the best of technology, it is called Panchathan Record Inn and is competently run by his main sound engineer, S.Sivakumar, assistant engineer, US educated Aditya Modi and co-ordinator Samidurai, all managed by Noel James.
After years of patiently waiting, AR Rahman’s thousands of UK fans heard of the eagerly anticipated tour and had waited patiently for the weekend of 30th and 31st July. With the horrendous flooding in Mumbai falling at the same time of the shows and London coming into disarray with terrorist attacks, there was a point at which the performers and musicians didn’t believe they would even make it for the shows, but in the words of the modest AR Rahman himself: “Before coming, a week back, we were all feeling hesitant and stuff, but there was something more that happened with the Mumbai flights and all the singers almost getting stranded, and the whole 3D thing also getting canned due to flooding in offices e.t.c., so our minds were just on the doing the show extraordinarily well, amidst trying times. By the grace of God, it went very well, and the London and Birmingham audiences were rocking, so I think I was a very good trip for us!”
Backstage at the NEC in Birmingham, speaking to rapper extraordinaire who is inspired by Tupac and also an English lyricist, his raps are featured in Kisna and Bunty Aur Bubli, Zambia born Tamilian, Blaaze says: “I feel blessed and happy to be here and I love the UK crowds, having done the last tour with AR Rahman which was fantastic, it is always an experience!” Sharing the green room was ‘Chotta Nusrat’, Mangal Pandey’s rising star, Sufi singer Kailash Kher, whose voice is hugely reminiscent of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who beams and comments: “It’s really great to be here with AR Rahman, on my 1st tour with him, I’m so excited as well as nervous, especially performing not in our own country but abroad - an experience of it’s own. I’m really looking forward to it.” With a buzzing backstage area, the 70 strong group of performers who had all flown down were ready to go on, very much on the dot to time.
Shankar Mahadevan, who I caught after the show said: “we are used to such attacks in India, but we had a blast - not in the bomb sense of the word”, he laughs and adds. Hariharan said: “on my extensive travels to London, it is so unfortunate to have such things happening here, but the spirit of the crowds drove us to what I believe were great shows.”
BBC’s Bobby Friction dressed in a sharp white suit, who is one of the most experienced DJs in the genre, one who Bollywood like the back of his hand was there to announce the show and the countdown for AR Rahman himself to make his appearance on stage amidst colourful lighting and fireworks. Over the years, ARR has got more and more confident about stage appearances and this time was no exception, to the wild roar of the crowds, dressed in a beige suit adorned with zardozi and stone work, he humbly walks through, taking the mike and embarking on the heavily rhythmic ‘Fanaa’ from the Mani Ratnam film, Yuva.
This was enough to set off the audience who screamed even more when he said: “I’m so happy to be here, let’s keep the show moving, lets keep rocking”. Dhaler Mehndi dressed in his usually affluent clothes came straight after and said his greetings in many Indian languages, from Sastrikaal to Namaste getting the desired response from the people he starts on the “Nachale Nachle” song, which with its heavy RnB bassline gets the crowds moving on their seats. One notices that A.Sivamani is places on one corner of the stage with a 360 degree drum and percussion kit - I was told that he commanded 29 mikes just for his setup! The next singer to come in was the ever lively, passionate Shankar Mahadevan, who said: “are you ready to rock?” and embarked on the Saathiya song, “Oh Hum Dum” with backing vocalist George of Chennai and Rapper Blaaze, dressed in lots of bling - one of his huge pendants is a mike studded with white stones, whose energetic performance got the crowds dancing. During this piece, Naveen, flutist extraordinaire, played with his magical prowess.
During this piece, Sivamani spins his drumsticks and goes crazy with the loud drum accompaniment. The next piece came from the relatively new talent, Kailash Kher, who was joined to the great delight of the audience, by ARR himself. The song which is currently top of everyone’s tracklists, ‘Mangal mangal’ is the one that they perform - there was a divinity to the performance, no doubt. As that finishes, Shankar Mahadevan comes in with the Tamil song, starting with the words ‘Thenmoziye’ - the audience scream and he gets into the piece, ‘Uppu Karuvadu’ from the movie Nayakan (Kalnayak). Then come singing megastar, the honey voiced Hariharan, along with one of AR Rahman’s longstanding favourites, Sadhana Sargam, they sing the hit song that SP Balasubramiam made popular and sang during the other AR Rahman tours - ‘Roja Jaaneman’ - it was one of the songs that got AR Rahman to the status he is at now. With the dancers on the high stage doing a romantic slow dance in the background, the audience enjoy with full vigour. Alka Yagnik then comes in and says: “it’s great to be back in Birmingham and that too with AR Rahman”. She sings ‘Mehndi’, to rapturous applause and is joined by new singer Aslam, for the sweet number, ‘Ahista’. Madhushree (formerly Sujata Bhattacharya and acclaimed singer with a ‘time stopping’ voice) joins Aslam for ‘Hum Hai is pal yahan’. Sadhana Sargam makes a comeback on stage to sing the very popular number ‘Chupke se’ from Saathiya. The audience, who obviously had a huge Tamil contingent, rose to heave clapping when she took one of the verses in Tamil - this is something that happens in all of AR Rahman’s tours, as the singers alternate between the languages.
