SINGER-SONGWRITER, PRODUCER & MUSIC TEACHER ALI SUHAIL
Ali Suhail is a versatile musician who was born into a musical family, where music was always
encouraged. Currently he is working with many local musicians and also performs solo – we spoke with the talented artist about everything from how he got involved in the music industry to where he thinks it’s going in the future - and he answered all the questions with candor, humor and honesty.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your music that you’re currently working on
I’m a singer/songwriter/producer with my origins based in Karachi but I’ve recently moved to
Lahore. I’ve been involved with a bunch of local musicians such as Sikandar Ka Mandar, Shajie,
Takatak, and my solo act (Ali Suhail) in various capacities. I produced and aided in writing
Natasha Noorani’s debut album ‘Munaasib’. I’m also part of Umair Jaswal’s live act and have also helped in writing some of his upcoming music. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a bunch of other local musicians through being the audio producer for LussunTV when that was a thing so there’s also other musical things.
The music I’m currently working on is, okay, so we’re just at the last stretch for putting out
Takatak’s last single from ‘Acrophase’. We’ve started writing material for the next record. Also,
working on some music with Sikandar ka Mandar. I am in the process of releasing my latest album titled, ‘White Flag’ – I’ve managed to put out one single from it so far. More to follow shortly, so basically there’s a bunch of things in the pipeline.
What first got you into music?
I don’t think it was just one defining moment that got me into music. I was raised by artists and art appreciators. Music was always a constant at home and every one had specific tastes – Mom and Dad were into Lata , Kishore, Bonnie M and The Carpenters and my sisters were into the Backstreet Boys, Bryan Adams, Tony Braxton and BoysIImen and I was kind of into all of it. Eventually, a friend handed me a Metallica tape in the sixth grade and that sort of blew the lid off of the whole ‘nuanced love of music’ and I begged my father for a guitar for around two years until I finally got one and I can’t really
Who inspired you to make music?
The musicians I grew up listening to. However, the urge has always been to make my own music rather than to emulate the music I was listening to. It’s strange honestly, I was trying to write my own music before I owned an instrument. I’d somehow figured out this tablature writing software and I was writing some really epic, long and boring midi- music on my Pentium 2. There’s always been a strong urge to create, whether it’s drawings and doodles or poetry and prose or whether it’s music. It’s one of those relationships that end with a ‘holic’.
How would you describe the music that you typically create?
I’d like to describe it as music that isn’t very easily describable and you’d have to listen to my
discography to get the gist, as part of my diabolical plot to get more people to listen to my music. But I’d say the inspirations range from indie folk, all the way to neo soul, jazz to progressive metal, djent and everything in between. I don’t really like making the same kind of music for too long. I get bored easily.
What is your creative process like?
Sporadic. Depends on the day and what my mood is. But it’s always like an exploration without
an end goal in mind, really. Ingredients may include, but are not limited to; Self-hate, self-doubt,
trashing ideas, feeling really good about myself when it clicks and following where that thread
leads until I have something I can call a song on my hands. Then repeat.
Who would you most like to collaborate with?
Everyone. I would love to collaborate with anyone and everyone who wants to make music
and isn’t too controlling about the process.
Do you sing in the shower? What songs?
I used to when I was a kid when I didn’t have to worry about the neighbors at my parents’ house. There was a lot of Linkin Park and Metallica on that playlist. Now that I have my own neighbors to worry about and I don’t want to get noise complaints, the shower music has become instrumental.
What would you be doing right now, if it wasn’t for your music career?
Well, I’m also a music teacher, so I could be doing that. I’ve always been very intrigued by
cameras and photography so probably involved with some form of visual art.
Where have you performed? What are your favourite and least favourite venues? Do you have any upcoming shows?
I’ve performed at bunch of places. Thanks to session gigs, I’ve seen and played at a lot of Pakistan and some parts of Dubai. My favorite venue for performing my own music, has to be the mainstage at the LMM (Lahore Music Meet) – every time I’ve played that stage, it’s been pretty magical. Followed closely by Truebrew, which is also an excellent venue. I don’t think I have a least favorite venue. Sometimes the crowd or even the artist has weird energy and that has potential to turn into a strange experience for everyone involved, but having played the last couple of gigs online, in these confusing Covid-19 times, any and all venues are a blessing. My band Takatak are working on putting up a live show online this month with the help of some amazing people from across the border.
How do you feel the social media has impacted the music business?
I think it completely destroyed it and pulled it inside out. But it has also completely reinvented it
over the carcass of the old model. There’s a lot more autonomy with the artist. Artists who have a knack for marketing or entrepreneurial tendencies tend to do much better these days. That control used to be with labels, radio stations and record executives who would control what they’d want the public to see. Now the public finds its own music and the artists market themselves. There are obviously still sponsors and beverages and the all- seeing algorithm which is proving to be problematic for a lot of content creators but I think I still prefer
But none of these things apply to us as there isn’t really a ‘music business’ here. The only music that the masses get to interact with is a symptom of the marketing business. Music doesn’t really operate under any business like structure here.
What is your favourite song to perform?
I have a bunch of songs I love to perform. I love performing all the ‘Sikandar Ka Mandar’ catalogue when we get a chance to play that. Takatak is a blast live. I really enjoy performing music from my upcoming record these days.
Which famous musicians (local and international) do you admire?
Most of them, if not all of them. Everyone who is doing things, making things, putting out new
things, pushing the boundaries of who they were for their last release and still managing to reinvent some aspect of their music, deserves admiration. I think I’m listening to the same things everyone else is listening to. It starts with Jacob Collier, moves on to acts like Hiatus Kaiyote, 30/70, Plini, Periphery. I would like to mention an act that I’ve fallen in love with recently, called ‘Half-Alive’. I don’t think many people know about them. As far as local acts go, I think the following people are definitely worth admiration; Abdullah Siddique, Maanu, Wisdom Salad, Shorbanoor, Catman MU, Natasha Noorani, Biryani Brothers and Janoobi Khargosh.
If you could change anything about Pakistan’s music industry, what would it be?
I would insert a music industry in the empty space where it says ‘Insert Music Industry here’.
Right now our music industry is a side-effect of the food and beverage industry. There’s no
infrastructure. I’d like to remedy that if I could.
2020 has been...
Really weird. It’s housed some of the worst things that have happened in my life, with sprinkles of some of the best things that have happened in my life. It’s stretched the spectrum in both directions. But it also has been the most interesting time to be alive in this century. We’re living through things that will be in history books for a while. It’s also made me come to terms with my own resilience. I know I can deal with a lot more than I thought I could thanks to 2020.
What’s next for you?
If we, as a species, can be done with Covid-19, then hopefully, a bunch of touring and live shows. Like I said earlier, there’s a bunch of unreleased music to be shared. There’s my solo album,’White Flag’. There’s Takatak’s, ‘Acrophase’. There’s a bunch of music lined up.
What is one message you would give to your fans?
Do the things you believe in and do the heck out of them. Disclaimers are cheap. Also, listen to all of my music. No, like, all of it. Also, thank you so much for your love and support. It’s literally one of the two reasons why I do what I do.
INTERVIEW: SUNDUS UNSAR RAJA
PHOTOS: COURTESY ALI SUHAIL