Artist Profiles: A. R. Rahman

A. R. Rahman
A. R. Rahman

Allah Rakha Rahman, popularly known to music lovers as A. R. Rahman, is India’s greatest contemporary film composer. Known for incorporating western production styles to Indian traditional music, Rahman has created music that is universal yet distinctly Indian.

Born A.S Dilip Kumar, in 1967, he changed his name to A.R. Rahman due to his strong faith in Islam. AR Rahman, grew up in a prosperous family that was very involved with music. His father, K.A. Sekar, was a well-known music director based in the Southern India. Surrounded by music, Rahman began playing music in early childhood. After his father died when he was only 9, Rahman began performing on the keyboards. When he was only 11, he was accompanying various music directors in the South Indian film industry, including Ramesh Naidu, M S Viswanathan and Illalyaraja.

Rahman was given a scholarship that allowed him to study music at the Trinity College of Music (London). After he finished his studies in Europe, Rahman returned to Madras with the vision of bringing an international and contemporary world music perspective to Indian music. He built a state-of-the-art sound and recording studio and began experimenting in sound engineering, design and production. He also began a collection of sound samples, creating one of the most comprehensive sound libraries in Asia.

Rahman’s early studio work was centered in composing jingles for ad campaigns. A chance encounter at a party with one of the best directors in India, Mani Ratnam, gave him the opportunity to score his first movie soundtrack. That first score, Roja, was given the National Film Award of India (similar to an Oscar) in 1992), and thrust him into the limelight.

In the years since he composed Roja, he has created music for blockbuster Indian films including Pudhiya Mugam, Gentleman, Kizhaku Seemalyilae, Duet, Kadalan, Bombay, May, Madbam, Indian, Mutbu Kadbal Dasam, Love Birds and others. His 1995 soundtrack for Bombay sold more than 5 million units signaling Rahman’s arrival as the “King of Indian Pop” with sales of more than 40 million albums over a period of three years. Rahman has composed hit soundtracks for over 50 Indian films and plays including Oscar-nominated Lagaan, Fiza, Taal, Earth, Dil Se, Fire and Bombay. Rahman is now India’s top film composer and one of the world’s most popular musicians

In 2004, and fresh from his first Western theatrical success with the musical Bombay Dreams, A.R. Rahman created his first full work for symphony orchestra in Sony Classical’s Between Heaven and Earth, a richly evocative concept album that captures the cultural drama, grandeur and mystery that exists along the historic link between East and West known as The Silk Road. Between Heaven and Earth was released on May 4, 2004.

 A. R. Rahman - Between Heaven and Earth

A. R. Rahman – Between Heaven and Earth

Between Heaven and Earth is drawn from Rahman’s score for the Chinese film Warriors of Heaven and Earth, which depicted an epic clash of deeply spiritual Asian cultures. Creating this music was a new challenge for Rahman, whose remarkable gifts, prolific output and phenomenal success in composing songs for Indian films have earned him the title “the Asian Mozart.” No less an authority than Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber has hailed him as “a melodic genius,” and it was Lloyd Webber who conceived the idea of the musical Bombay Dreams, to introduce Rahman’s music to Western audiences.

Bombay Dreams opened on Broadway in the spring of 2004, after a successful run on London’s West End. For Between Heaven and Earth, Rahman employed a full Western classical orchestra and draws on the sounds of ethnic music found all along The Silk Road. which extends from Turkey to China. Top ethnic instrumentalists – including Wong On Yuen (erhu), Choo Boon Chong (dizi) and Martin Robertson (duduk), with percussionists S. Sivamani. Raja Tirupathi and Kumar Vuuri – joined the Czech Film Orchestra and Chorus, led by Matt Dunkley, on the recording. Also included is a Hindi version of the song “Warriors in Peace,” which Rahman wrote for the Warriors of Heaven and Earth soundtrack.

Rahman is one of the most sought-after composers and music directors in the international film industry today.

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.

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