When Lucky Ali graces MTV's Unacademy Unwind stage later this month, he will be presenting influences from all over in a segment befittingly titled World Fusion. Drawing from his rich repertoire of music, Ali will curate and create a setlist that traverses original compositions and recreated classics.
Ask him what, in his view, constitutes "world fusion," and Ali's response is incredibly telling of the kind of musician he is. He does not speak of genres and sub-genres, specifics or technicalities. Instead, he chooses to look at it as a mÃ©lange of musicians. "It's an opportunity to work with musicians from all backgrounds. It gives us a chance to have them bring their own interpretation of the work that you do, within the boundaries of their own talent," says Ali.
The respect for collaborative work being the bedrock of success was a lesson Ali learnt very early on. Coming from an illustrious film and music family, Ali was surrounded by stories of people working within the arts and culture space. He internalised how creativity and collaboration are two sides of the same coin, and one must strive to maintain the balance, in order to remain rooted and humble even in success.
"My father (legendary Indian actor Mehmood) was a film producer. My mother, my aunts they all come from an environment where this was second nature. It was a household of cinema, music, recordings. My father's contemporaries were who they were. They were stalwarts of their time, and when they worked together, they came up with magic. That's one thing that I learnt from them: that you never did it alone. And that has basically been the process I've followed and continue to do so. I'm very aware of just what I'm capable of achieving, and am grateful for the people who help me with that. I'm in the hands of the music director, engineer, the producer " all creative people who work together for a product, be it a movie or a song."
He is effusive with excitement about the people who have introduced him to a wide palette of sounds, citing them more as influences than inspirations in his musical journey. "You are what you listen to. There have been many, many influences in exciting my love for the vibration of the art.
I don't look at it as creativity alone; I look at it more as a discovery. The notes were already there; we're basically putting our math together musically."
His rich cultural upbringing may have played a crucial role in offering him a sonic landscape to draw influences from, but it has also set the tone for Ali's rooted understanding of family, and its contribution in making us who we are today. It does not help his cause that a basic Google search on him throws up mentions of a strained relationship with his famous father, an allegation Ali only patiently refutes. "I go by what my father says " that there's always a generation gap between children and parents. There was never anything that (bad) that one had to write a story about. He loved me very much, and I loved him very much too. My father had a busy life¦ and a big life. And I'm glad to be a small part of that whole experience. Everyone goes through an argumentative phase with their parents, especially when your hormones are changing. Your upbringing decides whether you go down the wrong road or you take heed and try to learn from what they're inculcating in you. If you were caught smoking, you got whacked," he laughs, "I mean, what's the big deal about that? How does that become 'strained?'"
There is an unmistakable sense of contentment in his calmness towards these rumours, an inspiring sense of nonchalance in handling success, and a remarkable sense of self-awareness that makes a conversation with Ali most unique. When you talk about him being a singer, he is quick to rectify: "I won't even call myself a musician. I feel that disrespects a true musician. And I won't even call myself a singer because I think that is truly disrespecting of people who are genuinely trained singers. But I like to sing, I like the tunes that go on in my heart and mind. If it makes sense to me or touches a chord, and if it develops into something, that's great. If it doesn't, that's okay too. Most of the work we try to achieve is thought-out; we might start out without any ideas, but you think as you go along. That's how it is " all my work is always a work in progress."
Yet he is candid about his lack of formal training, admitting that today he is keener on knowing the technical roots of his craft. He likes to know where he gets the inspiration from for the notes that he sings. "Fortunately, in my company, I have some trained musicians like my classically-trained flautist. Every so often I'll ask him 'what raag is this?,' And he'll say 'Yeh khamaj hai.' It's good to understand how they (trained musicians) see it. They have done years and years of tapasya."
When he speaks, he does not once sound like a man who played a significant role in building the Indipop movement. Breaking into the scene with the soulful 'O Sanam' from his debut album Sunoh, Ali's raw vocal earnestness has won him many fans for over a good part of the last two-and-a-half decades. Yet he speaks with a kind of humility that one does not encounter often in an industry where remaining relevant translates to remaining popular. His songs in both solo albums and Bollywood are timeless but Ali remains determined to underplay his popularity. "Music is just a small part of my larger picture, of how I would like to be. It is as much a stepping stone as acting or even education was for me," he adds.
Unacademy Unwind with MTV is telecast every Friday at 7 pm on MTV.