Notes from his heart

Javed Ali, who performed in the city recently, talks to PRIYADARSHINI PAITANDY about his journey from the bylanes of Delhi to the studios of Mumbai

December 21, 2015 04:17 pm | Updated March 24, 2016 11:17 am IST - Chennai

Javed Ali Photo: R. Ravindran

Javed Ali Photo: R. Ravindran

Sometimes anonymity breeds the best of talent. For Javed Ali, that period lasted seven years. A handful of mediocre songs later, it was ‘Ek din teri raahon mein’ from Naqaab that got his soulful voice recognition in 2007. Soon a string of hits followed — ‘Jashn E Bahaaraa’ ( Jodhaa Akbar ), ‘Tu Muskura’ ( Yuvvraaj ), ‘Guzarish’ ( Ghajini ), ‘Arziyan’ ( Delhi-6 ), ‘Ranjha Ranjha’ ( Raavan ), ‘Kun Faya Kun’ ( Rockstar ), ‘Kilimanjaro’ ( Enthiran ), ‘Tum Tak’ ( Raanjhanaa ), ‘Sonapareeya’ ( Maryan ), ‘Jingiliya’ ( Puli )… In Chennai for a concert at The Forum Vijaya Mall, the singer entertained the audience with a selection from his vast repertoire, over the weekend. “I’ve lost count of how many times I have performed in Chennai,” says Ali.

Originally from Delhi’s Panchkuian Road, a colony well known for qawwals, Ali grew up surrounded by music — songs by Ghulam Ali, Mehdi Hassan and Mohammed Rafi, and music rehearsals at home which he was privy to and sometimes part of. His father was a qawwali and Sufi singer, and one of his first teachers. “When you learn from someone at home, you tend to take it for granted. So, my father ensured I learnt from different gurus,” he says. As a seven-year-old, Ali became more conscious about music and since has never tried anything other than singing. Of late, he’s been dabbling with composing music. Little snatches of music pop into his mind, and he records them on his phone, to work on them later. For now, it’s just something he does for himself as a hobby. But in future, that’s something he would like to look into, if an opportunity presents itself.

At the behest of a well-wisher, the singer came to Mumbai in 1997, to try his luck in the world of playback singing. Since his voice was still in its transition phase, he returned home and came back to Mumbai in 2000. It took a few jingles and voice-dubbing stints before music directors took note of him. Fifteen years in the industry, and he’s sung in almost all Indian languages, except Malayalam. “I get excited when I sing in a new language. Tamil is the toughest, because while singing with expressions, the diction changes,” he adds. The most challenging song to record so far was ‘Alaikaa Laikka’ from Thuppakki . Composed by Harris Jayaraj, this number with vast variations took him four hours to master. Through six years of recording for Kollywood, he has worked with Imman, Devi Sri Prasad, Yuvan Shankar Raja and A.R. Rahman. But he has long wanted to work with Ilaiyaraaja. Many of his hits were with Rahman as composer, who, he believes, has taught him a lot, from technical variations to how to approach a song. Earlier this year in August, the 33-year-old was part of Rahman’s The Greatest Hits Live concert at the O2 Arena in London. “I performed there for the second time with Rahman sir. The experience was just wonderful. It was a massive crowd and the support was fantastic.”

With Ali, it’s almost like there are two sides to his personality. He’s calm, sometimes bashful even, during the interview. But on stage, the rock star mode switches on. There’s an air of confidence as he dances, interacts with the audience and chaffs them sometimes. The audience at the mall here, of course, enjoys every bit of it and jokes right back. He croons a note and walks across to the audience, holding the mic in their faces asking them to try the note. A few are sporting enough; some are good, while the rest giggle nervously into the mic. He’s evolved as a singer, as a performer. “The industry has undergone a change too. There are lots of sound-oriented songs. Listeners want fresh voices. It’s easier to record because technology is advanced. That’s why there is a spurt in the number of new singers.”

Other than recording and singing live, Ali has also judged music reality shows on television. According to him, voice quality and texture are important, and as a playback singer, one must have the ability to absorb musical nuances. “Luck bhi achcha hona chahiye,” he smiles, drawing an imaginary line of fate across his forehead. With his latest release ‘Maula Mere Maula’ from Wazir becoming a earworm, luck is certainly smiling on him.

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