A.R. Rahman on his upcoming Expo 2020 Dubai concert as world fair nears its conclusion

The musician spoke to City Times about the magic of performing live at Expo and what he's learned from his involvement with the fair.

by Enid Grace Parker

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Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied

Published: Tue 22 Mar 2022, 4:53 PM

Last updated: Tue 22 Mar 2022, 5:22 PM

After his crowd-pulling gig at Expo 2020 Dubai in December 2021 featuring a host of stars including legendary Indian singer Hariharan, Oscar and Grammy-winning musician and composer A.R. Rahman is all set to delight his local fans once more.

He will perform Thursday, March 24 at Expo’s Jubilee Park alongside a talented lineup that includes singers Udit Narayan and Daler Mehndi.

Promising to deliver his biggest hits on Thursday, Rahman told City Times in a Zoom interview that the success of his previous concert inspired him to put on a new one.

“It’s on YouTube and people are watching it again and again, so we can’t do the same show and we have so many other numbers; (I thought) let’s bring this amazing lineup.” Rahman, who never fails to surprise and delight his fans, is happy to be providing quality and accessible entertainment via the Expo platform.

When asked what he loved most about the concert vibe at the world fair, he said, “First of all it’s free. And we always feel like Expo brought us to perform for all fans. Even in India it’s very rare that I do concerts, so it’s nice to see people enjoying full-fledged concerts; they are in a wonderland called Expo! And it’s nice to see people happy because (with Covid and everything) you only saw sad stories for the past two years. I feel blessed that people are coming back to the show.”

End of an iconic fair

Rahman, who has been actively involved with Expo 2020 Dubai right from a conceptual level, mentored the inspiring all-women Firdaus Orchestra that debuted at the event, and also collaborated with filmmaker Shekhar Kapur for Why? The Musical, which dazzled audiences at Al Wasl Plaza. He shared his thoughts on Expo coming to an end on March 31, calling the efforts of the Dubai government in organising the iconic event whilst also strictly enforcing Covid safety protocols “admirable”.

“I just adore the way they pulled it off — when the whole world was shutting things, they opened. They said, no, we will make it happen. I think it also teaches us about leadership. If there is a system in place, anything is possible.”

Rahman added how he was a “homegrown” rather than a “corporate” person and Expo turned out to be a “good learning experience” for him and his team about “how things are done in a bigger way”.

“It’s nice to see that you just have to do your job and the rest is handled by other people in a beautiful way,” he shared.

A.R. Rahman performs at Jubilee Stage, Expo 2020 Dubai, on December 22, 2021
A.R. Rahman performs at Jubilee Stage, Expo 2020 Dubai, on December 22, 2021

A legacy of good leadership

Rahman’s diverse lineup at the upcoming Expo concert is just one example of the maestro’s perpetually inclusive attitude towards his performances and projects. We asked him why bringing musicians from different backgrounds and cultures together was important.

“I don’t know whether I was destined to be a leader or I made myself (into one); when you take the lead and you have a powerful position, it’s important to think about everybody. It’s not like, ‘oh I’ll bring only my people’ or ‘I’ll bring only these people’. You have to think about how we can all benefit and learn from each other, how we can all complement each other and celebrate the differences, and the similarities.

“There’s a joy in that, because whatever we do sets a legacy. It inspires and sets an example for the younger generation. I feel like the more power you get and the more choices you can make, those choices will be questioned by your own conscience later.”

He emphasized how different people had different talents, making comparisons sometimes unfair. Implementing this in his own life has been, he added, a “fascinating journey”.

“Not everybody is on the same level, but they could be better at other things — you have to find out what that is. So even when sound engineers and musicians come in and say ‘oh that person is not as sharp’ and ‘you don’t shout at that person but you are shouting at me’, I say, because that person may have something which you don’t have. So that’s the human quality that I’ve learned — you have to be patient. You have to trust that everybody has a purpose and a unique ability and as a leader you just have to tap into that.”

Constant innovation

Rahman, who has been an integral part of India’s music industry for three decades, believes nostalgia shouldn’t impede the evolution of one’s musical craft.

“I feel like the first day, every time. Somebody said I am going to celebrate thirty years — I said, please don’t tell me all that, don’t make me feel old. Because what you learned 10 or even five years back is redundant now. Today’s world is changed, today’s rules are different and you can acquire that (your goals) if you are smart enough and you just notice all the beautiful things that are happening.”

Rahman believes musicians like himself can no longer rest on their laurels; they have to be on top of things and keep coming up with new ideas.

“I can’t sit back and say I did Roja, I did Bombay, I did 99 Songs…(I have to think about) what is next, what else I can do with the knowledge, how do I give, how do I take; it’s a fantastic era,” he concluded.


A.R. Rahman will perform with an impressive musical lineup including Rashid Ali, Udit Narayan, Jonita Gandhi, Vijay Yesudas, Shweta Mohan and Daler Mehndi at Jubilee Park, Thursday, March 24. Concert starts at 7pm. Please check for the latest updates closer to the concert date on the Expo website.

Enid Grace Parker

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