The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Magic, fireworks, Rahman rhythm
- Debut concert wows 80,000 with hits and local touch

Calcutta, Feb. 1: Eighty-thousand spectators, 56,000 watts of sound, over 70 musicians, dozens of dancers, 10 singers, one winner — the rhythm of a man they all call Rahman.

He appeared in a shower of white and gold. As a dazzling curtain of sparks came down, Allah Rakha Rahman stood in the spotlight, at his Yamaha keyboard, playing the first notes of his first live concert in India.

He disappeared in a blaze of muted glory. As the 90-by-70 feet stage filled up with performers, Allah Rakha Rahman stood in the spotlight, mike to mouth, playing the last notes of his first live concert in India.

Between Don’t worry Kolkata, and Jana Gana Mana, between the fiery entry and the final bow, The Telegraph A.R. Rahman’s Unity of Light concert — presented by Hero Honda, in association with Emami Beauty Secrets by Madhuri, supported by ITC Sonar Bangla and National Insurance — had set the Salt Lake stadium alight, quite literally. Living up to the theme unifying the seven colours that form light and the seven notes that make music, the entire stadium was bathed in the light of paper mashaals held aloft in the stands as the sound of Rahman and Sukhwinder’s Chhaiya, Chhaiya cast a magic spell.

After a brief delay, having been held up in a concert-bound traffic snarl on the EM Bypass, Rahman could do no wrong for three-and-a-half hours. The man in black overcoat won ’em over with a local touch at the very beginning. “I was told that Calcutta is the best place to have my first concert. So here we are,” he said. “Kolkata, Kolkata, don’t worry Kolkata… Aamra tomari Kolkata,” he sang.

And the response to the man and his music was deafening. Enough to make the maestro softly remark at the end of the first of his 10 concerts around the world: “I am overwhelmed by the response. The people of Calcutta were fantastic. I couldn’t have hoped for a more encouraging start.”

The theme of music as a unifying force extended beyond just the name of the evening extravaganza.

“Music doesn’t have a religion. It doesn’t have any of the harmful things man possesses today,” said the melody-maker. In London he had met Rashid, the guitarist who shared the stage with him, tonight. Rashid, a jazz player who had told Rahman he liked his music and was welcomed to the world tour, sang the wordless intro to Ooh la la la… before handing it over to Rahman and "the rapper" Blaze. Later, Rahman and Rashid teamed up for a Bombay Dreams number.

With an array of artistes who have sung to Rahman's tunes over the years popping in and out, the line-up was formidable – S.P. Balasubramanayam, Sonu Nigam, Hariharan, Udit Narayan, Sukhwinder Singh, Shankar Mahadevan, Sadhana Sargam, Mahalaxmi Iyer and Vasundhara Das (referred by Rahman as the "most happening singers" around). But all eyes – and ears -- were on one man.

“Magician” and “music maestro” is what Pawan Munjal, managing director Hero Honda, had to say about the composer during a felicitation at the halfway mark of the concert. But that was only a brief pause in the roller-coaster ride of the top chartbusters of the past decade. The love anthem – Roja. The peppy number – Radha kaise na jale. The rabble rouser – Humma, Humma. The tribute to cricket, Bollywood-style – Mitwa. The ode to the nation – Bharat humko jaan se pyaara hai (with Rahman starting off on a giant piano before returning to the keyboard in his 'studio').

At a pause, while Rahman was tinkering with his keys and running his hand, yet again, through his sweat-soaked mop of unruly hair, “Vande Mataram” was a solitary cry that rose from a dark corner of the crowded stadium. The call was answered over an hour later, but it was well worth the wait.

"What, I can't hear you," smiled the maestro, as the cry for Vande Mataram reached a crescendo. As if on cue, a burst of fireworks lit up the night and the stage was set for Rahman to rock to his own rhythm. Ma Tujhe Salaam he sang, in the middle of the stage, the Tricolour flying high on the giant screen above, as mother Kareema clapped and the crowds stood to salute the keyboard king.

They remained on their feet as Jana Gana Mana filled the February night. Clearly, the rhythm of Rahman rules.

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