AR Rahman: 'Are we doing enough to nurture English indie musicians or are we denying them fame?'

AR Rahman lends a hand to English indie musicians in the country, as he winds up work for his latest partnership with Mani Ratnam in Ponniyin Selvan

Heena Khandelwal Published :  28th February 2020 12:00 AM   |   Published :   |  28th February 2020 12:00 AM

AR Rahman at the launch of his music video You Got Me by Nexa Music

WHILE MANY ENGLISH indie musicians in the country lament about the lack of support or exposure to greater and bigger avenues to showcase their talent, they can take heart from the fact that they have the assistance of one of the biggest names in Indian music. AR Rahman, the versatile genius who needs no introduction is now detouring to areas that promise to expand the horizons for him personally, as well as help potentially change the fortunes of the indie music scene in the country. We are talking about the 53-year-old maestro’s collaboration with NEXA through his media venture Qyuki Digital Media, which is targeted especially at indie musicians who produce English songs.

Although regional indie music has its own niche for its respective languages, English indie music, despite the all-encompassing appeal of the language, is still struggling to break new ground, with only a few names able to break into general public conscience every year. Talking about the relevance of English in the indie space, Rahman says, “You always see great musicians from India, no? They were all English musicians who eventually started making music in Hindi, Tamil and other languages. When you make music in English, there is a possibility of going international since it is the common language in the world. In India, where we are separated by so many languages, the only language that actually unites us is English. And, while many see it as a language that came from the Britishers, it is also a source of knowledge.”

But, is English music suffering a marginalised existence in the country? He shares his thoughts while raising a pertinent question, “In English music, where people from Canada, South Africa, Singapore and other countries have achieved recognition, Indians lacked the exposure. Are we doing enough to nurture the talent in English indie music space or are we denying them the fame?” Perhaps this is why he was very intrigued when the NEXA collaboration came to him. “I thought, “Wow! It’s a great idea, let’s do it and let’s find what happens!’” he said, while speaking at the launch of You Got Me, a video song that he composed and arranged as a part of Nexa Music. The vocals are given by him, along with four winners of the first edition of Nexa’s music hunt — Nisa Shetty, Simetri, Protyay (Heat Sink), Jonathan and Pelenuo, and Hriday Gattani.

Watch the music video here: 

When asked if the initiative would be limited to English language or if it would, at some point, extend to regional artistes, Rahman said, “This is mainly for English Indian artistes as they don’t get an opportunity. They are all underground. Some of them are coming up, which is great. There is nothing wrong with regional artistes, we all love them, but some of the expressions in the English language are simpler and more universal.”

Rahman has also turned a writer and producer with the movie 99 Songs, a musical romance that follows the journey of a young man named Jay whose life centres around music and his girlfriend Sophie. The film features 15 original tracks. Stressing on the fact that the film is coming at a time when remixes have become a norm, Rahman said he is very grateful for the positive feedback that people are giving it. The film premiered at the 24th Busan International Film Festival in the 'Open Cinema' category in October last year and got a standing ovation. “While we are excited, we are also very scared about its reception,” admits Rahman, who is looking forward to its release here. When asked about the date, Rahman points the finger towards Jio Studios, who is presenting the film. “You should ask Jio and torture them to give it,” he laughs.

The Oscar-winning singer-composer is also collaborating with Mani Ratnam on historical drama Ponniyin Selvan. Talking about the film where he is composing the film score and soundtrack, Rahman says, “It is an epic film and required a lot of work and research. We worked for almost six months on the music. We even went to Bali to write some of the songs. Mani Ratnam wanted a particular sound, which is unique to the movie but at the same time relatable, and we had to work really hard to get that. It is probably my most difficult film.”

Twitter: @heenakhandlwal
(with inputs from Karan Pillai)

A R Rahman