Takeaways from the A. R. Rahman Intimate Tour Concert in Los Angeles

theBollywoodFan -- this blog and the username -- turns 10 this summer. I may not be blogging much any more since micro-blogging (@theBollywoodFan) serves my primary objectives better, as explained here, but no matter what, I can’t attend an incredible A. R. Rahman concert and not want to share my takeaways in more detail than multiples of 140 characters can afford. So let's get right to them.

All pictures in this post are mine, from the 10 June 2015 event at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles (the home of the Emmys).

Song Highlights of the Night
‘Chhoti Si Asha’ from Roja (1992)
'Tu Hi Re' from Bombay (1995)
‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’, ‘Dil Se’, ‘Jiya Jale’ from Dil Se (1998)
‘Ishq Bina’ from Taal (1999)
‘Saathiya’, ‘O Humdum Suniyo Re’ from Saathiya (2002)
‘Tu Bole Main Boloon’ from Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na (2008)
‘Arziyaan’ from Delhi-6 (2009), to commence proceedings 
‘Naadaan Parindey’ from Rockstar (2011)
‘Patakha Guddi’, ‘Maahi Ve’ from Highway (2014)
'Alahida', ‘Khalifa’ from Lekar Hum Deewana Dil (2014)

In contrast, the last Rahman concert I attended in L.A. prominently featured songs from Rangeela (1996), Lagaan (2001), Swades (2003), Rang De Basanti (2006), and Jodhaa Akbar (2008).

Hindi film music fans must branch out
My guess is that songs in language(s) of South India comprised at least 50% of the playlist in this concert. I wasn't complaining much despite knowing none of the other languages. It all sounded so very good, with plenty I hadn't listened to before. Like this:

It’s more evident than ever to me that I need to explore even more of Rahman’s soundtracks for films in the South. And let's be honest: It's not that fans of Hindi film music have too much of a choice if we want more Rahman these days. His relative absence from the Hindi cinema landscape is one of the most unfortunate things to have happened to the industry in the few years.

Jonita Gandhi is for Real
Not that she ever wasn’t, but this was my first time listening to her live, and one couldn’t help but marvel at her amazingly versatile vocal range. From ‘Ishq Bina’ (Taal) to ‘Jiya Re Jiya’ (Jab Tak Hai Jaan) and a varied set of songs in between, the execution sounded flawless. There’s every indication she's ready to be the next big thing, and I hope her career continues to trend upward. Well done! (And it wasn't just her of course, also performing were Haricharan, Sriram, & Shiraz Uppal, who are all excellent vocalists in their own right.)

Can we please stop calling him the Mozart of Madras?
The label is still widely used in the press, and it bothers me. I know it’s supposed to be a compliment, but can we please acknowledge that the (Rah)man’s in a league of his own? (I say this as someone who has about as many Mozart records as those of Rahman.) 

If you’ve been to any of his concerts -- and this was my third -- you know to expect more than an ordinary experience. You know to expect engagement levels of extraordinary proportions. You almost know to expect somewhat of a spiritual journey using music as a platform (provided you’re open to it), and the kind of journey few if any in the entertainment industry anywhere can consistently lead you through. 

This night was no different. It wasn’t because I found a one minute qawwali/devotional song segment (‘Arziyaan’, Delhi-6) or reference to a sufi analogy (‘Naadaan Parindey’, Rockstar) irresistible to philosophize through while there. No. I have narrowed it down to the effortlessness with which he appears to combine musical influences, and pivot from one to another. Going from jazz to rap, bhangra/hip hop, and qawwali in less than 10 minutes, all while switching instruments and languages, is something only a very select few can pull off so well. The real answer may lie somewhere at the intersection of behavioral science and music therapy, sure. But then, it could just be art in its purest form, with no further explanation needed.

So there you have it. Great production. A fabulous crew of musicians, led by the most consistently outstanding music director we've been blessed with over three decades now. When all’s said and done, I know I’ll just always be grateful to have witnessed the magician weave his magic. One more time, and hopefully not the last.

PS: LAGAAN (2001) turns 14 today (June 15). All posts related to the film can be found here.  

The complete #100HappyBollyDays timeline is at this link.