The Billboard Q&A: A.R. Rahman

Before sweeping the 2009 music Oscars, the composer chatted about his "Slumdog Millionaire" score, working with M.I.A. and more.

Composer A.R. Rahman might not be a household name in the United States quite yet, but he's one of most well-known musicians in his native India, where his musical scores appear in a host of films every year.

He's well on his way to breaking through in the West, though, with his Golden Globe win for best original score for the film "Slumdog Millionaire," as well as three Oscar nominations. The soundtrack, which features M.I.A. on several songs, was released digitally Nov. 25 and physically Dec. 23 by Interscope.

"O Saya" is one of the two A.R. Rahman tracks nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar

Rahman got his start writing music for Indian TV ads in the early 1990s and switched to film, composing several soundtracks a year. In 2002, Andrew Lloyd Webber commissioned him to write the music for the play "Bombay Dreams," which ran in London's West End. Billboard spoke to Rahman about his Golden Globe victory and plans for the future.

Do you feel your Golden Globe win represents a step forward for Indian music in the U.S.? Do you anticipate more Americans will begin to seek out Indian music?

I think it's probably the first major breakthrough, and it will create a bridge between the audiences. With the film winning so many awards and getting so much attention, I think it will lead to a crossover and more people exploring Indian music.

I also think M.I.A had something to do with it. It was great timing, because her song became such a hit right before the soundtrack was released.

Many people in the States who do know about Indian music think that it is mainly Bollywood-style, up-tempo compositions, when in fact, India has a rich musical diversity. Is it your intention to try to introduce Americans to different genres of Indian music?

The win is such a blessing in disguise. Bollywood music is definitely a big part of Indian music, and can be a great way to introduce people to the sound. But I hope to continue to incorporate other types of Indian music into my work.

Lots of Hollywood scores have a similar, very orchestral sound and feel, but "Slumdog Millionaire" is very poppy. Do you see your victory as a sign that filmmakers want a more modern sound in a score?

The fact that you say the feel of "Slumdog" is different is a great compliment. I felt so good at the [Golden Globes] ceremony because I was there with Peter Gabriel and Sting and Hans Zimmer, all people I respect and admire so much. I think what directors want is good music, not one sort of sound.

Are you planning on releasing your own work, not connected to any film, at some point? How would you release it?

I'm not signed to any label, and I am planning on releasing music on my own label at some point. I don't know when I'll be able to do it, because things are a little busy right now (laughs).

What do you have coming up in 2009?

I have lots of movie soundtracks, including the soundtrack to a film called "The 19th Step." I usually work on a film soundtrack for two years, turning in a song every few months, and that keeps my creative energy high, because I'm constantly rotating projects. The trick is to make sure I don't work too hard and get exhausted. I'm also planning some collaborations with some interesting people, but they are confidential for now.

Billboard's Oscar Music Section


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