A.R. Rahman – The Spirit Of Music – Book Review

Conversations, Not Biography

“The Spirit of Music” sets the readers’ expectation right on the cover by declaring “Conversations with Nasreen Munni Kabir”. Unfortunately, a lot of people have been referring to it as ARR’s biography. It is not. It is just a very long interview. It makes for a light and entertaining read but it is constrained by two things – a) ARR’s ability to communicate with words (not nearly as good as his ability to communicate with music), b) His willingness to share information.

Nevertheless, the book is a great read because Ms. Kabir does manage to get ARR to open up like never before. There are some very personal insights that could have come only directly from ARR. Examples:

  • When ARR hits a composer’s block, he writes tunes to Bulleh Shah’s and Amir Khusrau’s poetry. Guru’s “Ae Hairathe Ashiqui” was composed on Amir Khusrau’s “Ae sharbat-e ashiqui”
  • He deals with pressure at work by heading out of Chennai to visit a Sufi dargah near Mahabalipuram

ARR’s Struggles

The one thing that struck me the most in the book is the description of the years of struggle ARR went through. His rise after “Roja” may have been meteoric but here is what his career looked like before it:

  • 1978 – 1979 – Started working as a roadie when he was 11 years.
  • 1980 – Played keyboards on Doordarshan program, Wonder Balloon
  • 1981 – Played in school band
  • 1985 – 1986 – Played in band, Magic. They had two gigs. To quote ARR – “And that was it – finito.”
  • 1987 – Composed Album called “Disco Disco” for Malaysia Vasudevan
  • 1988 – Played in band, Roots. Gave one performance.
  • 1989 – Setup Panchathan Studio, a recording studio, in the backyard of his house. His mother had to sell her jewellery to finance the studio.
  • 1979 – 1989 – Sessions musician. Played keyboard for Illayaraja, Raj-Koti, Vijay Anand
  • 1990 – Released English-language album called “Set Me Free” with Malgudi Shubha
  • 1989 – 1991 – Composed ad jingles.
  • 1990 – 1991 – Played in band, Nemesis Avenue. Played one gig.
  • 1992 – Played keyboard on Zakir Hussain and Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan’s album “Colours”. Credited as Dileep.

Sure ARR has loads of talent but even he had to work his ass off (and meet the 10,000-hour rule somewhere along the way) to achieve success.

Nice Guy

ARR has endeared himself to his fans not just because of his music but also because he comes across as a nice guy – humble, honest and spiritual. This comes across several times throughout the book. My favorites:

  • The first page of the book has this written in Tamil script – “Ella pukazhum iraivanukke” meaning “All praises to God”. He used this phrase while accepting the Oscar Awards for Slumdog Millionnaire
  • This Q&A

NMK: What do people say about your voice?

ARR: What do people say about my voice? It sounds like me of course. [laughs] I suppose they find character in the voice.

Collector’s Item

The book also happens to pretty cool collector’s item with the score sheet for “The Bombay Theme” and a CD of Rahman compositions that you will not find anywhere else.


A good read for any music lover and a must-buy for ARR fans.



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