One Heart Tour preview: AR Rahman speaks about his live concerts, and how Stevie Wonder inspires him most
They say, a man is defined by the moments he decides to push boundaries and inspire a brilliant sense of awe. This has never been more true than for the likes of creative geniuses like AR Rahman. A long and ceaseless procession of laurels won by him at the global and national level including two Oscars, two Grammy awards, National Film Awards and five honorary doctorates besides countless felicitations seem to have made little difference to the sheer humility in his attitude and posture with which he seats himself across me. The man is not just a maestro of music, but an individual who speaks for far more complex challenges of human nature. Perhaps, his spirituality, which is at the core of his art and of his life, is what enables him to be so detached and unassuming. This rests at the heart of his demeanour, as
well as his music.
Earlier, as I walked into the hotel Sheraton Grand in Bengaluru, I spotted a huge screen with a teaser video of the upcoming show, set to be held on December 22. As I made my way up the wooden stairs, and walked into a warm and welcoming yellow-hued room on the first floor, I could sense the symphony in the carefully chosen ambience by the entourage of his logistics team. There was no discordant note, even in the physical arrangements of the room, which could be quickly converted into a studio for photo shoots and television interviews.
And there sat the maestro, dressed in an all-black ensemble of a blazer, T-shirt and trousers, sporting a snazzy pair of sneakers with silver studs, and joking about his wife, Saira Banu, attending to his wardrobe with much care, to make him look far younger than his 51 years. Clearly, there’s a lot more than just music to his secret elixir. Aware of the precious time I have with him and the ticking clock, I began my interview with the reason behind the tour. He offers, “It has been seven years since my last tour, and I figured it was about time. Besides, this is a buzzing city... The vibrations are different in every city. From my last time on tour, I still remember the love of my audience and I wanted to feel that again.” Even maestros and geniuses need to tune into the voice of the people.
One heart, one love
Launching the One Heart Tour from Bengaluru, the concert will bring on stage a long and distinguished
line of stars of distinctive musical genres including Harsheep Kaur, Udit Narayan, Haricharan, Ranjit Barot, Vijay Prakash, Shweta Mohan, Neeti Mohan and Jonita Gandhi. And Rahman seems intent on conveying a message: ‘Music and Art unifies our nation. Listen to that heartbeat and feel the oneness.’
Promoted nationally by Vonamor Media along with AKR Events & MRB Live Entertainment, who are curating the campaign and implementing special production values, the tour will host Rahman in various cities across India. In a combined statement, CK Mohammed, Director of Vonamor Media, along with Pradeep and Venkatesh of the other groups said, “We have ventured out in the entertainment business, and what better way to kickstart things than with such an artiste, a global icon and the pride of Chennai and India, AR Rahman.”
As I query Rahman about what he hopes this tour will achieve for him, he explains, “I want to vibe with my fans, they are the ones who have kept me inspired and going,” laying bare for me his artistic humility that spurs him to draw inspiration from the inspired — the aam aadmi. We start to dwell on the tour and what songs he’s looking forward to perform, and his eyes immediately light up. At first he says, “Every single one of them.” After a tad bit of prodding, he gives in to reveal that he is excited to perform “new songs from movies like Chekka Chivantha Vaanam and Sarkar”, but he stops short and adds, “You have to come to my concert, as I definitely have a few surprises in store, and a new song for an upcoming project,” making my curiosity rise. The Mozart of Madras’ concert is undoubtedly going to feature a delightful melange of old nostalgic favourites and the avant garde tunes of his upcoming Hindi and Tamil releases.
On top of his game
I ask him if there is any new collaboration that he is excited to perform on tour, and without any hesitation, the first name that comes to his mind is Udit Narayan. “It was amazing to have him in the US tour, we share a great brotherly love. When he comes back on stage and sings , it’s beautiful to see the warmth of the people.” So that’s definitely a part of the show that you need to look out for. I then ask him to give me the name of an artiste who inspires him, and he seems rather excited to answer. “I just met him a couple of months ago,” he declares. “Stevie Wonder! He is an amazing person, with the way he lives life. He has taught us so much! ” He goes on to explain, “He taught me, you don’t need to have all your senses to enjoy life. Do what you have to do to make you happy, express what you want to do, and all the while be a kind human being, even when being on top of your game.”He goes on to tell me that the one driving force in his life is his “inquisitiveness to learn, not just to learn but to analyse and argue with what I am doing”. This trait of inquisitiveness, to learn something new as often as possible, runs through his innovative music styles and the many new projects he keeps exploring.
