Posted: 19 April 2006 at 7:22am | IP Logged
Indian composer mixes old with the new A.R. Rahman brings his winning style and other artists to EMU
As the world keeps turning, it keeps getting smaller. Still.
Indeed, due to such varied forces as the Internet, digital technology and continued cross-cultural pollination, more Americans are grooving to world-music styles today than they were 10 years ago. Or even five years ago.
One form that has burrowed into the American pop-culture consciousness in the last couple of years is Indian music. And, within the broader Indian-music scene, one sub-genre getting attention is the fusion of classical Indian music with modern rhythms.
Perhaps the most accomplished of these fusionists is A.R. Rahman, who began his career as a writer of commercial jingles and went on to become India's most popular composer of film scores.
Until the last year, Rahman's biggest claim to fame was his collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber on the London and Broadway productions of "Bombay Dreams'' in 2002 and 2004, respectively. Webber produced, Rahman composed the music.
But Rahman's profile got even higher when he struck the seeming unlikely collaboration with the Finnish folk group Varttina to compose the music for the $23 million, four-hour-long stage production of "Lord of the Rings,'' which opened in Toronto on March 23.
Rahman's unique synthesis of traditional Indian music with more contemporary rhythms inspired Sidney Fallon, wife of Eastern Michigan University president John Fallon III, to seek out a meeting with Rahman during a recent trip to India. Rahman and the Fallons had a mutual Indian acquaintance, and the three parties began discussing ways for young Americans to learn more about Indian culture.
They decided on a pair of benefit concerts by Rahman and fellow Indian artists Sekar, Kalish Kher and Vasundhara Das. The first concert will be at the EMU Convocation Center on Saturday, the second in Dayton, Ohio on April 22.
The show, "Wake Up! A.R. Rahman with 150 All Stars,'' will bring together Rahman's works on stage through colorful costumes and set designs, along with Indian and American singers and dancers. Rahman also will perform with the Global Rhythm All Stars, a group of more than 150 American artists that have performed with numerous Grammy-winning artists.
Joining Rahman on stage will be cellist V.R. Sekar, founder of the Madras String Quartet; singer/actress Vasundhara Das; and singer/actor Kailash Kher.
"I love his music,'' said Sidney Fallon. "I like that it's a wonderful fusion, which has a basic foundation in Indian music and then brings together a lot of different rhythms. Many of the songs he'll perform will be in Indian languages.''
Fallon said that 70 percent of the funds raised by ticket sales will go to the creation of an endowment for a program that will "help our young people to gain a greater understanding of the world by studying Indian music, and culture.''
Three filmmakers are also expected to be in town for the event, Fallon said. Rakeysh Mehra, director of "Rang da Basanti,'' will show the movie and talk to students, and music from the film will be performed at the concert. Ramkumar Ganeshan also plans to meet with students and faculty. And Swedish filmmaker Niclas Ribbarp expects to make a documentary about the project.
In India, Rahman has come to be known as the "Mozart of Madras,'' and, according to the BBC, he's sold between 100 million and 150 million CDs.
He's also collaborated with a range of artists, from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to Michael Jackson to David Byrne to Sarah Brightman.
But Rahman started out amidst much more modest circumstances. Following the death of his father when Rahman was just 9 years old, he turned to music and developed his instrumental skills. Then, at age 17, he took a job writing music for TV commercials before leaving India to earn a degree in Western classical music from Oxford University.
Still in his early 20s, Rahman had a fateful meeting at a party held to celebrate an award he won for writing a TV jingle. One reveler was Mani Ratnam, a leading Indian filmmaker. One thing led to another, and, in 1992, at age 25, Rahman composed the score for Ratman's film, "Roja,'' in the Tamil language. The score won acclaim in India for its fusion of classical and modern Indian music, and Rahman was on his way.
Rahman's next several projects were also Tamil-language films, and he became known as India's leading Tamil film-music composer. From there, he turned to India's more commercial and cross-cultural Bollywood movie biz, composing the score to Ramgopal Varma's "Rangeela.''
In 1997, Rahman found a global springboard for his talents when he signed with Sony Masterworks and released "Vande Mataram,'' a re-creation of India's national song that became an anthem of sorts among Indian youth. Sony released the record in 28 different countries.
Fast-forward to 2004, when "Bombay Dreams'' made it to Broadway. The success of that project led Rahman to broaden his horizons once again. This time, it was in China, where he composed the score for the Chinese epic film "Warriors of Heaven and Earth,'' which Sony Pictures distributed on a worldwide basis.
Fallon is looking forward to Rahman's upcoming EMU show for more reasons than one.
"I really do think one of the best ways of bringing peace and harmony to the world is to learn about other cultures, and music is probably the most powerful of all,'' said Fallon. Then, with a laugh, she added: "I'm also learning Hindi, so listening to this music is a great way to pick up the language.''
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