If I were to doodle the memories of the last 25 years in my head, the background would invariably be coloured in the hues of AR Rahman's music.

Mustafa at college farewell Pettai rap at party Growing up with AR RahmanFacebook/AR Rahman
Flix Music Monday, December 25, 2017 - 16:32

I remember picking Chinna Chinna Aasai to sing at a music competition at school as a seven-year-old because it was "simple and catchy".

I remember playing the audio cassettes of Bombay, Taal and Minsara Kanavu till they wore out and started playing out of tune.

I remember tearfully bidding adieu to my high school buddies to the refrain of Muzhugaadha ship-ae friendship thaan.

I remember tripping over a CD of the album Boys with my lovely wing-mates at the college hostel and getting starry eyed with Azhage Sugama.

I remember how New York Nagaram and Ai Hairathe faithfully kept me company for hours on end as I ploughed through Java and Ajax at my workplace.

Every time I pass the signal just before my workplace, I automagically hear Innum Konjam Neram in my head, for the number of times it has looped there.

I remember how as a toddler, my son would demand for Mental Manadhil to be played in the car every.single.time, and how it was finally replaced a couple of years later, only by Azhagiye..

And I realise, though I have always known, that if I were to doodle the memories of the last 25 years in my head, the background would invariably be coloured in the hues of AR Rahman's music.

25 years.

That's how long this magician has been at work, creating countless "aaha" moments! It all started with Roja in 1992, and the album blew us away with its novelty. It had to be his best, we thought.

Yet with each passing album, he has managed to outdo himself and now 25 years later, the sheer variety of genres spanned, the level of experimentation and evolution in is his music simply boggles the mind. What could delight a fangirl more than taking a walk down this glorious memory lane to reflect upon the highly eclectic nature of his music?

From Aathangara Marame to Elay Keechan

If idli-sambar is an average Tamilian's comfort food, then its musical equivalent would be folk; more specifically the rich legacy of folk music created by Ilayarajaa and his predecessors in the industry. That was (and largely continues to be) the gold standard but Rahman entered the scene and put a snazzy spin on folk music - a classical touch in Varaaga Nadikkara Oram and Mettupodu, an unrestrained spirit in Elay Keechan and Uppu Karuvaadu, and the typically rustic tones in Athangara Marame and Usilampatti Penkutti.

From Bilahari to Bhatiyar

Figuring out the raga of an ARR song is like trying to place your finger on the main ingredient of a flavour-packed dish. The flavours overwhelm you at times, but you realise that the heart of the dish truly lies in that one ingredient.

The masterchef has doled out delectable creations in Hamsadhwani (Vellai Pookal), Charukesi (Udaya Udaya), Panthuvarali (Hai Rama) and just about anything from Bilahari (Omana Penne) to Bhatiyar (Naina Neer), but if I must pick one absolute favourite, it has got to be Kannamoochi Yenada in NaataaKurinji. Ah well, with a caressing seasoning of Sahana!

Pettai Rap!

If you could start from "Rhythm of life..", go on upto "Aalai Anjalai Bazaaru Nijaru Kanniyappan Muniamma Giri Gaja Mani Mgr-u Sivaji Rajini Kamal-u, Bagil-u Bigulu Sevulu Avulu All Shows House Fullu, Pettai Rap" without missing a beat and by maintaining the same degree of swag and thara-localness throughout your rendition, you were officially granted entry into ARR fandom.

It was the beginning of enjoying this hitherto novel genre of rap, and Blaaze made sure to nail in our love with the likes of Taxi Taxi and the Boss song in Sivaji, the most endearing of them being Hosanna.

Is it ak-ka-pella? Or Aa-ca-pella?

I wondered, when I first learnt that Raasathi belonged to that genre, about a decade after the album came out. Acapella ( the pronunciation and beyond) eventually became familiar territory, but in my head, its roots lie in the minimalist, yet spectacular Raasathi. In that inimitable voice of the late Shahul Hameed. 

For the soul

The one facet that keeps coming up repeatedly in attempts to understand ARR - the very private person behind the moniker "Mozart of Madras" is his deep rooted spirituality and connection to Sufism. Needless to say, his creations influenced by the Sufi style of music are pristine and beyond critique.

While Khwaja Mere Khwaja and Kun Faya Kun come to mind instantly, another gem that got shrouded amidst controversy and is rarely heard is Noor-un-alah from Meenaxi, brilliantly arranged in a Qawwali style.

Break the rules!

Every once in a while, ARR breaks away from the conventional Pallavi-charanam(s) format of songs. Remember the feisty Strawberry Kanne (with Sivamani having a field day on the percussion front) and its rebuttal dialogue building up to an operatic end?

Or the melancholic Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya in that voice of Karthik that tugs at your heartstrings? Or the vocal-rich Please Sir from Boys?

Des Mere Des Mere Meri Jaan Hai Tu

The mind may roam all over the world, but home is where the heart is. Patriotic songs hold a timeless appeal, and to me, Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna in the evocative voices of Sonu Nigam and Honeyharan (typo intended) is the "it" song that can stir up a storm from even the faintest trace of patriotism.

But there were also two other songs, one before and one after, that created quite the same effect on the listener -the iconic Vande Mataram, and the soulful Yeh Jo Des Hai Mera (oh that shehnai!)

Of jazz, blues, gangsta, reggae and beyond

Q : Would a groovy jazz number rendered by a North Indian work in a high strung Dravidian political drama?

A: It would, but only if it can be pulled off like Iruvar's Vennila Vennila.

One can't help but wonder where the true genius of the song lies- Asha Bhosle’s sensuous rendition, or ARR’s conception of having her render the song!

To throw in the least expected musical element at a given situation in a movie and carry it through with panache is a feat only ARR can pull off. This shines through in so many multi-culturally influenced songs from all over the world - the Middle Eastern tones in Mayya Mayya, the blues of Adiye, the South American tribal tunes of Kilimanjaro, the Sinhalese Signore Signore in Kannathil Muthamittal, the cabaret flavor in Ramta Jogi, the contrasting ends of the rock spectrum in Sadda Haq (Rockstar) and Aaromale (with that delightful carnatic violin interlude out of the blue) or the earthy Punjabi flavor in Patakha Guddi (Highway)...

With 25 (years) going in the upward trajectory of 99 songs (the movie), this Elon Musk avtar of the music industry is all set to break new ground with his directorial venture, Le Musk and the highly promising Sarvam Thaala Mayam with Rajiv Menon. Until then, Hey Goodbye Nanba!

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