Sufism and Scottish pipes: Rahman's musical recipe
If you have heard the score of Jodhaa Akbar at the dargah of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer, you will know why AR Rahman has named his new music institute, KM Music Conservatory. It has been named after the great mystic.
The institution is not intended to cater to the needs of the film industry, though this may be its first objective. The conservatory is also expected to add a new dimension to popular Indian music.
The composer wants this music to acquire a global dimension with the help of a host of world-renowned mentors he has lined up to teach his school with a difference.
Also a devotee of the Sufi saint of Nagore, Kandoori Meeran Baba, Rahman is hoping to weave a magic of mysticism and music not only for his Indian following but also for his worldwide fans.
"We are a nation of more than one billion people. India is great in cricket, in IT (information technology), but what is our world standing in music?" he asked. India, he noted ruefully, accounted for just 0.6 per cent of the world's popular music sales.
India's music industry is worth Rs.7 billion and has suffered losses of up to Rs 20 billion over the past five years.
Rahman asked: "We are a great musical nation, but do we look at music as a profession?" Unveiling the plans for the conservatory, he answered his own question, "No, not yet."
He added: "The idea that music can and in some instances should be a lifetime's work is not widely accepted".
"In India, in many culture zones, people think of music as a pleasant aside or as a skill to enhance matrimonial prospects, and not as a professional goal," Rahman said.
"It is the best thing that could have happened to Indian music at this time. We all know how hard-working Rahman is," said L. Subramaniam, one of the contemporary greats in Carnatic music.
The violin virtuoso will head the Carnatic department at the conservatory. "China, Japan and (South) Korea have not only become more sensitive to their own ancient traditions but have also opened their ears to what is happening in other parts of the world," Rahman noted.
He however regretted: "Comparatively, India has remained culturally inward-looking and, on the whole, uninterested in music - whether traditional, classical or more widely commercial - of other cultures."
"Unfortunately, the quality and level of music-making in the country in general demonstrate this view of music all too well," the maestro said. Rahman comes from a family of classical musicians and has trained and still trains rigorously.
"I am still learning" is his favourite sentence. "I was pushed into music," he said, "but this need not be the case with other musically-inclined young people."
The conservatory would carry a message of hope for them. The institution will give as much importance to instrumental music as to the vocal. It cannot but do so under Rahman, who has shown what synthesisers, Scottish pipes and drums of diverse kinds can do to India's popular music.
Music technology will also find a major place in the curriculum of the conservatory. The institution is collaborating with the Audio Media Education, an Apple-authorised training centre, for instrumental and vocal training for both Indian and Western genres.
Ghulam Mustafa Khan and his sons will "mentor" the department of Hindustani music and Srinivas Krishnan of the Global Rhythms Ensemble will be associated with the institution, which already has 150 enrolments.
Rahman's conservatory can make music-lovers with a long memory hum the lines from an enchanting qawwali in Garam Hawa of 1973, addressed to Moinuddin Chisti: Aayee nayee baharein, badhne lagee phuwwarein,/Aaqa Salim Chisti, Maula Salim Chisti (New springs have come, and fountains have begun to gush,/Lord Salim Chisti, Master Salim Chisti).