ARR invited UK singer Reena Bhardwaj (she usually sings with Nitin Sawhney) and was deemed by Bobby Friction as a real bridge between Bombay and UK - she sang her popular song, ‘Yeh Rishta’ from the film Meenaxi, which shot her to Fame in India. Beautiful as she is talented, she mesmerised the audience in her peacock blue sari. ‘Chandra Re’ from Sapnay follows, with Hariharan and Sadhana Sargam, with a full strings part giving the music richness.
Madhushree and ARR then sing ‘Kabhee Neem’ which was followed by a guitar solo by newcomer Levon, which is turned into Indian Raag and the song ‘Enna solla pogirai’ from Kandukondain. Hariharan and ARR then sing in Hindi and Tamil, ‘Saki Re’ from Saathiya. Dhaler comes back after an outfit change, for ‘Chinnama chilakma’ and then Alka and Aslam so into ‘Taal se Taal’ which had the most amazing backing dancers. ‘Humma Humma’ was the next song, which Shankar, ARR and Blaaze did - this got the audience in total frenzy, as they mixed the languages and then the Baba music is the prelude for a Blaaze solo rap, again getting the crowds moving!
The solo from Sivamani was a truly interactive experience, with his playing dexterity shining through. There was no break, as per time constraints, and ARR said: “I wrote this song thinking of all those suffering” and embarks upon ‘Yeh Jo Desh’ from Swades, with the Tamil interlude of ‘Intha Desam’ and then goes back to the keyboards and plays the Bombay Tune with Naveen and the string orchestra - the spectators love it and listen in pin drop silence. ARR also sings his popular number, ‘Dil se re’ and then describes his Chinese experience with the Warriors movie. Bosnian born talent, the gorgeous Alma sings the sing in English to the awe struck crowds. Alka Yagnik comes back and tells of her few numbers with ARR which are all sweet and her favourites - she sings ‘Saavariya’ and then Hariharan joins her for ‘Ori chori’. Hariharan then stayed on stage for the sweet number ‘Nila Kayradhu’ and then goes into ‘Thuhire’ from Bombay and mixes Tamil and Hindi again - quite amazing.
Kailash Kher comes back and alongside Hariharan and Aslam, he sings ‘Yuhi chala’ which is a huge hit. The backing singers who doubled up as dancers then joined Alma for ‘Mera Dilka’ - stunning to look at. ARR then gets on the grand piano and with his dexterous finger work; he plays the interlude to ‘Ghanan Ghanan’ from Lagaan. Shankar joins him on the vocal side and built momentum and then says that had the rain fallen in the film at the end of this song, this is how it would have been - he then simulates the rain with his voice, the Raag Megh Malhar, that is said to bring monsoons - delightful, as one felt like the rain was actually falling as he brought the song to crescendo. Attila then did his keyboard solo, joined by Sivamani and then ARR and Blaaze come in with the ‘Sa re ga me’ song, very famous from the Tamil movie, Boys. Naresh Iyer also joined them for this.
Dhaler then comes in and sings ‘Pagdi’ with dancing frenzy and then AR Rahman’s sister, Rayhanah (her son, GV Prakash is also a keyboardist within the group) takes stage to give the introduction singing for the most requested number, ‘Chayya Chayya’ from Dil Se. Dhaler, Kailash and backing singer Tanvi join them with Sivamani playing his trademark rhythm for it. ARR then evokes a true sense of patriotism with the ‘Aazaadi’ intro, which transcends into this famous sing, ‘Vandematharam’, for which the whole set of singers join and the dancers are wearing the orange, green and white of the Indian flag - the audience gives the due respect by standing up and joining in this number, for a truly fitting finale to a spectacular show. ARR simply says: “Fantastic, Thank You, God Bless you all and goodbye.” Hence, Birmingham was touched by the music of AR Rahman.
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Text by Geetha AKA Ashanti OMkar (www.omkari.net)
Pictures by Akin Falope (www.aworan.net)