Thursday 3 June 2010

A R Rahman Set to Dazzle North America - Article

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Burbank, California - With scores of dancers moving in unison atop trains, singing amid ancient ruins and running across cricket fields, the average Bollywood production is a grand spectacle.

Taking such a show on the road would seem to require significant downsizing. Not for A.R. Rahman (photo), who garnered worldwide exposure with his Oscar-winning score for the 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire.

The Indian composer is trying to orchestrate his own rise to international stardom by making his production even bigger: elaborate stage shows teeming with dancers, acrobats and high-tech lighting to dazzle audiences in massive concert venues across the Western hemisphere.

The tour begins on June 11 at New York’s Nassau Coliseum and wends through North America and Europe before ending at London’s Wembley Stadium in late July, with ticket prices for the roughly three-hour-long shows ranging from US$45 (S$63) to US$1,000.

Through the concerts, Rahman is attempting something many performers from outside the English-speaking world have tried and failed to do: transcend a regional, ethnic niche and become an international mainstream superstar.

‘My core audiences are from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Middle East, so after Slumdog Millionaire, we wanted audiences from the US and Europe,’ he said, seated in a vast rehearsal hall in an industrial part of the San Fernando Valley.

In a music scene dominated by lithe 20-something songstresses and frenetic hip-hop collectives, the soft-spoken 44-year-old, with his squat, sparkplug-shaped physique and shaggy coiffure, might seem an unlikely candidate for sustained Western pop stardom.

During an interview in a room dominated by a towering drum kit, he cast longing glances at the piano beside him, looking like he would rather be alone with the keyboard than at the centre of this frantic pre-tour bustle. ‘I’m an introvert, actually,’ he said, then corrected himself, ‘I was an introvert, rather.’

He is also rowing against a tide that has capsized other non-Western stars who attempted to find a place in a global pop pantheon dominated by European and American performers.

The Japanese singing duo Puffy had big plans when they played their first United States concerts at the beginning of the decade, but they got little for their troubles beyond a cease and desist letter from lawyers for Sean Combs, aka Puff Daddy.

And does anyone remember Rain, the Korean pop idol who planned to take on America with a tour and a supporting role in the 2008 action film Speed Racer?

But Rahman is off to a hopeful start.

His music is ubiquitous in his native India, where he is acclaimed for crafting moving movie music with global influences that appeal to contemporary Indian listeners for more than 100 films.

‘He has supplied the soundtrack for a whole generation,’ TV chef Padma Lakshmi wrote in an appreciation for Time magazine, which named Rahman one of the 100 most influential people of 2009.

Outside India, Rahman has played sold-out shows in ethnic Indian enclaves, while his percussion-driven score of plaintive crescendo-climbing wails and sultry warbles lured some 150,000 North American viewers to the 2001 film Lagaan, a nearly four-hour-long epic about cricket.

The success of the Slumdog soundtrack, which earned him two Academy Awards and two Grammys, has given him a platform to continue building his mainstream appeal.

‘People from all over the world really respond and resonate to his music,’ said John Beasley, the concert tour’s music director. He oversees the tour’s 20-person coterie of flautists, cellists, tambura-strummers, singers and other music-makers, some of whom have played with Lionel Richie, Fleetwood Mac and Alanis Morissette. Beasley himself is a veteran of Miles Davis’ musical entourage.

The show also includes four troupes of dancers, each of which will deploy an entirely different style of choreography.

All the while, a high-tech projection rig will throw 3-D renderings of the Himalayas, the Ganges River and the slums of Mumbai onto the stage.

The shows will also feature Cirque du Soleil acrobats, including a Mongolian contortionist who has reworked her act into a display of extreme Indian yoga.

‘It’s a merging of cultures,’ said the show’s artistic director Amy Tinkham, who has presided over tours for Britney Spears, Mariah Carey and other high-calibre acts. ‘It’s very East-meets-West in a very spectacular way.’

Associated Press


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