Getting to Know the Singer-Songwriter
Lucky Ali’s earliest memories of music have not so much to do with creation as with disorder. The second child of the late actor Mehmood’s seven children, Lucky (born Maqsood Mehmood Ali) must have been about five years old when he and his cousin brother went to a studio where singer Kishore Kumar and music composer RD Burman were busy record a song for his father’s movie. “There were also about 70 to 80 musicians present. My cousin and I started talking into the mic, saying things like, ‘Hey, can you hear me? Yes, I hear you’. We were really happy to be there,” he chuckles at the memory. It was only a matter of time before they were sent home. “I’ve always had the habit of doing stupid things in my music; I still do sometimes. There are times when I ring besura (out of tune), especially after back-to-back gigs,” the 62-year-old singer-songwriter says, laughing softly.
I’m sitting across from Lucky Ali in his hotel room in Delhi. The night before, the raspy-voiced singer, who made a remarkable debut with the album Suno in 1996 he performed to a packed house in the capital as part of his ‘Lucky Ali India Tour – a Farmhouse Music Experience’. The enthralled audience couldn’t help but sing along as he performed some of his most popular tunes from a musical career spanning nearly three decades. From ‘O Sanam’ to ‘Jaane Kya’, ‘Kabhi Aisa Lagta Hai’ and ‘Hairat’, it was a journey his audience relived and celebrated. I tell the balladeur, known for his elusive side, that I was a little nervous before meeting him, and he gives me a disarming smile. “Meet the monster,” he laughed aloud. It’s because of the admiration I feel for a man who filled my youthful years with introspective ballads, I tell him. For someone in his teens in the 90s, the iconic “O Sanam” was the love anthem we didn’t know we needed. “‘O Sanam’ was my love story – a love story that I shared with everyone. We all have those moments in our lives that are not in our control. They affect our lives and often leave sweet memories,” says Lucky. It’s been 27 years since the single captured everyone’s imagination, but the memory of its creation hasn’t faded over the years.
Having been exposed to the performing arts and recording studios from an early age, Lucky was able to observe his father closely. Mehmood was not only an actor, but also an accomplished singer. “He acted, he sang, he danced, he staged. He was a complete artist and for me, my father was the epitome of the art that existed,” he fondly recalls. So does he get his father’s artistic genes? “My parents and my grandfather were artists. My uncle, Pyarelal Shakir, was a Christian poet. I guess the least my siblings and I could do was understand the field,” he adds.
Lately, the indie pop legend has been pretty active on stage, performing live in different cities and making the most of the post-lockdown period. His first single of the year, “Intezaar”, was released last month, and is the first of many singles he hopes to release this year. But until a year or two ago, Lucky considered retiring. “My mind was going in that direction. Then when the pandemic hit, I felt like it was the natural way of telling me to retire,” he recalls. The singer is staying on his farm in Bangalore and he wanted to spend his time growing fruit trees and tending to the surrounding farming community. It was because of his children, who set up the Farmhouse Music label, that he was pushed out of self-imposed hibernation.
“I had composed a number of songs with the intention that the children would take them forward. The kids decided it was time to release them, and I was just told what I had to do to release an album. In front of the children, I really have no say,” he smiles, the tinge of affection that makes his voice even more hoarse. He teamed up with longtime collaborator, brother-in-law, songwriter and producer Mikey McCleary for the string of singles that would eventually lead to an album. ” It is a work in progress. My realization is that it’s never over even after it’s over. A song takes on a different life and a different expression even after it is released,” he says. His last album, Rasta Manreleased on his website informally in 2011, but Lucky insists he only releases an album when he feels the time is right.
“I was procrastinating because when you put things together, the mix has to feel right. It can’t just be for the sake of breaking free,” he says. Fame and appreciation came to him in abundance, but Lucky is content to be aware of their temporary nature.”These things come and go. If you can make peace with it, then nothing else matters. You just do your job to the best of your abilities and move on,” he philosophizes.
Feeling the interview coming to an end, I ask him to sing a few lines of Kitni Haseen Zindagi Hai Yeh — ‘my Lucky Ali song’ — and he gracefully performs. How, I wonder aloud after he’s finished, doesn’t he like to be called a singer or a musician, as I had read about him. “Because I’m not,” he said simply. “Music is a serious hobby for me. I don’t know how I would like to be known. Come to think of it, I don’t even want to be known. I don’t like labels and titles. I love this space and I happen to work with some very special people,” he says. So what are you called then, I ask. “Lucky bayher peals of laughter, her voice echoing through the room. Well Lucky bay, retirement can wait. There is still a lot of music to be made.