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The Rolling Stone Interview: AR Rahman

India’s most celebrated composer on spiritualism shaping his music, working with western orchestras and reinventing the Indian sound

Lalitha Suhasini Jun 10, 2008
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What They All Say

Rajiv Menon

“I’ve known Rahman now for about 17 years. He’s an instinctive musician. He learns very fast. He doesn’t waste time just talking about music. He listens, absorbs and gets into it. The other thing is that he has an extremely good sense of percussion and rhythm. I used to make him listen to a lot of Carnatic and he used to in turn make me hear a lot of jazz ”“ Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea. He used to practise these masters on the keyboard. But while Illayaraja brought in western classical and folk, changing the way Tamil film music sounded, Rahman brought in qawwali and Hindustani classical, making it much more accessible than before. And when you’re working with him and tell him that a tune’s not working, he’s completely OK with it. No huge ego and tantrums, nothing. That’s where his spirituality comes in. He absolves himself of his successes just as he turns away his failures. As a musician evolves, his music becomes more personal and more lonely, sometimes. So he can’t connect with people. I think Rahman’s greatest gift lies in communicating his meditation or loneliness or whatever you want to call it in the most commercial possible way. But yet it retains his soulful loneliness. He’s also genuinely in love with cinema. He picks up all these DVDs and some eclectic stuff, Cuban and Russian films. He likes stories.”

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Shekhar Kapur

“His grounding in Western classical music is a little stronger And while he wavered between my beat-y tastes and Webber’s liking for ballads, he infused his own independent sounds into the musical, coming up with something we all loved in Bombay Dreams. Today, he’s at a point where he wants to break away, find a wider, more free-flowing platform. Maybe a part of him is scared to cut off his film music roots, but I feel he’s not going to do film music for too long. We recently discussed working on an album together.”

Prasoon Joshi

“Once he connects, he opens up with a lot of honesty. He has a great sense of people and while he’s not judgmental, he knows instinctively when he can’t vibe with someone and doesn’t pursue that. And you can’t fool a man like Rahman. Music comes to him in his dreams. He heard ”˜Tu Hi Re’ and ”˜Lukka Chhuppi’ in his dreams. He wakes up in the middle of the night sometimes and plays the song out on his piano.”

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