A R Rahman speaks to Arthur J Pais in New York about his coming concert tour.
Of the many innovations A R Rahman has brought about, few are as interesting as the one about adding dance element to the live show.
He offers to do more of it in his ‘Jai Ho: the Journey Home’ tour that kicks off in New York on June 11 at the Nassau Coliseum. The tour will take him and the troupe to over a dozen cities in America and Canada, before leaving for Europe.
The high tech show will have magical lighting and artists exuding a variety of genres including Bharata Natyam and tap dancing, the organisers say.
Any Rahman show creates a lot of excitement says the show’s producer Deepak Dattani but after winning the Golden Globe, Oscars and the Grammy, the expectations for the show are soaring.
Undoubtedly the hottest show in North America this summer, the ‘Jai Ho’ concerts will also feature one of the most versatile singers in India , Hariharan, joined by the recent sensation Javed Ali and a host of relatively new singers.
Rahman started using dancers early on in the half a dozen concerts he has presented in North America and elsewhere. “But everything is at the service of music,” he says. “We have used awesome technology and spectacular scenes but at the end of the event, everything will be done to enhance the music.”
He is chatting with rediff.com at the Bombay Palace restaurant in New York soon after the April 19 press conference attended by the promoters and the key American members of the team. “We are not doing something for the sake of creating glamour,” he says.
He remembers going to light concerts in Chennai in his school and college days. “The singers would often stand with a book in their hand and sing,” he says. It was like a lamp post performance.
“There was nothing wrong with it but as I was creating my own music — and it was a very young music — I felt the artists should move their bodies. The audiences should not feel that they are being punished for nearly three hours. I am generally a shy person but when it came to live shows, I had to teach myself to sway to the music. Audiences were enjoying the new concept and I decided to go farther, adding the visual excitement.”
Of the 20 cities the musical tour will visit, a majority are in America and Canada including Atlantic City and Vancouver. The company will also perform at three venues in the UK, and in Paris, Amsterdam and Zurich.
‘This tour is going to be one of its kind,’ the promoters say in the press note, ‘where an Indian artist will tour 20 cities worldwide.’
“For the first time has an Indian artist embarked on a true road world tour. The entire crew of 75 people that includes technicians, dancers and artists, and A R Rahman will be travelling at different venues with hardly a gap between the shows.”
The final performance will be in London on July 25.
Dattani, who joined the press conference via video in Mumbai, said the talks on the show started soon after Rahman’s double Oscar victory.
Despite the technical wizardry that employs the best Hollywood can offer, he said, it is essentially an Indian show, often a nostalgic trip to overseas Indians. During the nearly three hour-long show, “the soul of India can be experienced,” he said.
This is the first time Dattani and Rahman are working on a global production which has already played in Australia . Dattani’s Rapport Global Events has produced Indian musical shows in many countries in the Gulf region. In nearly two decades, Rapport has organised over 500 events including tours by Asha Bhosle, Akshay Kumar, Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukerji .
Amy Tinkham, who serves as the creative director of the new Rahman show, has also helped mount live concerts for top American artists including Mariah Carey and Britney Spears .
‘Through the vast tapestry of music that is A R Rahman,’ she said in a statement, ‘he takes us on a virtual journey through beauty, culture, and spirituality. This is uniquely Indian, both ancient and Indian.’
She said at the press conference that she had to extremely careful to choose the best of the dancers and acrobatics. The Rahman show deserves nothing less than the best, she asserted. For nearly three years, fans have been watching Rahman on their television sets.
“It was time to give Rahman to them in flesh,” she added. While it is going to be an East meets West show, she continued, “like his music, it breaks all borders.”
Rahman said having Tinkham direct the show was a “huge relief to him.” Otherwise, he would have been burdened in choosing the artists and wondering if people will turn up on time for the rehearsal. “It used to show on my face,” he said with a chuckle referring to the tension at the previous concerts.
Rahman said ideally he would like to have a live show every second year. “And that would mean that I have three or four new movies released in the duration and I can add new songs to my shows,” he continued. “But the past three years have been unbelievable busy and crazy that I just could not produce a series of live shows as I am doing now.”
A few weeks before the Rahman show, singer Sukhwindra Singh will also tour over half a dozen cities with his own ‘Jai Ho’ show.
The previous Rahman shows used to be filled with half a dozen big name singers like Sonu Nigam and K S Chitra, a popular and highly respected singer down South. But the new show has more of newer singers including Benny Dayal. And that means the burden of carrying most songs falls on Rahman. Not that his fans mind.
“Some of the singers who have been featured in my previous shows have grown bigger and cannot be with me for over a month,” he continued. “As for the very big singers, I felt I have not been doing proper justice. What is really the point in having them in the show when they get to sing two or three songs?”
As for the visual components of his show, Rahman said he has been a bit surprised that other Indian composers and singers have not given it due importance. Many Indian artists come to America or the UK thinking that after all we are from India and it is enough we have made this much of progress.
The sky is the limit if you want to go for the innovations, Rahman said. One reason that there are not many big time artists in the current show, an insider speculated, was to save the money that could be spent on the special effects and dance numbers.
“I have always sought out to be adventurous but this time after the Sydney show (of ‘Jai Ho’), I felt we can be more adventurous,” Rahman mused. “Audiences expect from me not only a variety of music including spiritual songs but also something that satisfies their senses at different levels. To give them something less than what we are offering would be cheating, I feel.”
“Never mind if we fail in trying to be bold and colourful,” he asserted, “we will remember that it was worth trying.”
Image: Amy Tinkham, A R Rahman and Amos Newman, the maestro’s manager). Photograph: Paresh Gandhi