Throughout the history of Tamil film music, the trends have kept changing. During one period, it was completely based on Carnatic music. This was the time when brilliant singers like Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, PU Chinnappa, Kittappa, T.R.Malalingam were themselves actors. The high-pitched carnatic songs gave way to soft melodies on the arrival of Viswanathan-Ramamoorthy on the scene. The duo gave us many timeless classics, in the voices of TMS, P Susheela, PB Shrinivas, which make some people still say, “nothing can match those old songs”.

Then came another genius, Ilayaraja. He brought in folk music in to Tamil film music. Thousands of songs, in which he fused western classical with carnatic, became the favourites of masses.

When Tamil film industry was waiting for the next generation of music, came Rahman. He brought in a new digital revolution. He reached out to the entire country through his music and attained world fame. ‘Roja’ proved to be a perfect opening for everything that followed.

During his jingles days, Rahman had composed for many ad films of director Amshan Kumar. He speaks about his experience with Rahman – “Many film music composers considered ad jingles as something below their standards. They would rather sit idle at home, rather than compose for ad films. During that period, I heard of this brilliant young composer in Saamiyaar Madum, Ashok Nagar. Electronic music was a new technology those days. I’d listened to such sharp music only in Andrei Tarkovsky’s films. I was overjoyed when I listened to music of such quality, from Dileep.

Our work usually began at 10 pm, and would go on till wee hours of the morning. Once, the composing that started at 10 pm got completed only at 6 am next morning. I came out of the studio, completely satisfied. I found Mani Ratnam and singer Minimini waiting there. I didn’t realize then that they were waiting to compose a song which would go on to become a world famous song!

I didn’t see Rahman making them wait, as a negative thing. It just showed his sincerity and his dedication to complete each work to complete satisfaction. I think, this dedication is what has taken him to such great heights.”

When Roja released, it swept everyone like a storm. Many years back, Illayaraja’s song “Machaanai Paatheengala” created a wave in the industry. After many years, Rahman managed a similar feat with his “Chinna Chinna Aasai”.

Rahman totally changed the way music was composed too. He didn’t have a separate conductor and arranger, and didn’t write down notes for the instrumentalists.

He completely knows each person’s talent. He gives them complete freedom, and made them sing/play independently, and picks and chooses the best out of those and completes his recordings. The singers and the instrumentalists are usually in the dark as to which one of the pieces performed by them would be chosen by Rahman. He works like a talented weaver, weaving in multiple layers and multiple colours.

Right from Rahman’s early days, Sound engineer H.Sridhar was Rahman’s right hand. The recent death of this extremely talented technician affected Rahman deeply. Along with Rahman, he created many technology revolutions in sound recordings. He once remarked about Rahman’s music – “I knew Rahman even before Roja happened. We would often meet and discuss about the new developments in recording technology and music trends.

According to me his secret of success is that he considers each song as his first song. He would retire to his prayer room before recording for a song. We would be astonished to see him completely fresh and totally charged up after the prayer. I’ve never seen him as a dictator. He would always respects the creativity of his singers and instrumentalists.

During the recordings, he wouldn’t talk much with the instrumentalists. He would move out after explaining the basic idea, and they would play freely. He would record everything, and use the best of those. ‘We shouldn’t rely on just the technology. There should be soul in the music’, he would often say.”

Rahman is a techno-junkie. If you give him the latest headphone, within minutes he would open it up in to parts and understand how it functions! The same eagerness flowed on to his musical side, and made him keep thinking on how to make recordings sound better.

After Roja, a majestic musical garden bloomed up for him.

Article Credits to Vikatan Magazine. Original article was published in Tamil and was exclusively translated to english by Aravind AM.