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#Exclusive: A.R. Rahman and U2 Collaborate on New Single ‘Ahimsa’

The song also features vocals by Rahman’s daughters Khatija and Raheema

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Riddhi Chakraborty Nov 22, 2019

The Edge, Bono and A.R. Rahman at Electric Lady Studios in New York, September 2019. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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It’s a couple of hours before celebrated Indian composer A.R. Rahman and legendary Irish rockers U2’s new single “Ahimsa” is set to drop and we’re at the former’s studio in Mumbai to hear it. Rahman smiles as he turns up the volume and presses play, allowing his daughters Khatija and Raheema’s serene voices to flood the room on the first verse–a hymn from the Tirukkural, a 500 CE Jain Tamil language text on ethics and morality.

As Bono’s unmistakeable vocals come in and the track swells to its first chorus, one can’t help but think about all the serendipitous things that led to this writer sitting in Rahman’s studio and listening to a track he’s written and composed with U2. When “Ahimsa” ends, the Grammy and Oscar-winning composer asks what we think.

“Ahimsa” is a powerhouse of emotions. Rahman’s daughters begin and end the track with an unassuming skill that invokes purity and childhood, while both Bono and Rahman’s voices are a dose of nostalgia–regardless if we’re familiar with both artists or just one. It’s comfort, peace and happiness rolled into one. “The concept of ahimsa or non-violence — it’s Indian, it’s South Asian, it’s Buddhist… and sometimes we have to remind people about love, about ahimsa,” says Rahman about why he wanted to write a song on the subject. “It takes a lot of courage to be non-violent. It takes a lot of power. It’s not a weakness, it’s more power than showing might; it’s going beyond that, believing in something else which is not present… something that’s only in your spirit.”

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Rahman tells us that U2 and him had been in talks about a collaboration for a while now — the musicians had been exchanging ideas over email all through summer and in September, they met up in New York’s Electric Lady studios to fine-tune the project.  “I was in Boston that time and had sprained my leg. So I went [to New York] using my suitcase as a crutch!” Rahman recalls with a laugh. “I met them, we vibed very well and that’s it!”

From that point on, making “Ahimsa” took around two months. It’s timing of the release could not be more perfect, right before U2 are set to make their long-awaited India debut. “When something has to be done, it’ll be done, you know? You can never hold it back,” says Rahman.

Stream A.R. Rahman and U2’s “Ahimsa” below:

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