When I first heard that A.R.Rahman was going to be part of MTV Coke Studio Season 3, I was skeptical, because, in here, you need to present a piece of music that instantly connects with a listener. Given the track record of A.R.Rahman, though his compositions are hailed as masterpieces weeks later, first few days after the release, they were always criticized. I am mostly convinced that this phenomenon of A.R.Rahman songs growing after multiple listening is because of the short attention span of the music listeners these days. However, with Rahman relentlessly dishing out songs that break conventions, with quirky melody patterns, even if sometimes they are just superficial like song structure, I can understand where they come from when they say the song grows on multiple listening.
A.R.Rahman’s melodies these days don’t flow in an expected path. The game that Rahman plays with listeners in each and every song is so taxing and tiring initially, but once we understand the rules, we are sure to have fun. But, A.R.Rahman doesn’t have that luxury here, there is no time here for music growing and hitting someone, it has to touch, it has to hit, it has to evoke an emotion in the listener instantly. He has to do that with a totally new song, one that they have never heard before.
Ram Sampath nailed it to perfection with the show Satyameva Jayate, by having very strong melodies - straight from the heart, conventional, soul stirring, and minimal instrumental accompaniments. I am eagerly looking forward to Ram Sampath’s Coke Studio episode as well. Would ARR be able to do the same without compromising on his oath of unconventionality?
MTV Unplugged was much easier for A.R.Rahman, because all the songs performed were colossal hits and it was easy to engage the listeners with pleasantly surprising deviations from the original. MTV Unplugged, had a yet unreleased song Nenjukkulle, but Rahman pulled it off with panache, it was an instant chartbuster. When I first heard Zariya, all my doubts were thrown out of the window. If Zariya isn’t catchy and instantly engaging, then what is?
Most of the live music performances are about the musicians flaunting their virtuosity in playing an instrument, the way they can traverse or jump octaves with utmost ease and without going off anywhere while doing so. In the process, I feel the composition suffers a bit. A musicians’ mind works in improvisatory mode; there is nothing concrete, even after hours of rehearsals, something new might come up on the day of performance. A piece of music composed for a live performance, has to have significant parts for each or most of the instrumentalists playing in the band. Whether a particular composition (melody) demands all these instruments to drive the core emotion home is a question that a composer ought to ask.
Musicians, if you let them free, always tend to go overboard. This would certainly affect the tightness of a piece as whole. And the one who has an idea of the whole is the composer or music producer cum composer in this case, A.R.Rahman. You could see A.R.Rahman giving instructions to the instrumentalists in all those rehearsal videos and almost always he restricts them from playing something extra. Allowing the instrumentalists to do what they feel like and yet maintaining the core emotion of the composition and the tightness of the entire piece as a whole with no tentative or lazy moments - Very tough. With Zariya, I guess A.R.Rahman has struck that magical balance.
Live music needs a sense of drama, a slow beginning, a mid-tempo middle, an accelerated end, almost like a mini-symphony. Zariya fits this tempo curve perfectly. Structuring of the song is neat. Zariya seamlessly starts with a calm and serene, meditative Buddhist Traditional hymn, jumps to seductive Jordanian rhythms with classic Indian melody thrown in between. On the way, the piece throws multiple pleasant surprises at every little turn it takes between sections and genres. Surprise in a live performance – Rahman shows how to do when he starts playing on Fingerboard Continuum an addictive hook as a prelude to Rihada with Sivamani and Co at the percussion adding abundantly to the zing. Above all, what a piece needs is a central emotion and that is served by the Indian section with a set of angelic voices singing a soothing Indian melody. The moment the girls’ choir sings Zariya, it fills you with such warmth, like that of a hug of the one you love the most, and the hug here is just tight enough to embrace you ever so gently and not to choke or squeeze you with overt emotion. I wonder how A.R.Rahman does it, evoking an intense emotion with a tinge of lightness, without an iota of sentimentality.
Now that I have seen Zariya and teasers, my excitement levels have hit the roof now, can’t wait for Coke Studio 3 – A.R.Rahman’s episode, and Ram Sampath’s, and yeah, Amit Trivedi’s too. Wasn’t Amit Trivedi’s Yatra the best of all pieces in the last season of Coke Studio? That moment at the end when Sriram Iyer’s Carnatic sargams meets Yatra! Terrific stuff! Goosebumps I had when I watched it the first time!