Rahman was born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India in a middle-class Tamil Mudaliar family. His father, R. K. Shekhar, was a
film-score composer and conductor for Tamil and Malayalam films; Rahman assisted his father in the studio, playing the
keyboard. After his father's death when Rahman was nine years old, the rental of his father's musical equipment provided
his family's income.
Raised by his mother, Kareema (born Kashturi),Rahman began his early musical training under Master Dhanraj, and at age 11
began playing in the orchestra of Malayalam composer (and close friend of his father) M. K. Arjunan.Studying in Chennai,
Rahman graduated with a diploma in Western classical music from the school.
Rahman was a keyboard player and arranger for bands such as Roots (with childhood friend and percussionist Sivamani, John Anthony, Suresh Peters, JoJo
and Raja) and founded the Chennai-based rock group Nemesis Avenue.He mastered the keyboard, piano, synthesizer, harmonium and guitar, and was particularly
interested in the synthesizer because it was the "ideal combination of music and technology".
He soon began working with other composers, such as M. S. Viswanathan, Ilaiyaraaja, Ramesh Naidu and Raj-Koti,accompanied Zakir Hussain, Kunnakudi
Vaidyanathan and L. Shankar on world tours and obtained a scholarship from Trinity College London to the Trinity College of Music.
Rahman received the Rajat Kamal (Silver Lotus) award for best music director at the National Film Awards for Roja. The films' score was critically and commercially successful in its original and dubbed versions, led by the innovative theme "Chinna Chinna Aasai".Rahman collaborated with director Bharathiraaja on Kizhakku Cheemayile and Karuththamma, producing successful Tamil rural folk-inspired scores; he also composed the saxophone score for K. Balachander's Duet. The 1995 film Indira and romantic comedies Mr. Romeo and Love Birds also drew attention. Rahman attracted a Japanese audience with Muthu's success there.
The Humble Music Pioneer
Rahman was the 1995 recipient of the Mauritius National Award and the Malaysian Award for his contributions to music, and was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for his first West End production. A four-time National Film Award winner and recipient of six Tamil Nadu State Film Awards, he has fifteen Filmfare Awards and thirteen Filmfare Awards South for his music.
Rahman has received a Kalaimamani from the Government of Tamil Nadu for excellence in the field of music, musical-achievement awards from the governments of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh and a Padma Shri from the Government of India. In 2006, he received an award from Stanford University for his contributions to global music. The following year, Rahman entered the Limca Book of Records as "Indian of the Year for Contribution to Popular Music".He received the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rotary Club of Madras.