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Acclaimed guitarist Prasanna has had the honor of collaborating with the legendary film composer A.R. Rahman several times over the past three decades. Rahman has risen to international notoriety for his innovative, genre-bending scores that have captivated critics and audiences alike. Below, Prasanna shares stories of his experiences with Rahman and how the composer’s work has inspired a special performance at the Rubin Museum.

A Surprise Phone Call

Circa 1992, on Diwali day, I got a surprise phone call from A.R. Rahman. “Hey, what’re you doing this afternoon? Want to come by and record something?” I knew A.R. from a session we did in the studio a year before”¦but that was pre-Roja, the film that made him a star. I burst my last set of firecrackers, got my fix of gulab jamun and other Diwali goodies, grabbed the nearest auto rickshaw and got to the studio! Looking at my electric guitar, A.R. asked “Didn’t bring your classical guitar?” When I told him I didn’t have one, he offered me one of his own but told me I would have to change the strings. Next thing I knew, I was recording a song—my first and most special one—”July Matham” from the Tamil film Puthiya Mugam. It went on to become a big hit and a guitar cult favorite.

“July Matham” from Puthiya Mugam

Over a decade later in May 2013, I caught up with A.R. at his home in Chennai. We chatted about life for a bit and just as I was leaving—almost like an afterthought—he asked, “What are you doing next few weeks? Want to do something with me for MTV Coke Studio [a music television series]? Sivamani is also there. It will be like old times.” Of course, I did and we had a blast.

“Aao Balma” – A.R Rahman, Padmabhushan Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan – Coke Studio @ MTV

Rahman’s Creative Process

I have learned a lot from A.R.’s relaxed and organic working methods. He sets up an intuitive framework in the collaborative process that brings out the best in both of us.

One such instance was the recording of the Punjabi folk-tinged “Patakha Guddi” from the 2014 film Highway. With the help of his engineer Sivakumar, I was adding my live guitar takes to the song based on A.R.’s demo guitar parts. A.R. wasn’t there. Just when I thought I was done, he walked in and said, “Let’s jam a bit.” I cranked up the distortion, he started playing bass lines on his keyboard and we were enjoying ourselves wailing away against a drum track he just made up. The riffs started getting more refined and at one point he said, “Let’s record this!” How this indulgent heavy metal interlude from nowhere found its way beautifully into that song was just magical.

“Patakha Guddi” from Highway

Intuition, creative thrust and a willingness to turn a nascent idea into something special, stand as defining qualities of A.R’s music making. I saw them in action once again when we recorded “Desi Thoughts” for the Disney film Million Dollar Arm. A.R. added interesting FX to my guitar and encouraged me to improvise over a Carnatic Raga along with him. Since we already finished recording the other cues for the film, I thought this was just a fun jam. When I saw the film, I was quite amazed – it was there in full, unedited and even made it to the soundtrack CD!

“Desi Thoughts” from Million Dollar Arm

A Special Performance at the Rubin

I have shared my personal experiences with you to bring you closer to understanding A.R’s synergetic approach. In this concert, I want to give you a ringside view of that process. It gives me a great opportunity to present some of his songs and reinterpret them in a way that feels natural and Rahman-esque!

Join Prasanna on April 15 at the Rubin for an intimate concert inspired by A.R. Rahman.

Prasanna is the world’s most acclaimed guitarist in Carnatic music. He was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by H.H. Jayendra Saraswathi and was voted among the top 50 creative Indians by Open Magazine. Prasanna holds the distinction of being one of three Indians who have scored music for Oscar-winning films, besides Ravi Shankar and A.R. Rahman. Prasanna has performed with rock icons Jordan Rudess, Alex Skolnick and Dweezil Zappa, jazz luminaries Joe Lovano, Vijay Iyer and Esperanza Spalding and Indian legends Illayaraja, Hari Prasad Chaurasia and A.R. Rahman.