Music maestro AR Rahman has been conducting one-on-one virtual conversations with artistes from around the world on his YouTube channel. The first episode featured popular singer Arijit Singh, while the second episode, which premiered on Wednesday, saw Rahman interacting with American rapper-composer will.i.am. For those who don’t know, the duo had collaborated in 2014 on the song “It’s My Birthday,” which is a recreation of Rahman’s beloved 1994 track “Urvashi”.
The two artistes discussed music, the pandemic, their creative process among other things during the hour-long chat. Here are some of the highlights.
When asked how he is dealing with the chaos and confusion around him, will.i.am said he is trying his best to focus his energies on creating new music. The rapper said he has challenged himself to write three songs every day and has managed to write several songs since the lockdown began. Rahman, on the other hand, confessed that lockdown has been a period of relaxation, as far as music is concerned. The Grammy and Oscar winner said that he has never had this amount of me-time since he started working in the early 90s.
The role of music in modern times
The composers also spoke about the importance of music in daily life. AR Rahman said that he considers music as a form of therapy. The singer-composer said that music, at many levels, functions as an alternate reality which provides hope and peace to people who hear it. However, the Mozart of Madras added that sometimes performing and ‘being in the zone’ at all times can take a toll on a person. He said, “Sometimes when I am getting ready to go to the stage, there is bad news and I can’t take that there (to the stage)…I have to take the rhythm and give joy to people.”
will.i.am was eager to know more about Rahman’s process. At one point, he was heard asking ARR, “When you sit down to compose a track, what comes first? The song or the sonic?” Rahman explained that in India, music largely means film music, and when sitting down to look for a new tune, he comes up with novel ideas by working with the film director. He said, “In India, everything is about movies. So you are blessed as a music composer because you cannot be pigeonholed into doing one thing all the time. I usually go with the vibe of the director. ‘How do you convey a familiar feeling in a new way?’ That is what I look at.”
As mentioned earlier, AR Rahman and will.i.am have previously collaborated on the track “It’s My Birthday,” which is a recreation of the former’s beloved song “Urvashi”. During the chat, the two spoke about potential collaborations as will.i.am expressed a desire to work with veteran singer Asha Bhosle. Rahman revealed that while making the 1995 album Rangeela, he had worked closely with the legendary singer. Rahman spoke highly of Bhosle and discussed her high range and pitch with will.i.am, who, in turn, expressed that he is fond of singers who can display that kind of variety.
will.i.am mentioned that two of his previous works — Elephunk and Monkey Business — were inspired by Bollywood music. He added that he is looking forward to working on his new project Translation 2, which will pay homage to his Indian influences. Interestingly, will.i.am’s band Black Eyes Peas had recently released a single called “Action,” which featured various sequences from Indian movies.
The art of sustenance
Later in the video, will.i.am asked AR Rahman about his career’s longevity and what keeps him going even after working for so many decades in the industry, to which the latter responded with a simple one-word answer, “Discipline.” “If I lose my discipline, I lose my music. This constant need to refine myself; refining myself as a father, husband, citizen, as a musician, this is what keeps me going,” ARR added. The two artistes spoke about their personal projects as well and how it helps replenish them as artistes. will.i.am talked about educating children in new technology and business, while Rahman gave a sneak-peek into his KM Music Conservatory, which is a music college he founded for children who wish to learn western and Hindustani classical music.
AR Rahman also elaborated on the concept of PM Modi’s ‘Make in India.’ ARR said his vision and understanding of ‘Make in India’ is that the country should take leadership in building and forging new paths in all fields, including music. A path that is ‘constructive, not destructive.’ “I want to unite the world with thoughts like these. We already have yoga, music and food. But in terms of developing things which are organic and beautiful, what can we do?” asked the composer.