'Can expect Billie Eilish in a Tamil song next': Singer Rakhesh Brahmanandan on Indian music going gobal

The music composer also talks about his affinity for Arabic music, Dubai as his 'second home', and why the soulful melodies created through human creativity cannot be replaced by AI


Somya Mehta

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Published: Mon 1 Jul 2024, 7:18 PM

Rakhesh Brahmanandan, renowned musician and actor from India, finds a second home in Dubai, a city where his artistic journey has flourished since his debut in 2007. Hailing from a lineage of music maestros, including his father and guru K P Brahmanandan, Rakhesh made his debut as a playback singer in Jayaraj's Malayalam film Anachandam (2006). Known for his soulful renditions, he has collaborated with music composers such as V. Dakshinamoorthy, Ilayaraja, and Raveendran, amassing credits for over 200 songs across five languages.

Beyond music, Rakhesh has embraced acting, debuting in the Tamil film FIR (2022), and excelled as a voice-over artist and television anchor, further expanding his multifaceted artistic footprint. In a recent conversation with City Times, he emphasised Dubai's role in nurturing high musical standards and his belief in the transformative power of independent music. The artiste also delves into the spiritual discipline of creativity, reflecting his deep-rooted passion for 'music with a soul', while expressing cautious optimism about artificial intelligence (AI)'s evolving role in music production.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

Q. How has your experience been so far in Dubai?

Dubai feels like my second home. I don't know why. I first came here in 2007 when I did my first movie in Malayalam. I was brought here for a show, and since then, I've been coming back frequently for various shows. It always feels like home to me.

Q. As an artiste, what catches your eye about the city?

I strongly believe that any artist, whether a singer or an actor, values appreciation for their art more than money. Of course, we need money. But if an artist is paid less but well appreciated for their work, he'd be happy. If he's paid well but not respected for his art, he'll be disappointed.

In Dubai, people are so educated, informed, and literate about music. The standards they keep are very high, whether it's independent music, cultural music, or any genre. They are well-informed, maybe because of the cosmopolitan nature here. People are exposed to many kinds of music.

Back in India, there's a limitation since India is very much into popular film-driven music. Apart from film songs, there is no strong music stream. Yes, we can talk about Carnatic music, but compared to the ratio of film music consumption, it's not consumed as widely. Now it is changing, with many bands and independent artistes coming to the fore. But when you observe closely, there are always film elements associated with them. The independent music scene in India is yet to come into full-fledged stage. We can’t compare it to the West, where there is only an independent music scene.

Q. So, in your view, independent music is where new genres can emerge and genuine creativity can flourish?

Definitely, and it's not just limited to bands. It can happen in any Carnatic concert. Nowadays, there are a lot of experimental approaches within traditional Carnatic and Hindustani music. Have you listened recently to devotional songs in North India being presented in a rock version? They are widely accepted. We don't have to stick to the tabla, dhol, harmonium, and just chant mantras. That's why I have my band. I can bring in a Carnatic music phrase, mix it with some genres of Western music, and layer it with some Rajasthani folk. That’s how we can innovate.

There's a pan-India movie movement happening now, bringing content from different parts of India together. Do you think there could also be a pan-India music trend emerging, where music from the north, south, east, and west is blended together?

I would like to take it further, considering the global music scene that's developing. You can see artists like Akon coming and singing Hindi songs. Do people enjoy that? Yes, we all love it. Recently, Ed Sheeran singing in Punjabi with Diljit Dosanjh took the Internet by storm. We might even expect Billie Eilish in a Tamil song shortly (laughs). So, we can expect it to be pan-Indian, but I believe Indian music is going global.

Q. Do you see yourself collaborating with Arabic musicians, perhaps from the UAE? What aspects of Arabic music spark your creativity?

I would love to work with Arabic musicians because I have a deep appreciation for Arabic music, thanks to my dad. He was a legendary singer and a key figure in Malayalam music, and he loved Arabic music. He introduced me to it because, when he visited Dubai, he would bring back cassettes. We found that Arabic music was very close to our ragas, such as Vakulabharanam and Sindhu Bhairavi. We were amazed by the similarities to Carnatic compositions and phrasings. This connection really captivated us, and I would love to experiment with some musicians here and create a video that blends Carnatic and Arabic music.

Q. You have worked very closely with the Malayalam film industry, much like your father did. The films from that part of India stand out within the country’s broader cinematic landscape for their high quality. In your observation, what is their key strength?

I can simply say that they are more in touch with what it means to be human. They truly understand the pain and the vivid emotions that people experience, which allows them to get to the core of their stories and narrate them effectively. Nowadays, we live in a world full of distractions. We often don't take the time to sit quietly, think creatively, or let ourselves be undistracted so that the universe can send us stories or musical phrases. My dad used to say in Malayalam, “Sangeetam is there in the antariksham”, meaning music is in the atmosphere. You just need to pick it up and phrase it; you don't have to create it because it's already there. The only requirement is to be pure enough to receive it.

K. P. Brahmanandan
K. P. Brahmanandan

Unfortunately, that's not happening now because, although phones are essential tools, they have also become major distractions. We are involved in so many things and are so distracted that we don't have the calmness of mind to create. In the past, people didn't have these distractions and were in a meditative state of creation. If you can put away your phone for just one hour a day, you'll notice a difference in yourself. That's why meditation is so important.

Q. Artistes typically tend to have a spiritual side to them. Do you believe that practising meditation, which is essentially the art of observation and detachment, brings you closer to your art?

Let me tell you about a very old, legendary composer-scholar. If you gave him a piece of newspaper, he would go to a corner, sit in his chair, close one of his ears with his fingers, and then read out the news as if it were a song. It didn't matter what the news was—even if it was very violent. That's the level of dedication he had. It's a sadhana (discipline and practise for self-discovery and self-growth). You keep adding a little droplet everyday and one day it turns into an ocean. Therefore, we must take conscious steps.

It can be painful to realise that some people close to us may not support this endeavour because they're in a different energy zone. This can disturb us. If we're not strong enough to ignore it, it can derail our focus. So, it all depends on what you want and how strongly you want it, and how you’re able to prioritise it.

Q. Recently, I wrote an article about AI's role in music production and how it can now create complete songs. It's fascinating to see such innovation from a technological standpoint, but what could its impact be on the music industry and the future of music?

It's an incredible change that's unfolding, and it's benefiting the world in numerous ways, simplifying complex tasks. However, imagine coming home to find a robot preparing food instead of your mum. Which would you prefer? Mum's food, of course, because it carries emotions. While AI can simulate emotions to some extent, music with a soul requires a human being with a soul to create it. AI may impress us now, but eventually we’ll circle back to classical music because we resonate with what's created by flesh and blood, not computers.



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