Punjabi pop’s special date with Dubai Opera

Singer Ali Sethi on the vibes of the city and the venue he performed and why the diaspora is a more open audience

By Mahwash Ajaz

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Published: Sun 26 Nov 2023, 11:34 AM

Singer Ali Sethi was in town to perform at the Dubai Opera House on November 11. In an interview with City Times, the Pasoori crooner who landed in Dubai from New York for the show expressed his excitement and delight at being able to perform at the prestigious venue. Although weary from the long-haul flight, he said he immensely enjoyed the Dubai nights. “I’m feeling very jet lagged,” he admitted, “and I’m eating all the Middle Eastern food that I can find. I love the energy here.”

Ali Sethi hit the pop charts big time with the Coke Studio hit Pasoori which he sang with Shae Gill a year ago. Since then, the song has become a monster hit and Ali Sethi has been performing globally. The Punjabi pop became a household anthem around the world and though Ali has performed in Dubai multiple times, the latest one was special.

Dubai Opera House is as prestigious as they come and some of his favourite artists are listed to perform there in the same season as Ali. “The space itself, the venue, the institution, what it means to be listed on their season is incredibly exciting,” he said. “Tinariwen (a Tuareg collective of musicians from southern Mali) is listed in the same season as I am. To see that Pasoori is listed where they are, where Macbeth was shown, it’s truly something. And I think that is where it (Pasoori) belongs. The context is just beyond what we conceive of our music to be, it’s just music for the whole world. And we are all world audiences now. That’s another thing I’m realizing. I’m realising that now that the diaspora is just extensive.”

While we spoke, Ali was in the middle of having a delicious Iranian meal. He said that in the limited hours he had the opportunity to explore Dubai, what he came to love was the energy of the place. “I love sitting here, smoking sheesha, eating kebab, drinking coffee. I love the vibe here; you can see it can go on until 3am. I just love how relaxed it is here.” Drawing a parallel to New York, where recently was, Sethi said, “Honestly, everyone seems so relaxed here. Compared to New York City, everyone feels more relaxed here. Not as hurried or hassled. I’m totally leaning into that happily myself.”

Discussing fan interactions, the Chan Kithan singer stated that he is happy to have been granted the US citizenship recently because it helps with the mobility. “I can’t go to a certain country, they won’t give me a visa, a lot of my fans reside there. But a lot of people are flying in for my show. It’s bittersweet,” he explained. “Dubai can be a hub and an in-between ground where people can meet and work from all over the world. We’ve gotta find ways of generating work opportunities, apart from live shows. I’m hoping that we can set up content creation facilities in Dubai. We can use this ground as a way to interface with all the other parts of the world that we now meet and interact with. Streaming, narrative, music, writing, art — all of that is connected now. Middle East can be a great place to connect for South Asians.”

How did he compare the audiences in Pakistan to the diaspora audiences in places such as USA or UAE? “I love it,” he stated categorically. “I feel audiences in diaspora are more open. We just did a show in Atlanta, Georgia, and I was not expecting to find a mixed, cosmopolitan crowd, but we did. It was the most electric kind of an atmosphere. It was intergenerational, it was multi-racial. Seeing all that also encourages me to push the envelope: what is representation, what can we do with our music, how can we make connections with the music that I come from and with the music of the world that I’m living in. It just makes it for a more exciting environment.”

Seeing how much Ali Sethi loved Dubai, the food and the vibe, we had to ask the obvious question. Is a golden visa on the cards soon? He had the most organic answer you could expect. “I mean, I hope. I’d do it just for the food!”


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