The Interesting Profile of Tamil Music Composer A.R. Rahman

Allah Rakha Rahman or more commonly known as A. R. Rahman was born as A. S. Dileep Kumar in 1967. He is one of the finest Indian musicians, composers, and record producers. He has been working with India’s best film industries, theatre and international cinema. By 2003, Rahman managed to sell more than 100 million film score records and almost 200 million cassettes. In 2008, he composed the score and soundtrack of India’s one of the most successful movies, ‘Slum Dog Millionaire’. Rahman made his mark all through the global music industry and shined as one of the best top selling recording artists. Time magazine awarded him with the title of “Mozart of Madras”. He was nicknamed as ‘Isai Puyal’, means ‘a musical cyclone’ by Tamil commentators. Rahman wasn’t only a good musician but a great philanthropist, which helped him secure his name in the prestigious list of the ‘World’s Most Influential People’.

Early Life

Allah Rakha Rahman was born in Madras; capital of the state Tamil Nadu. His father; R. K. Shekhar, was also a renowned conductor and composer for Malayalam and Tamil films. Rahman began taking piano classes at a mere age of four and also assisted his father in playing the keyboard. He attended MCN for a year. After some time, Rahman took admission in Madras Christian College Higher Secondary School and formed a music band with his classmates. However, being a true musician at heart, Rahman couldn’t spend more time with the books and dropped out. Soon after that, he started working towards his goal of becoming a full time professional musician. 

Rahman acted as an arranger and keyboard player for different bands such as Roots; with percussionist and childhood friend Sivamani, Suresh Peters, John Anthony, Raja and Jojo and formed a Chennai based pop and rock group called as Nemesis Avenue. In a short period of time, Rahman became a master of piano, keyboard, synthesizer, guitar and harmonium. He was specifically interested in synthesizer because of its idealistic amalgam of technology and music. Other than that, he was a keen lover of Sufi music and believed in its healing power.

Start of Music Career

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Rahman started his musical training under the guidance of Master Dhanraj. At an age of 11, he started performing in the orchestra of Malayalam composer, M. K. Arjunan. Soon after that, Rahman began working with the best composers in music industry, such as Ilaiyaraaja, M. S. Viswanathan, Vijay Anand, Raj-Koti, Ramesh Naidu, Vijay Bhaskarnand many more. He also accompanied Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan and Zakir Hussain on several world music tours and learned a great deal from them. Rahman obtained a scholarship for the Trinity College of Music. 

Initially, Rahman composed scores for a lot of documentaries and several jingles for Indian television channels. Still being known as Dileep, AR Rahman composed jingles for Allwyn’s line of watches in 1987. Some of his jingles became very popular, such as the one he composed for Titan Watches, in which he made use of the beautiful theme of Mozart’s Symphony. In 1992, Rahman was approached by one of the best Tamil directors, Mani Ratnam, to compose the soundtrack and score for his film Roja

Officially, Rahman’s career began in 1992, when he setup a recording and mixing studio at the back of his house called as Panchathan Record. Over the course of time, it became Asia’s most advanced and high-tech studio. In the same year, he was approached by a Tamil cinematographer Santosh Sivan, to compose for his upcoming film, ‘Yoddha’. Forwarding it to 2010, Rahman produced and composed a track list for a Hollywood movie called ‘127 Hours’. All of the soundtracks were recorded under the flagship of Columbia Records; one of the best music record companies all over the world.

Musical Style 

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Rahman was an avid fan of qawwaly style of the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He was skilled in Western, Carnatic and Hindustani classical musical style. He is known for composing songs that are a fine amalgam of these genres, while also layering instruments from other musical idioms in a unique and improvisational style. In the last few years, Rahman has been experimenting with his music style and trying different traditional instruments with advanced technology and electronic sounds. 

Awards and Honors

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Rahman’s music crossed the borders and is rewarded with various national and international awards every year. He has won National Film Award and Tamil Nadu State Film Award for six times. He was rewarded with   sixteen Filmfare Awards South and fifteen Filmfare Awards due to his phenomenal music competitions. The government of Tamil Nadu also rewarded him with ‘Kalaimamani’, for his outstanding performances as a musician. In 1993, Rahman won a Filmfare Award for the Best Music Director for his Tamil movie “Roja”. He received a number of other awards for his musical excellence, from governments of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pardesh and was a receiver of a ‘Padma Shri’ from the Government of India.

In 2006, Stanford University praised Rahman with an award, for his contribution towards global music. A year after that, Rahman set his foot in the Limca Book of Records, as “Indian of the Year for Contribution to Popular Music”. In 2008, He accepted an award of ‘Lifetime Achievement’ from the Rotary Club of Madras. In 2009, his phenomenal composition for the score and soundtrack of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ won a lot of awards on global platform; including two Oscars, a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, a Broadcast Film Critics Association Award, two Academy Awards, and a BAFTA Award for Best Film Music. 

Philanthropic Activities 

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Rahman didn’t only conquer the world through his mesmerizing voice, but also did so by being actively involved with several charity organizations. In 2004, he was selected as a global ambassador of a WHO project; “Stop TB Partnership”. In 2009, Rahman intruded India’s first symphony orchestra by the name of Sunshine Orchestra. It provides free music education to the socially and economically deprived children by one of the best, the KM Music Conservatory. Rahman also composed for a short film called ‘The Banyan’ to help needy women in Chennai.

In 2019, Rahman also performed Sufi music at the annual New York gala of Pratham, a non-governmental Indian organization. The mentioned organization’s main focus is to provide quality education to underprivileged children of India. He also tweeted after the event that his,

“Longtime dream of performing Sufi music for human causes came true”.

AR Rahman – A Living Legend

Rahman is one of the finest music directors and singers who attained success within a short period of time and won a number of international film and music awards. Initially, Rahman started his career from Tamil film industry and slowly explored other languages. The legend started learning music at an early age of four and never looked back since then. His compositions even impressed the masses across the border and his songs are loved by music fans all over the globe. Due to his humble and down to earth approach towards everyone, A.R. Rahman has been an inspiration for people and especially aspiring musicians all over the world. While receiving the Global Living Legend award recently, he said,

“I think the trick is to be a student all your life… you constantly keep learning from everyone you meet, and I still do, and somewhere down the line, that changed me a lot”