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Exclusive: A.R. Rahman and will.i.am Discuss Community Empowerment, Asha Bhosle and Pluralism

The music maestro in Chennai speaks over a video call with hitmakers Black Eyed Peas’ singer-producer in Los Angeles

Anurag Tagat Sep 09, 2020

will.i.am and A.R. Rahman spoke in detail about music, philanthropy and more.

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Ever seen how deepfake technology can actually be used to raise awareness about vigilance? Black Eyed Peas last month released a video for their song “ACTION” employing the infamous image manipulation tool to somehow become part of the wackiest action movies, including 2010 Rajinikanth starrer Enthiran.

Turns out it was building up to a different kind of connection between Black Eyed Peas’ singer-producer will.i.am and Indian master composer A.R. Rahman. Over a new video call conversation between the two artists from Los Angeles and Chennai, the duo discussed music, creativity and pledged to focus on building STEM capacities across varied disciplines as well as diverse musical collaborations between India and the U.S.. 

Their respective philanthropic ventures — The A.R. Rahman Foundation and i.am.angel Foundation — plan to work together in the fields of education and innovation, with specific mention given to STEM fields. Rahman said in the conversation, The joy of giving and the joy of leading people towards light is super important. We have 1.3 billion people in India. It’s important to nurture them and bring something that has its own identity. That motivation that anybody can innovate and contribute to humanity is something very important and even if one percent of what we try happens, it’ll be life-changing for many.”

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will.i.am, who previously connected with Rahman when the latter’s hit tune “Urvasi Urvasi” (from 1994’s Kadhalan) was adapted for singer Cody Wise’s “It’s My Birthday,” says he’s keen to “duplicate” his East Los Angeles school in a part of India. The Black Eyed Peas co-founder adds in his statement, “I also really want to do more with artists from India. I want to collaborate with either legendary or new Indian artists. So not just to sample Indian music and be successful — but to dedicate a whole entire project to Indian culture where there’s a cause associated with it.”

In the 49-minute conversation, will.i.am reveals he’s been long inspired by Indian culture and philosophy, even name-checking legendary singer Asha Bhosle.  “Outside of western soul music, it’s music geometry and music trigonometry to me. When you start hearing singers like Asha Bhosle; it just broadens my imagination and I’m very influenced and inspired by that,” he says.

There was a lot of music geek talk, but also mention of will.i.am’s technology company I.am+ and how he has an office in Bengaluru. Amongst other reveals was about the Black Eyed Peas’ upcoming record, (tentatively titled Translations Part II) which would be a sequel to 2020’s Translations. Where the previous album was drawing from Latin American music, will.i.am, Apl and Taboo will be focusing on the Indian subcontinent with the upcoming record, with help from Rahman to represent and bring Indian folk artists on board. 

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Watch the chat between A.R. Rahman and will.i.am below. 

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