‘This Show Is About Celebrating India’: A.R. Rahman

By June 13, 2010 No Comments

Prolific composer-performer A.R. Rahman has performed countless shows around the world, but he says his upcoming “Jai Ho: A.R. Rahman The Journey Home Tour 2010” is more ambitious than anything he’s ever done.

“It’s a completely new experience,” Rahman told India-West June 4 during a video linkup from the Washington, D.C., area, where he was rehearsing the show in time for its June 11 launch at New York’s Nassau Coliseum.

He has discovered boundless energy within himself despite the extraordinary demands of putting on a show of such magnitude (he calls the project his most challenging work to date), and during our interview Rahman seemed well-rested and genial.

He said he almost never gets tired rehearsing for this show. “When you get into making music, you don’t notice anything,” he told India-West. “After rehearsing, it takes me five hours to get the adrenaline out of my system. I’m up until 3 a.m.!”

The video interview was arranged by local concert promoter Paul Singh as part of a kickoff party to celebrate the tour, which Singh is presenting at the Oracle Arena in Oakland June 26. “The Journey Home Tour” will next move on to Los Angeles June 27, for a show presented by Mehta Entertainment.

The Academy Award- and Grammy-winning artist has gradually embraced his inner rock star since he started his career in music 18 years ago.

Far from his beginnings as a shy keyboardist and jingle composer who was once content to stay in the background, Rahman is now singing at full blast at center stage.

“I’ve been telling people, over the past three to four weeks that we’ve been rehearsing, that I was a keyboard player. Then I was composing. I’d almost left behind playing live. Now I’m a singer, and my rustiness is going — slowly.

“I thought I wouldn’t enjoy it … but I do.”

He is even sporting extravagant costumes decked out with the latest technology, in a stage show designed by Amy Tinkham, a choreographer-stage designer who has helped spearhead shows for Madonna, Ringling Brothers, Paul McCartney, the Cheetah Girls and Britney Spears.

Rahman’s costumes for this tour (a reported 24 of them) have been in the news for their sparkling LED technology; they will be designed not just by leading Indian fashionista Ritu Beri but other designers as well as Rahman’s own wife, Saira.

The show will incorporate Indian classical music, Bollywood, Sufi and South Indian music. “The show is about celebrating India — its festivals, its patriotism, its spirituality,” said Rahman.

We will also see a side of Rahman we haven’t seen before: A.R., the dancer.

“He’s going to do a lot of moves,” said Hariharan, who was also on hand for the video conference. “But everything is decent!” he laughed.

Vocalist Hariharan, whose voice has lent the magic to Rahman’s soundtracks to “Roja,” “Bombay,” “Taal,” “Guru” and many others, said, “The production will be spectacular, with dancers and musicians, and a lot of special effects. You have seen his songs on a 70mm movie screen. Now you will see them live on a 70mm stage!”

It’s performers such as Hariharan and Blaaze (who was also in the video conference) who inspire Rahman to choose which songs to perform in his shows, said the composer. “I choose the songs to complement and respect each singer,” Rahman told India-West. “With a singer like Hariharan, I can’t just give him two songs to sing!”

Rahman says the show will feature nearly 100 artists onstage — 50 Westerners and nearly the same amount of Indian artists. He will have a 10-piece band, 10 singers and 13 dancers, as well as “a whole lot of crew.”

Last month, filmmaker Deepa Mehta announced that she was making a film based on the hit stage spectacular “Bombay Dreams,” which was produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber and featured Rahman’s music. “I’ve been rehearsing, so I am not sure about the details right now,” Rahman said. “When the tour reaches Europe I will know more.”

Rahman was also in the news recently for his latest hi-tech purchase. While in New York in April, he bought five, that’s right, five iPads. One is for him to carry around, and one is for the studio. As for the rest of them, he told India-West: “Well, I have three kids, you know!”

He answered another reporter’s question about “Slumdog Millionaire” and the sometimes unflattering way it portrayed contemporary India. “People see the slums and it reminds us that we need to eradicate poverty,” said Rahman. “That’s why I started my music school and my foundation.” The A.R. Rahman Foundation provides education to underprivileged kids in India.

Asked how he’s seen his own music evolving over the years, he said it was impossible for him to take an objective view.

“The people are the only ones who can decide that. You guys are the best judges,” he said.

Visit for concert details.