In the late nineties and early noughties, at the peak of India’s indie-pop boom, there was a voice that resonated with teens and young adults purely due to the lyrical and acoustic quality. Lucky Ali is a name that most early millennials, however hard they may try, cannot erase from their psyche. His songs continue to be a go-to for evenings fueled with nostalgia and melodic lo-fi vibes.
His album, Sunoh, released in the year 1996 has the evergreen song O Sanam; it is still part of every Indian playlist. The next album, Sifar, released in 1999 and Lucky Ali’s success story continued. The advent of music channels in the country had given his music an incredible reach. It was also integral in many youngsters picking up a guitar and crooning his words. But when it comes to Lucky Ali’s own musical trajectory, it was partly in the genes and partly the upbringing. Son of the legendary actor-director-producer of yore, Mehmood, Lucky Ali (born Maqsood Mahmood Ali) had no dearth of creative juices. He also had the good and envious fortune to witness the musical genius of the likes of RD Burman and Kishore Kumar in action.
The odds are, you’ve heard his husky rustic voice in many a Bollywood song—Ek Pal Ka Jeena from Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai, Khuda Hafiz from Yuva, Safarnama from Tamasha amongst others. It is common knowledge that Lucky never found playback singing for films satisfying and eventually bowed out of the profession temporarily to pursue other passions, namely farming.
But he’s back. Lucky Ali is back with his soul-stirring compositions, which started with the single, Intezaar, released in association with Believe India Music. He has also been touring across the country with the Lucky Ali India Tour in 2022; this year the tour goes international. Prior to appeasing Indian audiophiles, Lucky has been part of an international collaborative project with Israeli musician, Eliezer Botzer. The collab, The Eli Ali Project, began in 2017 and since then has released three singles—On My Way (2019), Amaraya (2022) and Virtuality (2023)—as part of the album Lemalla. Virtuality was released earlier this month. The English song, sung by Lucky Ali, looks into the state of consciousness when virtual reality becomes reality.
A week prior to this interview being published, Lucky released a new single, Sayyaah, which is a tale of a wanderer who is in search of truth only to realise that what he seeks is within. The original song was part of his 2011 album Raasta Man, of which he released an unplugged version in 2021.
In a Zoom conversation with us, this evocative philosophy was all-pervasive, where Lucky is a believer of fate and the almighty’s guiding light and all he does is pay heed. For the 64-year-old serenader, music is a form of communication that connects one soul to another and the universe beyond.
1. How did The Eli Ali Project come about and what are your plans for it?
Plans are always flexible because it's as and when the connection happens, and music happens, and it develops into a comprehensive expression that is an ongoing process. How The Eli Ali Project came about, I would say nothing is ever random in life. The project is also called Lemalla, which means a higher thought. I understand it as something that just came to me, and I became a part of it.
The music, I would say, is an experience that is driven by self-thought. When you listen to the tracks and you listen to the intricacies within, you realise that the words are very simple. There's no science there. The first song, On My Way, was a meeting song, so it was an introduction between two people. Eliezer was telling me about himself and I was telling him about myself within that song, we all realised our purpose and the commonality of this whole experience and it became a dialogue for everyone else.
There's no pressure, as far as the ideation is concerned, we talk often and we communicate our music, we communicate our thoughts and I'm happy to say that it's all very peaceful and it's, you know, wholesome so.
2. The latest release with The Eli Ali Project is the single Virtuality, which is a statement to the complicated world we live in. Can you tell us more?
This is a question that Eliezer and Bob Stark, who wrote the song, can answer. I just sang it. But when I look back at it, they're saying something important. The total dependency on the virtual world, even for me, is not a great idea. I think it should be. It can be a medium of communication or a method to capture a memory as photographs or videos. The notion of virtuality comes into play when something that is not there starts becoming real, where real stories are replaced by make-believe ones. I think they were talking about individuals and their so-called progress to take a situation and make something else of it. I could be totally off track but it is my interpretation of Virtuality.
3. You’ve always believed that ‘music is a means of communication’, what about your songs and music resonate with people?
When I feel I'm at peace, whatever I do will be from that peaceful perspective. I’ve never gone ahead with songs, music or projects if it bothered me, it would definitely not be something that I would express. I would rather go with something that makes my heart feel joyous and wholesome. Joy is also how I define balance, not extreme happiness or sadness, and I’ve been in that space right now and I've been in that space for a while. I also have like-minded people around me who function the same way as me, I don’t see beyond that: maine dekha nahi rang, dil aaya hai sirf ada par, ik aisi chahat hai meri...
4. What around you helps you be in that joyous state of mind to create music?
It's evident that I'm a practising Muslim, I say my namaz and I seek my direction from Allah. So when you put the almighty as the first, everything then just follows. Whatever path then befalls you, you're not really in control; it's a Lela where it’s a part that has been written for you and you’re just a performer.
5. Who are some of the artistes that have influenced your work?
Cat Stevens, most definitely, his transformation and what I learned from him. He had come to Bangalore when he performed in front of an audience and after everybody clapped, he was humble and said don’t clap, instead he was thankful to the audience. So there are people, and elders who have shown us directions. As I said, nothing in life is random. It's for a purpose that people come into your lives and go.
6. How have your children impacted your music?
I would say my children help me look within myself because kids ask you uncomfortable questions. For me it's a learning experience, you learn so much from every situation. I feel grateful for all of it.
7. How would you say your music has evolved since your first album Sunoh, in 1996?
I don't know, I just basically followed my heart. You know, I didn't have a direction to my work till it came to me.
8. How different is playback singing from independent music?
Playback singing for movies is economically more lucrative. It is driven towards selling whatever is saleable. On the other hand, our work is more about communicating. We are telling, we're not selling. You know, we're telling as it is communicating to everybody who listens.
9. How does this notion of communicating with your music channel in live performances?
I just feel I'm fulfilling the duty. I don't look at it as anything else, you know. It's all these moments that are on this one plane and then everybody is just communicating at the same time. People are going through the same experience that we are silently going through within ourselves, so we're playing for ourselves in a way, but it's being communicated to everybody else and everybody's responding according to how they perceive our music to be. That's how I understand it, I could be wrong, but it's just communication without expectation. It is good communication.
10. Did you ever imagine that you will receive so much love and recognition from your listeners?
I always knew that. I always do that. This is going to happen. Because if you're not trying to take them on some weird path or something. You're just going to tell them what you're feeling and then people find commonality with that, then nobody is different from each other.
11. After the release of Sayyaah, what’s next in the pipeline?
I have a series of thoughts that I am following, and I want to present. We’re working on our concerts starting with Australia and New Zealand. That's the first part of our Pacific tour. Then we’ll be off to Mauritius. Later in the year we have the European and American circuit that we are working on. I am happy to sing at the end of the day.