We all know AR Rahman as the Oscar-winning composer, occasional singer and lyricist, a sought-after performer and reluctant interviewee and TV show judge. In the Amazon Prime show Harmony (available from August 15) he takes on new roles of host and interviewer. In the five-episode series, Rahman speaks to four artists from across India to get an understanding of their lesser-known musical tradition.
They include Mohi Baha’un-din Dagar, a rudra veena player in the dhrupad style, from Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra; Lourembam Bedabati Devi, a vocal practitioner of Khuilang Eshei, a vanishing folk song tradition from Manipur; Kalamandalam Sajith Vijayan, who plays and teaches mizhavu, a drum from Kerala; and Mickma Tshering Lepcha who plays Panthong Palith, a wooden flute from Sikkim. “The concept of the show is what intrigued me to immediately become a part of it,” said Rahman.
The man behind the format is popular Chennai-based production house Kavithalayaa’s Kandaswamy Bharathan, credited as Harmony’s producer and creator. Interestingly, it was Kavithalayaa that gave Rahman his big film break with Mani Ratnam’s Roja. Bharathan stated that the company’s research team spent almost a year to identify the sounds that should be showcased on the show. “We were looking for good stories behind the instruments — the making of it, musicians narrating how the tradition is passed on, the history…,” said Bharathan, adding that having Rahman brings credence to the show. “He goes and discovers these sounds and then says they can be used, explored and are relevant,” said Kandaswamy. “He asks why have we not looked at these sounds all these years?”
Harmony’s aim is as much to celebrate India’s diversity in music as it is to highlight the challenges the musicians face as they struggle to keep the ancient tradition alive. “They are not sure whether their own kids and the generation after would be interested in taking up music,” said Bharathan. Furthermore, “Because the instruments are not very popular there are few people who are willing to make it”. It creates a scenario in which the artist in some cases is burdened with the additional role of making the instrument apart from performing and teaching
Rahman travels to Navi Mumbai, Thrissur in Kerala, Sikkim and Manipur to listen to the stories of the artists in their own words, witness them in their daily environs and even spontaneously jam with them. “It’s not entirely scripted,” said Bharathan, “yet there’s a flow to it. Rahman asks questions; the musicians have the freedom to express themselves. There’s a certain consistency in quality to each episode.”
In the final episode, Rahman welcomes the musicians to his studio in Chennai and “uses his learnings and experiences to create (a) musical composition that uses the distinctive qualities of these musical traditions”. Said Rahman, “My aim, through the series, was to recreate sounds from traditional instruments from a contemporary perspective and dangerously improvise.” For Bharathan, the biggest success of Harmony will be that the four musical traditions flourish with its practitioners finding a new audience and more work.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)