This review originally appeared on the Songlines website.
AR Rahman returned to London to perform his Greatest Hits
Photos by Nicky Kelvin
London’s O2 Arena was abuzz with anticipation – it was Indian Independence Day and one of the country’s most prolific composers was in town for the first time in five years to perform his greatest hits. Before the concert there were film screenings, Indian street food stalls and free dancing lessons – I’m pretty sure I nailed the ‘Jai Ho’ choreography like a pro, though pictures might suggest otherwise. It made for a great day out, but it was the evening’s performance that I was particularly looking forward to.
Rahman is known for his brilliant fusion of Indian classical and electronic music. He has scored an unbelievably long list of films and won countless awards, including two Oscars – Best Original Score and Best Original Song – for Slumdog Millionaire. A musical genius he may be, but unfortunately Rahman had all the stage presence of a man coerced into singing karaoke, especially when he left the refuge of his piano to sing at the front of the stage, reading the lyrics from his iPad. Beyond the set, which was very well designed, and Rahman’s various glittery outfits, there wasn’t much else of the glitz and glamour of Bollywood to be found in the performance. There was a single dancer who made a couple appearances throughout the night, but more importantly the atmosphere fell short of the ostentatiousness of Bollywood. The guest playback singers including Javed Ali, Karthik, Haricharan, Jonita Gandhi and Hriday Gattani didn’t have a lot more charisma, though Neeti Mohan managed show some feisty attitude for the rockier tunes.
There was definitely an impressive range of music on show – from beautiful, acoustic qawwali to songs that definitely channeled hard-core metal. And yet, it is a shame that his two biggest hits (at least for his UK audiences), ‘Jai Ho’ and ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’, only made very brief appearances in an odd encore medley. All in all there was some excellent music on show, but it fell a bit short of expectations.
However, the after party at the O2’s Brooklyn Bowl with DJ sets from Panjabi Hit Squad and Raj & Pablo definitely managed to redeem the evening – I even managed to show off a couple of my moves from the dance class!