Guitars, ghatams, tablas, trombones and trumpets played second fiddle to Ar Rahman on Sunday at the Times of India Changing Notes concert. Chennai’s most musical son performed for a 50,000-strong audience in his hometown after years. “I can’t remember the last time he performed live,” said one fan, keeping a wary eye on a policeman with a wicked-looking lathi. And Rahman himself started the show saying, “I haven’t heard sound and cheering like this in at least two years.”
Eager fans turned up on the St. George’s school grounds as early as 4 pm on Sunday evening, to “catch places” in the front rows. Shouts of “Rahman-Rah-Rah” filled the air and the excited audience waved posters, phootgraphs and sketches of Rahman. A bright green and red “Thank you Times of India” poster was waved around. Even the normally-staid VVIPs let their hair down to cheer and screech. The fashionably late found themselves standing in the aisles until accommodating organizers brought in more chairs.
The songs were as thoughtfully ordered as they were chosen. Rhythm alternated with melody, classical with rap and rock. Rahman opened the show and then retreated behind his keyboard, with a polite “Enjoy yourself, I’m gonna play now.” The tempo built up as Shankar Mahadevan took over from him with ‘Kadal Ilaiyo’, and Hariharan followed with ‘Vaji Vaji Sivaji’. Kartik had the audience roaring with the rock-based ‘Enakoru Girlfriend Venum’ from ‘Boys’, and then the calm Jaaved Ali appeared to soothe the audience with ‘Jashn-e-Bahaara’ from ‘Jodhaa Akbar’.
There were some wonderful oldworld moments capturing Chennai’s ability to blend the classical and the contemporary.The Times of India Changing Notes concert saw a blend of the old and new.
Nithyashree sang ‘Kannodu Kanbathellam’ while Sivamani was on the drums and a musician on a nadaswaram accompanied Nithyashree who performed seated on the floor in Carnatic style. In the final moments, Rahman brought the crowd cheering and surging forward with ‘Humma Humma’. The finale saw the composer closing with a soulful ‘Vande Mataram’. With the grounds packed to capacity and thousands waiting outside the gates hoping that they would get a chance to sneak in, Rahman even apologized to “the 20,000 people who couldn’t watch my show…I promise I will have a show again and everyone who wants to watch will find a place.” The show’s sponsors were TVS, Olympia, United India and SAE College