“India, so hot right now,” read the kinna gay text message Sadman sent me during last night’s Oscar’s broadcast. A.R. Rahman, or “A.R. Rrrrrrrachquman,” as Alicia Keys put it, was performing, his slumdog soundtrack and Indian dancers dwarfing the relative starpower of John Legend, whom my roommate perfectly, succinctly described as “frustrating.”
If India is hot right now, even though by our calendar India isn’t scheduled to blow up until 2011 – 2012, then allow us to provide you with this primer to A.R. Rahman. Dude’s been massive for like 15 years, not only in India but among Indians all over the world, from London to Chicago to Hong Kong to Khartoum.
When I was growing up in Wisconsin, an Indian in the Dairy Land, the only Indian music I heard came from the tape deck in my parents’ Voyager as we drove down to Chicago every few months. To me, Indian music was women who “sang like cats,” as my Polish babysitter used to say when she heard my family listening to folks songs of NE India; flute solos, and, in Bollywood movies, dated Western pop tropes like you used to find in the “Hip Hop” beat bank on your AA-powered Cassio keyboard. You know, like the guy who would shout “Alright!” and you could push the key repeatedly to make him go “A-A-A-A-All-Alright!”
It wasn’t until some time in high school, in the late ’90s, that I heard contemporary Bollywood music for the first time. I was in India watching Channel V and MTV India with my little cousins. All of a sudden I saw some beautiful video with incredible dancing and music that made me think for the first time ever that Indians might have the greatest pop music in the world (Sorry, Sweden). The song was Jia Jale. Its composer was A.R. Rahman.
Last night Rahman took home top honors for his soundtrack and score of Slumdog Millionaire. Perhaps the best part about the attention Rahman’s been getting lately is how upset it’s made Andrew Lloyd Webber who had hoped to capitalize on Rahman’s talent years earlier with “Bombay Dreams,” which did well in London but tanked on Broadway. Sorry, Andy, looks like another Brit’s going to get all the credit for plucking this dark ass coal of a coolie from the rough.
Below are some of my personal favorite A.R. Rahman songs. Now that Bollywood’s officially bad ass, which it’s been unofficially for about 10 years, bone up on Rahman deep cuts as you recolonize the culture of the East. Just kidding! Digg in.
Top 7 Vids after the Jump.
Jia Jale – Dil Se
Incredible video from the movie Dil Se, directed by Mani Ratnam. First time I saw it I was like, “Damn, this is how we do?” ‘pparently so. I may have also participated in a choreographed dance for this on the Piggy Wiggly stage at Asian Folk Fest on the Milwaukee Summer Fest grounds in like 2000. Vik, if you’re out there, “drive the car / drive the car.”
Rangeela Re – Rangeela
Think the first I heard this a bunch of Indian girls were doing a choreographed dance to a remix in college. It was toyt.
O Mitwa – Lagaan
This movie was India’s submission for a foreign film Oscar. I personally think Monsoon Wedding deserved the title, but whatever. This movie and this song were like India’s announcement to the world that Bollywood was for real about eating up your box office.
Isqu Bina – Taal
Nahin Saamne – Taal
Full disclosure, I had no friends in high school. One of the reasons is probably because I used to listen to the Taal soundtrack CD whenever I was in my car. I have no idea what the words to this song mean but damn I used to get misty listening to it driving past Kopps on Bluemound. One.
Chaiya Chaiya – Dil Se
Whatever, dude. Hands down, the greatest song and video of all time. When I saw this I was like, that’s it, Mani Ratnam, the director, is a God, and A.R. Rahman, the composer, he’s going to do big things one day.