"Ahimsa" - U2

Single

Track Listing:

Background Information

“Ahimsa” is a Sanskrit word for non-violence, and the U2 single celebrates the spiritual diversity of India. The press release for the single read in part, “To mark U2’s first ever visit to India, Island Records today announced the release of a new track titled “Ahimsa” from U2 and legendary composer A.R. Rahman. Available to stream now on all platforms. “Ahimsa” – the Sanskrit word for non-violence – celebrates the spiritual diversity of India and connects the ethos of U2 with the mastery of A.R. Rahman. The collaboration comes less than one month ahead of U2’s first ever show in India with the arrival of The Joshua Tree Tour in Mumbai on December 15.” The song was the first song of new music released by U2 since their album Songs of Experience was released in December 2017.

“Ahimsa” starts with Edge’s shimmer reverb sound, and arpeggiated intro chords. There is a pre-chorus, sang in a Tamil by Khatija and Raheema Rahman, A.R. Rahman’s daughters. This is repeated at the end of the song. Bono sings lead vocals, and A.R. Rahman joins him in the last chorus. Adam and Larry are quite low in the mix. The song was produced by Duncan Stewart, a member of U2’s live crew, and credited on the album Songs of Experience as well. The mix of the song was done by Steve Lillywhite. The song, as with most U2 releases, was mastered by Scott Sedillo.

Rahman is an Indian music producer, singer and songwriter. Rahman previously produced a song called “Ahimsa” for the soundtrack to The Viceroy’s House, but that song is not related to this U2 release. Rahman is a winner of awards at the Oscars, Grammy’s, BAFTA Awards, and the Golden Globes for his work on the soundtrack to Slumdog Millionaire.

Commenting on the collaboration, Rahman said, “Ahimsa requires courage and strength. A quality that is impervious to weapons or power. It’s a mission which is most needed to heal the modern world and it is incredible timing to collaborate with U2, with their amazing legacy, to revive this movement.” U2 guitarist The Edge added that it had been a joy to work with A.R. on this track, “A superstar and a talent both towering and generous, we are especially excited to visit his homeland in just a few weeks. India has been on our bucket list for a very long time, the principles of ahimsa or non-violence have served as an important pillar of what our band stands for since we first came together to play music. We can’t wait to experience the culture of India first hand, a place that brings together the modern and the ancient all at once.”

Rahman’s daughters, Khatija and Raheema also contribute vocals on the track. They contributed the first verse to the track, two couplets from the 32nd chapter Tirukkural, a Tamil language book on virtue, wealth and love with a focus on ethics and morality, written around 500AD or earlier. Their voices can also be heard at the end of the song singing the same lines. Please view our lyrics for this song for a translation and further explanation about the source of these lyrics.

The song was recorded in Electric Lady Studios in New York City in September 2019. Rahman revealed that the musicians had exchanged ideas through email throughout the summer and met in New York to finish the project. “I met them, we vibed very well and that’s it!” The track was not finished at that time, and it took an additional two months before the track was complete.

The track was done in conjunction with the Indian streaming service JioSaavn. JioSaavn will also release an EP of five songs including “Ahimsa” and remixes of four older U2 songs in the weeks leading up to their concert in India. These recordings will not be exclusive to that service, and will be available worldwide. Rishi Malhotra, CEO of JioSaavn told Music Business Worldwide “Great music always carries a real message. It’s our honor to bring ‘Ahimsa’ to the world, from India, with love. Working with U2, A.R. Rahman and their teams is the experience of a lifetime. To make great music, move people, and leave a legacy of hope is a living dream for all of us at JioSaavn.” Guy Oseary, U2’s manager also commented on the collaboration with JioSaavn. Oseary said, “Collaborating with the JioSaavn team on the very special U2 and A.R. Rahman track ‘Ahimsa’ ahead of the band’s coming to India for the first show in Mumbai, has been an exceptional experience. I’ve been a believer in JioSaavn since first meeting Rishi nearly 5 years ago. I’ve always loved their unique vision for artists who want to reach their next hundred million listeners.” On JioSaavn, the Indian streaming platform, the song is listed as being by A.R. Rahman and U2.

The song was released to digital services on November 22, 2019. This was rolled out in each time zone with a release at midnight in each market, as November 22, 2019 started. The song was made available on streaming services such as Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal, as well as digital storefronts such as iTunes and Qobuz. Some services made available a high resolution audio file at a better than CD quality audio format. The song was also serviced to radio at the same time, and the distribution of promotional copies was done digitally via a download. At this time we are not aware of any physical copies of this for promotion or commercial sale. The song can be heard at YouTube Music at this link.

The song contains the line, “I’ll meet you where there is no sleeping, But we wake up to dream.” which recalls a song listed in our demos section, “Wake Up and Dream,” a title we had listed due to a photograph taken by Julian Lennon of a white board in the studio, all the way back in 2010. The lyrics for “Ahimsa” may have been in development for some time.

The single is accompanied by artwork created by Bono featuring the name of the song, as well as lyrics behind a red hand. In advance of the release of the single U2 published the image on their social media channels without the credits below the hand, and without announcing the new single. A lyric video for the song was also published late on November 22, 2019, on U2’s YouTube channel. The video was only present for a couple of hours when it was removed. No explanation has been given for why the video has been removed, and almost a day later, the video has not yet been updated.

Bono said that their band was somewhat shaped and formed by Martin Luther King who was a student of Mahatma Gandhi. “The fight against injustice has always been so important to us. Martin Luther King said, ‘The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice….’ I don’t believe that any more; it doesn’t bend towards justice, it has to be bent towards justice. We have to be actively involved in our democracy to preserve it and show people how we feel and what we care about. We come as students to the source of inspiration: that is ahimsa, non-violence. India gave this to us, the greatest gift to the world. It is more powerful than nuclear energy, the armies, the navies, the British Empire. It is power itself. And it’s never been more important.”

Liner Notes

Ahimsa:
Lyrics by A.R.Rahmen, and U2.
Performed by U2 and A.R. Rahman. Produced and engineered by Duncan Stewart. Mixed by Steve Lillywhite. Vocals by Bono, A.R. Rahman. Additional vocals by Khatija Rahman and Raheema Rahman.
Additional engineering by Arjun Chandy, Karthik Sekaran, Kelana Halim and Suresh Permal. Mastered by Scott Sedillo.

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