Rahman’s versatility is reflected in his international collaborations, which include the likes of Iggy Azalea, Wale, Dido, MIA, KT Tunstall, The Pussycat Dolls and Kendrick Lamar. This year, his incredible performance of the catchy anthem at the Hockey World Cup 2018 opening ceremony, and his new avatar as an anchor of the Amazon series Harmony with AR Rahman, are just a few of those epic moments to look back upon.
As I try asking about his most challenging experiences, he counters, “In which decade?”, making me realise how his music has transcended time. With a nervous giggle, I insist on the present decade and he replies, “It was in Rome, directing a movie.” It was definitely a unique experience, and one that was very empowering, he says. “It has been my longest project, of over two and a half years! So many songs, and to put it all together has been a challenging but satisfying task.” With experience comes inspiration,
and Rahman reveals how his mother and wife have been his cornerstones, without failing to express his love for his children, of course. He tells me about his loving wife, who fusses over his daily dressing and food habits, while reflecting on how nice it is to have a loving friend as a partner.
As I probe him for a special moment in his life when his own music has empowered him, he surprises me yet again with his humility. He reflects and reveals to me, “When I compose a song and release it,
I don’t go back to listen to it. But one time, when I called my mom and she had saved one of my songs Khwaja as a ringtone, I had to listen to it... that was indeed very special, as I hoped she wouldn’t pick up
the phone, just so I could continue to listen to it…” The anecdote left both of us in peals of laughter.
‘Creative jobs are best’
Rahman insists that the music he normally listens to is on the Apple charts, as they keep changing, and he adds with a cheeky laugh, “The clean versions, of course.” Beyond the humour, the man is a puritan at heart.We gradually shift gears, as I decided to ask him about how important he thinks the protection of intellectual property law is to music. Rahman’s tone tightens with emphasis, “I agree. Today, credibility in this profession is very low or even lost. I definitely think stronger implementation of the IP law will go a long way in helping artistes realise for themselves how important their art is, at the same time allowing society to appreciate it, and not use another’s music without permission. Especially with artificial intelligence coming in, there is a fear of jobs going.So, creative jobs are the best. And this protection, if afforded, could go a long way to making this one of the best professions.” He stretches that final clause: “Best profession in the world”. He adds, “I think the foundations have to be placed now, for the children of our future to gain international recognition.”
As we touch on the subject of international experiences, Rahman reveals that the Bollywood-themed musical Bombay Dreams definitely shaped and influenced his music. “It allowed me to come out of my shell, being there alone, walking to get my lunch, going to a movie... All the experiences I never had in my life.”
Looking back, I realise that for every question I presented to Rahman, there was a palpable pause before he answered. He seemed to run the words through his mind like he does with his music. It gave me a tiny glimpse into the introspection and reflection that drives his natural and prodigious musical ability.
Apart from the tour, among other exciting projects on his plate are the virtual reality film Le Musk, for which he will make his debut as a director, and 99 Songs, a romantic musical film that will see the versatile musician and composer playing new roles of co-writer and producer. “We have been doing music videos for the last four-five years, and as the movie is now bought, we are looking to launch in
the first half of next year. We are all excited and terrified about it!”
For an encouraging note to his fans aspiring to emulate his musical brilliance, Rahman says with a laugh, “I don’t think anyone can tell another person how to really develop his own style of music. One good thing I learnt is ‘a good slave is a good master’ — by making yourself consistent in values. Whether you have incredible talent or very little of it, you can always evolve, but what is important is the investment in growth and longevity... 10 or 20 years or more!”
Lastly, I ask him to leave me with an irreplaceable memento — of his signature on my personal ukulele, and the musician in him immediately steps up. Before he signs the instrument, Rahman decides to tune it and even play a few strings. And thus, I receive my little instrument with a touch from the master himself. Now, I eagerly await the date when he takes the stage, for what promises to be a show that will have all of the country bobbing their heads and tapping their feet to the musical heartbeat of Allah-Rakha Rahman. Jai Ho!
The concert will take place in Bengaluru on December 22 at Ozone Urbana. Rahman will take his One Heart Tour to four other cities in India. Location and dates to be announced soon.Watch this space for more.