When Ali Sethi was 11, he was in a car with his friends and as they drove off, he decided to play a ghazal audio cassette. The boys laughed at him for day after and he realised: “Ok, this is just for me. This is not for anybody else."
Today, his rendition of ghazals have more than a million views online and many of those are from young people from around the world.
“And now, those same dudes, they’re like: can you sing those ghazals at my wedding and I’m like: ‘I don’t think so, not unless you pay top dollar,” he said in a candid, pre-recorded interview with BBC Asian Network’s Haroon Rashid.
Sharing a link of the interview on his Instagram account, Sethi said: “ALI SETHI on ‘being uncool’ Check it out—ma candid inner’view.”
While talking about his art, a genre typically more popular with the older generation, Sethi said that many levels of angst also come through.
“I think it’s the angst of growing up where I did grow up, the kind of circumstances that I grew up in,” he added.
According to Sethi, at a very basic level, it was just that he was drawn to these obscure, outdated forms of poetry and music.
“Nobody was paying attention to them…you weren’t allowed to really bring a critical appreciation to these things,” he said. “These things were for drunk uncles or for the weeping aunties…they were relegated to this.”
He shared that he was mocked for liking ghazals as a teenager and his friends thought the genre was "not muscular" or "western enough"…“ all those complexes that one grows up with in a postcolonial society,” Ali said.
Sethi also shared an incident from five years ago when he started uploading ghazals to Soundcloud… “when nobody knew that I was a musician”. He said that a lot of young people loved it because the arrangement felt very contemporary.
“There was an acoustic guitar playing and there were these very contemporary, ‘poppy’, synths playing and things,” he said. “But I remember a producer, a well-known producer, reached out to me and said that he loved the singing and musicality but did not understand why he wanted to sing the ghazal? “It’s such an aunty/uncle genre,” he told Sethi.
“And I said, how much time do you have? I want to tell you about the ghazal,” Sethi said. “Historically the ghazal has been a young person’s genre. It’s the most romantic, the most potent, the most critical of society. All things young people do. I mean, it is grunge really.”