In a concert filled with predominantly music-mad Indian expats at the Coca Cola Arena, Dubai, on Friday night, music maestro AR Rahman knew how to close rousingly.
When he began singing ‘Maa Tujhe Salaam’ from his 1995 seminal album ‘Vande Mataram’, thousands of his fans stood up from their seats without any cue feeling deeply patriotic for their homeland.
Their lit-up phones transformed the arena into a candle-light vigil and the chorus were those imperfect, but passionate voices from the audience. If that moment — organic, transcendental and goose bump fuelled — could be bottled and sold, you have a winner that would never lose its fizz or appeal.
AR Rahman was at his fantastical best this weekend. Like his sparkly, sequinned-studded jackets, his songs shone bright.
“Amazing! Enjoy your show” was his first succinct acknowledgement to his cheering fans as he wove his way from the crowd insulated by beefy guards like a rock star onto the stage and sang his enduring hits like ‘Aaja Nachle’ and ‘Muqabla Muqabla’.
It took the maestro some time to warm up though, judging by the giant LED screens that captured his every expression. Looking visibly discomfited, it took him some time to get into groove and once he did there was no looking back.
His compositions and definitive hits have this insane power to evoke memories of friendship, first love or heartbreak. So when he sang the college anthem ‘Mustafa Mustafa’ or ‘Dil Se’, a romantic song about love in all its complicated glory, it transported you to that emotional plain and gave you a high that only an effectively delivered song can.
Barring the psychedelic LED screens with moving images to reflect a song’s mood and a few perfectly synchronised dancers, the onstage histrionics and showmanship were limited. The spotlight was on his voice that struck a chord.
It wasn’t just the Grammy and Academy winner Rahman who floored us. Singers included the quirky and wildly eccentric Benny Dayal, the effortlessly versatile Jonita Gandhi (who dominated the show alongside Rahman) and Andrea Jeremiah who gave a cracking rendition of the hit ‘Chandralekha’. Singers Javed Ali — who sang ‘Kehne Ko Jashne Bahaara Hai’ from the hit film ‘Jodha Akbar’ with aplomb — and Ranjit Barot were the perfect foil for lead singer Rahman.
But the true surprise of the evening was Rahman calling on stage British singer Sami Yusuf.
“Everywhere around the world, everyone would say I should work with him and finally I did … He’s a superstar,” said Rahman as he brought the popular singer on stage. There seemed to be a divine connection between them as he sang their collaboration ‘Light Upon Light’.
The bond that Rahman nurtured wasn’t limited to this singer.
In less than three hours, the widely-revered icon managed to cultivate a shared experience with his fans where the only language spoken was music and songs.