Javed Ali: Versatile voice of Bollywood

The singer speaks about his hit songs and influences ahead of UK tour

Giving it his all on stage: Javed Ali

Asjad Nazir

POPULAR Indian singer Javed Ali has consistently showcased his impressive range through songs in diverse genres, languages and styles. The marvellous musical numbers delivered by the naturally gifted singer have included Bollywood hits Nagada Nagada, Jashn-E-Bahaara, Guzarish, Araziyan, Kun Faya Kun and Tu Jo Mila.

Having beautifully balanced top tracks with winning live performances, he returns for another UK tour this month with shows in London, Leicester and Newcastle.

Eastern Eye caught up with the star singer ahead of the hotly anticipated concerts to talk about his musical journey, latest tour, inspirations, vocal power and personal playlist.

How do you reflect on your journey in music so far?

I am very grateful for this life and everything it has given me. It has all happened at the right time. By the grace of god, all the songs I have performed have been accepted by the audience and become hits. I am very happy with my career so far.

Which of your songs is closest to your heart?

It is really difficult to select the song closest to my heart because I have sung each one with great passion. Each song connects with audiences in a different way because their tastes differ. So, some enjoy Srivalli, while others enjoy songs like Nagada Nagada, Jashn-E-Bahaara and Kun Faya Kun. So, it’s impossible to choose – for me, all songs are equal. It all depends on the listeners. Rather than having a favourite song, I like that people connect with the different songs I have sung.

Are there any songs that have a special resonance for you?

Sometimes, there are songs that are not so well known, but they receive the kind of love that is greater than any award. There is a song I had sung for Pandit Birju Maharaj, which he had written, called Ithlati. The great Ustad Rashid Khan saab, who we all love, listened to that song and expressed his surprise that someone from the film industry could render it in a classical style. His great compliment on how it was sung made me so happy and meant a lot because I admire him so much. I hope everyone listens to that song. It has deeply classical elements and is one of the most challenging of my career

Javed Ali

Do you ever get nervous before going on stage?

You think about how people will react and just want to give your best when going on stage. I wouldn’t say that it is nerves, but a hunger or thirst to give your best, which results in a sort of butterflies in your stomach sensation. But I wouldn’t call it nervousness.

You are returning for another UK tour. How much do you like performing for British audiences?

It is always very enjoyable performing in the UK. They gave me so much love the last time I performed there. They immerse themselves fully in the performance and it means so much to them. As with my previous performance, it will cover all the genres again, from folk and Sufi to my Bollywood hits. I hope that I will get even more love this time.

Tell us more about what we can expect from your 2024 UK shows.

There is always a wonderful variety in my shows. This time around, we’ll be celebrating Mohammed Rafi’s 100th birth anniversary, which occurs this year. I’ll be paying my own heartfelt tribute to him by performing some of his beloved songs. It will be a special experience for the audience, as Rafi saab is universally adored and admired.

Of course, I’ll also be performing my own hit songs. All of these elements will come together to create a unique and refreshing concert experience.

Which songs do you most enjoy performing live?

It is difficult to say because I am a musician and an artist. All the songs are close to my heart. Whichever song I perform on stage becomes special for me at that moment. Whether it is romantic, Sufi, classical, folk, retro, or dance, I will perform it with full passion and commitment. I always try to get lost in the particular song I am singing. So, in that respect, [it doesn’t matter] which song or genre; all songs are equally important to me.

What is it like to work with UK-based promoter Rock On music?

It’s really great to collaborate with Rock On music because Vijay Bhola is one of the best promoters in the UK. He loves and respects all singers and musicians. He puts them on a pedestal. He has developed his own audience, who come to watch his shows knowing he will always bring the best. He has worked with all the big artists. I got a chance to do a tour with him last year and am returning again this year, which makes me very happy.

How do you generate so much power in your voice?

Nobody can create such power effortlessly because we are all just human – you have to practise, learn and gain that ability over time. There are no shortcuts. So, the power comes from working hard. I also believe in spiritual power, which gives you strength. So, all these things combine to provide what you call the ‘power’.

What is the secret of a good live performance?

There actually isn’t a secret. You must form a connection with the audience. You interact with them and then have one shot to get that specific song right. There are no retakes, so there is a great responsibility on the artist. The audience expects a lot from you. They come to a live performance with a specific image they have after listening to your songs. The challenge is to exceed their expectations. That is a big thing for me.

What kind of music dominates your own personal playlist?

The music that I listen to is very much dependent on my mood, so it keeps changing. I’m currently listening to a lot of songs by Mehdi Hassan saab and Ghulam Ali saab. When you listen to their ghazals, you get lost in them and learn something. I can listen to 10 or 20 of their ghazals in one go. I also enjoy listening to Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali saab, Salamat Ali Khan saab and Rashid Khan bhai. I like a lot of retro songs. In terms of western music, I like listening to Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Céline Dion. I like folk and Sufi music. I enjoy listening to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan saab and Abida Parveen ji, so it keeps changing.

If you could master something new in music, what would it be?

I would want to try something new in folk and semi-classical music. I also want to do ghazal music, because it’s my favourite genre. All three of these have a lot of depth and require dedication. You need some knowledge of music to sing these genres. If I get an opportunity, I would like to take a deeper dive into these genres.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Great music is something that inspires me. A great atmosphere, song, singer and musician can spark inspiration. So, you can’t say just one thing will inspire you. Many things can inspire you at any moment, including the smallest things in life.

You can hear a song and it can get lost in your head for decades and then something small in everyday life can cause you to remember it again. You can get inspired by seeing someone playing an instrument or singing a song.

I can get inspired by the smallest things and think to myself, how can I learn from them and grow? That study is always ongoing.

Why should we all come to your UK shows?

Honestly, nobody should miss these shows. You’ll get a chance to hear all the hit songs I have delivered over the years. You will be able to listen to all kinds of genres. There will also be a celebration of Mohammed Rafi – I have bought something special and specific in that regard. Whether it is folk, Sufi, retro or my commercial film hits, the show will cover them all. You will have a great choice of songs being performed and that is just one of the reasons why you should come to the shows.

Javed Ali Live at Indigo at The O2 on Friday, February 23; Morningside Arena in Leicester on Saturday, February 24; and Tyne Theatre & Opera House in Newcastle on Sunday, February 25. www.rockonmusicuk.com