Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Surfeit of Talent

AR Raihanah, the sister of Oscar winner, AR Rahman, talks about her illustrious sibling, and about her own career as singer and composer

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos: AR Reihanah. Photo by Melton Antony; AR Rahman (extreme right) with his nephew GV Prakash Kumar at the latter's wedding reception at Chennai  

In July, 2006, music maestro AR Rahman and his troupe were performing at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, USA. There was a galaxy of singers including Hariharan, Sukwinder Singh, Sadhna Sangram and Rahman's sister AR Raihanah.

Raihanah sang 'Chaiyya Chaiyya' from 'Dil Se'. After the show was over, unknown to Raihanah, the actor Nandita Das was following her in another vehicle. When Raihanah reached the hotel, Nandita went up to her and said, “You blew me away. Your voice was excellent.”

Says a smiling Raihanah, “That was a precious moment for me. There were so many other top singers on stage. Later, I got many compliments for my singing from all over America.”

Raihanah had come to Kochi to take part in the Gurupournami function organised by the Music Directors Union of the Film Employees Federation of Kerala.

And she was in a nostalgic mood, as she recalled her childhood as the daughter of composer RK Shekhar. “There was always music in the house,”she says. “My father could play the harmonium and piano. He was also the first one to get the electronic synthesizer to India from Singapore.”

Raihanah was only three years old when Shekhar taught her the legato and staccato. The legato is a sustained note, while the staccacto is a short note.

I would say, 'Appa is it a tomato?',” says Raihanah. “And he would have a good laugh.”

Another day, the children – Raihanah, AR Rahman, Fathima and Ishrath – were feeling frustrated at their home, in T. Nagar, Chennai. There was a power cut, and they could not sing. “So Rahman took the guitar, switched on a battery-operated tape recorder, and we all sang 'Jingle Bells',” says Raihanah. “That was a fond memory for me.”

The double Oscar winner, Rahman, looms over their family. Asked to analyse his talent, Raihanah says, “He has been blessed with a God-given talent. There are many music directors who are geniuses. But nobody knows them outside Tamil Nadu. This mass appeal is a divine gift.”

And Raihanah got an inkling of this appeal when she went to see the first show of 'Roja' at the Sathyam Theatre in Chennai. “I was surprised to see that the audience had started clapping when Rahman's name appeared in the credits,” says Raihanah. “This was his first film. But because the songs were released earlier, he had already become popular.”

And Raihanah is also treated differently because she is Rahman's sister. “When somebody introduces me to a great singer, they will politely say, 'Hi',” says Raihanah. “But when they are told I am Rahman's sister, they will say, 'Oh hiiiiiiiiii!!!'. Then their eyes will widen and they will say, 'Oh you are Rahman's sister'. One reason could be because they might have got a singing career because of my brother. Or they may have seen the reach of Rahman.”

But Raihanah is an accomplished artist in her own right. She has sung several songs in Tamil, many of which have become hits. One song, 'Malai Malai', from the film, 'Chocolate', became controverisial because of the double meaning in the lyrics. “I sang it like a college student,” she says.

At present, she has composed five songs for the movie, 'Puriyadha Anandham Pudhidhaga Aarambam'. This film, which will be released in June, stars the singer Krish and is brought out by Ibrahim Rowthar films. She has also composed the music for several other films.

Her son, GV Prakash Kumar, 27, is also an established composer. So far, he has made about 40 songs. “Prakash, like my father, is very fast at composing music,” says Raihanah. “My father was working with 12 music directors at the same time. And, like him, Prakash likes to do melodies. Which is why he is very popular in Kerala.”

Incidentally, Raihanah is selective when it comes to composing. Once a producer went to see her. He took out three CDs from one pocket and three from another and told Reihana that she should copy the music. “I refused,” says Raihanah. “I came to composing out of my passion. So I want to do creative work. Otherwise, I am not interested.”

Asked to give tips to budding composers, Raihanah says, “Please don't copy from others. Let the music come from your soul. Wherever possible use live instruments. Since the music is made by human beings, it is much better than electronic music. Also, live music touches people more. Just because people are moving towards western trends, you don't have to do the same. Keep your mind open for all kinds of music. In the end, we should not lose our identity as Indian musicians.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

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