Dileep used to take musical instruments to recording studios and rent them out. Among those instruments was a keyboard, his dad got from Singapore, which attracted him. The digital sound produced by it was so fresh. Dileep would anxiously discuss with friends on why such reproduce that sharp sound couldn’t be reproduced in recordings here. That was the time when a revolution was happening in “sound” in the west.

In those days, Bangalore was the place for music shops. Whenever they could find time, Rahman and his friends went to Bangalore to get their favourite western songs recorded on cassettes.

That was when 12year old Dileep got interested in digital music and audiography. Actually, he never had an intention of becoming a composer. His ambition was to become a good sound engineer.

“For me, in those days, music was just a profession and way to earn money the family. I was not crazy about music. I was interested only in technology. I couldn’t remove my eyes from the keyboard. That looked like a magical toy for me”, says Rahman.

Dileep didn’t just stop with playing the keyboard. He opened it up and understood how each sound was produced – all on his own. “Do you know who is India’s prime minister? Go out of music a bit, and learn other things too”, Guitarist John Anotny once told Rahman with love. And Rahman’s reply for that – just a smile!

In those days, Dileep considered keyboard as something which brought together music and modern technology. This magical toy was what took him to incredible heights!

A musician named Raghavan, used to be someone who could answer any question and clarify any doubt regarding the keyboard. He was also a hardware engineer. If Dileep couldn’t sort out any issue with his keyboard, it was Raghavan he would rush to, late at night, because Raghavan worked only in the nights. (Rahman’s style of working at nights could have been because of Raghavan’s influence too!) Rahman was fascinated with a new instrument called the Rhythm box, which Raghavan had. He was stunned by the fresh new sounds that the Rhythm box produces.

Apart from Guitar, Dileep was trained in Guitar too. “When I come back home from school, loud sounds of electric guitar and keyboard could be heard from our house. Dileep would be playing beautifully. I wouldn’t even change from my uniform, and would stand there listening to him. He would put headphones on to my ears and say ‘Listen to it now. It would be even better’. He would play hit songs like the funky Popcorn and songs from Lakshmikant-Pyarelal’s movie Hero”, says Raihanah.

The family slowly came out of the deep sorrow of Shekar’s death. As Dileep gradually became proficient with the keyboard, he was invited to play for the band named Aristocrat. That was a band started by children. Dileep started to play for that band, in several programs. Raihanah, too, was there in the band. Rahman’s keyboard program was a part of school annual day functions and weddings. “Our mom would quip ‘You can’t earn much in these shows. There would hardly be anything left, if you consider the expenses’, and we would just smile it off!”, adds Raihanah.

After that, Dileep got a chance to perform on TV. Many of you could recollect young Dileep with dense curly hair, playing keyboard on the 80’s hit show Wonder Balloon on Doordarshan. After that, Dileep joined a band called Roots. That was the next stage of his musical journey.

His childhood friend from those days, is none other than the drummer who goes on world tours and rocks the entire world, Sivamani.

Sivamani who is now rocking the stadiums in South Africa, as the official drummer of Chennai Super Kings IPL team, remembers those beautiful days. “When we were kids, I and my friends Dileep, John Antony, Jojo and Raja, formed a band called Roots. We would experiment with anything from western classical to the music of our land.

Melody is normally referred to as laya, and beats as Taala. Rahman was a master in both, even from those days. Sorry, he was Dileep then! I’m now renowned world over only because of the opening that he gave me. I’ve played for many songs for many famous composers like MS Viswanathan and Ilayaraja. But the movie titles and cassette covers never had my name. Rahman was the first to do it. He is very generous with honouring and crediting fellow musicians”, says Sivamani.

Working with musicians like Sivamani, was a new experience for Rahman too. Gradually, his interest in composing began to grow. Through friends in Roots, he became exposed to genres like Rock, Pop, Jazz and RAP. Slowly, the popularity of Roots started spreading in music circles. One day, Dileep got a call from world-renowned violinist, L. Shankar – “Can you play backup for my band, Epidemics?” Dileep was elated that such a luminary was inviting him, and immediately accepted the offer.

Dileep played keyboards for L.Shankar in stage-shows in Chennai and Bangalore. All these, proved to be great new experiences for him. The shows were a big success. Later, L.Shankar told Dileep, “I know you from when you were a small kid. Your house was next to mine, in Mylapore. All this was incredible for Dileep, everything was like a dream!

Though Roots experimented and tried out new things, they could not sustain financially, and the band was dissolved. In this scenario, Dileep had to still earn to sustain his family. Since, Dileep’s keyboard prowess was well known in the film music industry, he started getting offers immediately from film composer. He grabbed those opportunities and drowned himself into his new job. For the next nine years, Dileep spent all his time playing for film music recordings and concerts.

“We didn’t have advanced technology in those days. All of us in the orchestra would play together. Even if one person makes a mistake, all of us have to play everything right from the start. I’m a fan of legends like MS Viswanathan and KV Mahadevan. They often say, ‘Old wine is always better’. So, we will wait until the new wine (of today) too matures and becomes old wine”, says Rahman with a chuckle.

An idea struck Rahman that he should independently set up a hi-tech recording studio on par with those in the west. This required loads of money. And to earn that, required non-stop effort.

In those days, drugs ruled most of the musicians worldwide. Several wonderful musicians like John Cash, Freddy Mercury and the band Beatles were caught in the clasp of drugs and lost it out.

“Does music get created only in an intoxicated mindset? I used to wonder if good music can’t be created without getting ‘high’. But, right before my eyes, was a composer. He gave great music, but didn’t have any drug habits. Instead, he was deeply rooted to spirituality. I decided then, that I should follow his footsteps”, says Rahman.

Who’s that composer? Who else? Maestro Ilayaraja.

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