AR Rahman ignites fire within hearts and minds. Themes of love, unity, and justice become the bedrock upon which his compositions are built, intertwining art and activism.
His song, Raasa Kannu from Maamannan (that was released recently) forges an astounding sonic collage that surges and crashes; its opening notes resonate like delicate raindrops falling on a parched earth, awakening the senses with a gentle caress.
It is the first song from a momentous collaboration, sung by the venerable actor and playback singer, Vadivelu. As the music swells, it takes on a life of its own, effortlessly weaving a spellbinding tale that unfolds before us — as haunting as it is beautiful. The words etch an image of transcendence; as though, emotions are palpable and dreams take flight.
As we engage in a conversation with Rahman, we uncover the inspirations, aspirations, and philosophies that shape his music, illuminating the journey that has brought him to the pinnacle of his art. With each word spoken, Rahman unearths the secrets behind his creative process, the emotions that fuel his melodies, allowing him to let go of the familiar and open himself up to new ideas.
How did your composition Raasa Kaanu come about?
As an artiste, I have always believed in the power of growth and evolution. To me, it’s essential to constantly challenge myself and venture beyond my comfort zone. These emerging talents bring a fresh perspective to the table. They possess a striking vision and an innovative approach to storytelling that invigorates me. By working with them, I am able to shed any old judgments or preconceived notions I may have and genuinely embrace the unknown. It’s a liberating feeling, to let go of the familiar and open myself up to new ideas. I find that the energy and creativity of these young directors push me to explore uncharted territories in my music. They compel me to break free from any creative limitations and think outside the box.
You recently performed at The London Palladium. What was that like?
The Other Songs and The Ivors Academy hosted the biggest live performance-based celebration of songwriting. They asked me if I would be interested and I wanted to introduce to them a Nigerian artiste. But unfortunately, she couldn’t get a visa (laughs) to go to London. I had to go with my son. I was the encore throughout the concert. It was nice to see a whole lot of British writers there. It was amazing to hear the British choir.
You embrace music technology while mixing it with classical instruments…
Indeed, music technology plays a significant role in my creative process, serving as an invaluable tool to enhance and augment my musical ideas. It acts as an extension of my thought process, allowing me to explore and experiment with a wide range of sounds and textures. One of the key advantages of music technology is the convenience it offers. In the past, sharing music involved recording on cassettes or CDs and physically delivering them. Now, with the advent of digital platforms and communication tools, I can effortlessly transmit my musical ideas through email or text messages. This seamless exchange of ideas accelerates the creative process, enabling me to collaborate with artistes across the globe. Furthermore, the internet has revolutionised the music industry, making our work more efficient and accessible. But it can never replace the essence of human artistry. It is merely a tool, a means to an end. The depth of emotions, the nuances of expression and the authenticity of live performances are elements that technology cannot replicate. It is the fusion of technology and the human touch that creates the most captivating musical experiences.
How have your music compositions transitioned with advancements in technology?
The advancements in technology have had a profound impact on my work as a composer and have transformed the way I create music. One significant change is the portability and accessibility of music production tools. In the past, I would have to carry bulky equipment weighing over 100 kilograms on flights, which was not only cumbersome but also limited my creative freedom. However, with the evolution of technology, the powerful tools and equipment I need for music composition are now condensed into a laptop and a hard drive. This newfound convenience allows me to work efficiently from anywhere, whether it’s in the studio, on the road, or even while travelling. Another advantage is the availability of multiple setups. With the use of virtual instruments, software plugins, and digital workstations, I can create multiple musical arrangements. Also, the kids are fast learners now and as a team, we can work better without compromising on the quality.
As a composer, how does Sufism, your spiritual path, fuel your creativity?
Sufism, at its core, is a path of spiritual awakening and union with the divine. It has instilled in me a deep sense of intentionality in everything I do. It prompts me to ask myself why I create certain melodies, harmonies and rhythms, and how they contribute to the overall unity and message of my work. Each composition becomes a reflection of my journey towards connecting with the infinite. Music, in its essence, is a powerful medium that attempts to bridge the gap between the smaller light within us and the bigger light of the universe. It allows us to express our yearning for transcendence and to touch the sublime. Through the language of music, we strive to reach a higher level of consciousness, both in our creative process and in our lives as a whole. In the chaos and noise of our daily lives, music serves as a means to find inner peace and tranquillity. It provides us with the tools to navigate through the clutter and distractions, enabling us to find our way to a place of harmony and unity. It empowers us to control our thoughts and emotions, allowing us to channel our intentionality into the pure expression of music. It is a constant practice of compartmentalising our minds, blocking out distractions and disturbances and focusing solely on the intention of creating pure and meaningful music. Like they say, can you be at a sublime level in a chaotic place? Can you train your mind to do that?
Raasa Kannu is streaming on all platforms.