My life is an A R Rahman musical, okay.
I’m almost completely convinced that his every song is actually inspired by and written perfectly for a particular conjunction of my otherwise dreary existence. So you can trust that I wouldn’t take a Rahman listicle lightly — especially not one that’s a birthday tribute.
A great Rahman cover, in my opinion, should contain a mix of these magic ingredients:
- The right song (Transform something man, don’t just take the most obvious ones)
- Spectacular arrangements (Experimentation is what makes covers fun)
- Edgy vocals (There’s no point mimicking the original playback singer)
- Maintaining essence (Why would they leave out that crazy bass line?)
- SOUL (MAKE ME FEEL THINGS, O MIGHTY COVER)
Are you ready?
PS: If you’ve only listened to Rahman’s hindi compositions, it’s super important that you don’t skip the odd-sounding ones. Tamil Rahman = real Rahman. Give it a shot!
# 10: Snehithane—Masala Coffee
Thought I’d start of with something simple and easy. While this cover isn’t fall-off-your-seat amazing, it does its job, and does it well. The transition into Kannathil Muthamittal is seamless (should this come with a spoiler alert??) and they’ve got the right groove. Pass mark for this one. Add to playlist.
#9 : Aaromale—Renaissance the Band | Put Chutney
Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya (Ekk Deewana Tha) is one of my favourite new-age Rahman albums. Aaromale is a track that sticks out like a sore thumb—and I mean that in the best way possible. This cover gets props for changing up the groove a little, without ruining the original feel.
The male vocals are a little tired, especially compared to singer Alphons’ original style. But I come back every time just for Sofia Ashraf (badass Tamil rapper) who absolutely lands it, despite having such a small part.
#8: Humma Humma—Benny Dayal & Funktuation
Does anyone get Rahman better than Benny Dayal?
“Humma Humma” can easily be called a 90s Indian anthem — the tune is just that catchy. Do you think maybe I only added this list because I’m still recovering from the travesty that is the new OK Jaanu version? Naww, it’s probably Benny’s raw energy that scored him the spot. Minus marks for removing the little bass riff from the beginning, but pity marks for making up for it later.
#7: Maahi Ve—Masala Coffee
This song from Highway (2014) got me through some tough times, so my standards were set pretty darn high when I first clicked play. I’ve gotta say, I was pleasantly surprised by this version. I was more than amused by the singer’s subtle teases towards Rahman’s way of articulating his words (adorbz, imo). The guy’s got a lot of spunk, so extra points to him.
#6: Urvasi Urvasi—Dodo Crew
Urvasi Urvasi has got to be one Rahman’s most genius compositions; a groove like no other, and soundtrack to most of my childhood. Instead of ruining it (I will never forgive you, Will.I.Am), Dodo Crew decide do a completely rocked-out version, and it’s pretty damn fun. Enjoy!
#5: Kandukondein Kandukondein—Harmonize Projekt 2
Ah, now we get to the good stuff. This cover is so old, yet so fresh that I can still recall the harmonies from memory. I don’t enjoy listening to the original as much as this one.
Kandukondein… is a simple, classic tune, and this version stays true to that. Just four beautiful voices and a bass guitar. Sigh.
#4: Jiya Jale—Berklee Indian Ensemble
Is there any doubt that this would make it to the top half of the list? Until BIE’s version came out, I liked “Jiya Jale” the way I like a distant Aunt — half out of obligation and half out a very platonic fondness, but nothing beyond. This cover truly does give the original a new life. I shall say nothing more; see for yourself.
#3: Adiye / At Last—Harshitha, Prithvi Chandrasekhar, Naveen Kumar, Allwyn
You might recognize this singer from a couple of videos on this list, and that’s because SHE’S A STAR. Now a part of the Berklee Indian Ensemble, Harshitha Krishnan is a vocalist from Chennai — one I’ve been fangirling for years, now. Her rendition of the groovy AF Adiye (from Kadal, also a favourite album) is memorable, to say the least.
Check out how she slays “At Last” in an equally effortless way:
#2: Kun Faya Kun—Berklee Indian Ensemble
Unfortunately for me, I was in my office the first time I heard this rendition — which obviously meant that my colleagues watched me as I burst into tears. A beautiful adaptation of an age-old Qawwali, Kun Faya Kun is really one of those tunes that can touch your soul.
The BIE nailed this one with their powerful chorus, but what really moves me every time is watching performers from all over India and the world belt out this sufi song like it’s second nature. Just take a look at the long, impressive list of credits. That’s the kinda thing that makes me patriotic right there. Not this shit.
Oh, and would you look at that, I’m crieing agen. ;_;
#1: Khwaja—Thaikkudam Bridge
I refuse to write anything about this experience. Please plug in your headphones and tell me this doesn’t deserve the No.1 spot.
I’m actually very, very sad to be at the end of this article. My team is pretty pissed that I indulged in writing a listicle for 6 hours—but, oh well. It was worth it.
Happy birthday, A R Rahman!
Your contribution to modern music is unmatched. And I’m truly grateful to have been alive during your reign. Thank you!