20 Years of A R Rahman. Or how I learned to love music.

I was not always this keyed in to music. I listened to songs, but hardly ever bothered with details like the artists, the arrangement et al. My knowledge of the behind-the-scene aspects of music extended to the names of a few singers, a couple of composers and lyricists, and that was pretty much it. So in August 1992 when the soundtrack of Roja came out, checking for the composer was definitely not something on top of my mind. In fact I don’t think I even heard the soundtrack until quite some time later, I wasn’t into listening to a lot of Tamil at that point. It started with Chinna Chinna Aasai of course, I remember hearing it at some point and noticing the refreshing feel it carried about it in a way different from all that I heard previously. But the finer details were lost on me then, and the person I got to know of because of that song was Minmini, not Rahman! With Yodha, a major pastime in school became trying out some of the tongue twister lines that comprised Padakaali. But again, the composer never came into picture. It was with Gentleman that the awareness of a person named A R Rahman happened. Ottagathai Kattikko and Chikku Bukku Raile were inevitable choices for cinematic/break dance competitions all around. One of those days I came across the cassette of the soundtrack, and on the cover of it was name A R Rahman, photo and everything. We were at that time into recording songs from cassette shops rather than buying cassettes, and hence my first Rahman cassette had to wait until 1995 – Rangeela (a memory reinforced by Urmila’s curves).

Anyway, I write this article not to give an album-by-album account of how I felt about ARR’s music; rather how they shaped up the way I listened to music. The layered sounds that the man threw at me with each song were luring me closer and closer into the web. While with Chikku Bukku there was the train sound incorporated in a way I had never heard before, Thee Thee made me aware of something known as the bass (ya I used to be that illiterate, musically). From Anjali Anjali I came to know that saxophone was a wind instrument and not what Vinod Khanna played in Anhoni Ko Honi (which was an accordion, I learned later). People like Keith Peters, Sivamani, Naveen Kumar came into my radar for the first time, and every new song I heard was played over and over as I strained to single out their parts and revel in their individual brilliance. I got introduced to new kinds of music – a cappella, jazz, Spanish, fusion.. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that Rahman was my window to the domain of world music for a long time, much before I came to know of world music as a genre. At some point later when my interest in detecting ragas began, that too was instigated by my desire to gather more trivia about ARR songs.

The best thing about all this however, was the new light in which I started viewing music by other composers, the primary one being Ilayaraja. The fascination began during one of those lunch break talks during 5th or 6th standard. At that time a lot of lunch gupshup in my group used to involve “experts” on ARR relating legends on the man while the rest of us sat wide eyed – stuff like how Oorvasi Oorvasi when played in high volume would cause the speakers to explode! And one of the stories was that ARR was a student of Raja, and had learnt all his tricks from him. I still don’t know how much of his musical brilliance he gained while he was assisting the maestro, but I do know that it is after that point in time that an extensive delving into Raja’s music was done. Given my limited resources a lot of that happened in his Malayalam repertoire, but that was sufficient to get my mind blown.  Around the same time I happened to watch Kaala Paani (Sazaa-e-Kaala Paani in Hindi), and the concept of BGM quite literally hit me in the face; never could I remember sitting enthralled by the ambient sounds while watching a movie like I did that day. Many older movies were now rewatched for their BGM sake, and the greatness of some more composers like Johnson (the man who won the National Award for BGM the only time it was given before it got officialized year before last) was recognized. Along came the internet, and a floodgate of avenues for more music was opened up. In case of ARR, there were people sharing BGM pieces, and albums like Golden Krithis which ARR had worked in when he was still Dileep. And outside of ARR territory, there was so much to be explored in the various genres of which I knew only the Indian filmy versions (an exploration that continues to this day). Somewhere along the way I thought I knew enough about music to be able to pass opinions about them, and Music Aloud happened. Which brings us here.

So the point being, I am totally hopelessly addicted to music today, and I have Allah Rakha Rahman to thank for contributing to a major part of that conversion. His style may have changed over the years, yes sometimes I do long for that 90s sound to return like many others, but his music continues to fascinate, albeit in a different way. So here’s to many more such years and many more beautiful songs.

It has sort of become a habit these days to make playlists while paying tribute, so here is one celebrating 20 years of AR Rahman. Since the article was on how I learned to appreciate the finer aspects of music, this playlist is a compilation of those songs which have stood out in my mind for some particular element in the arrangement. Enjoy!

Thee Thee (Thiruda Thiruda) – For the bass guitar by Keith Peters.

Raasaathi (Thiruda Thiruda) – For introducing me to a cappella.

Oorvasi Oorvasi (Kaadhalan) – For the use of sarangi.

Nadhiye Nadhiye (Rhythm) – For way the sound of water was incorporated.

En Veettu Thottathil (Gentleman) – The use of jaltarang.

Chikku Bukku Raile (Gentleman) & Chaiyya Chaiyya (Dil Se) – The sound of train.

Paakkaadhe (Gentleman), Anbae Idhu Nijam (Rhythm) – The violins.

Ennavale (Kaadhalan) & Tanha Tanha (Rangeela) – Naveen’s flute.

July Maadham (Pudhiya Mugam) – Prasanna’s Spanish guitar.

Pachai Nirame (Alai Paayudhey) – The way the violins followed the flute.

Maargazhi Poove (May Maadham) – The adaptation of the suprabhatham tune.

Saawariya (Swades) – For the way the beats were paced relative to the vocals.

Love Check (Paarthaale Paravasam) – The wacky use of percussion.

Worldspace Theme Song – For the haunting use of the piano

Munbe Vaa (Sillunu Oru Kaadhal) – The santoor

Masakkali (Delhi 6) – The accordion

Mausam and Escape (Slumdog Millionaire) – The sitar

Rehna Tu (Delhi 6) – The continuum fingerboard

Jaa Re Udd Jaa (Raavan) – The kora

Tags: , , , ,