Home / Indian Music Chart / 25 Years of O Sanam: An Oral History Of Lucky Ali’s 90s Smash Hit
In the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, abruptly came the nostalgic reprieve of Lucky Ali ’ s sufi-sandpaper voice. A video recording of him serenading unmask tourists on a Goa beach with ‘ O Sanam ’, the bankrupt hit song from his debut album Sunoh ( 1996 ) went viral. It begins with him strumming the guitar, messing up, owning up, and getting back to it again .
He lets his cloistered, by and large seated, largely young audience complete the lyrics of the song. A girl in the background swiped tears from her eyes, as others, recording him on their telephone didn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate know whether to look at him on their phone-screen or to look at him as he was, in battlefront of them, eyes darting restlessly between the two.

His seventh and survive studio album was Rasta Man in 2011. In between there was a Malayalam birdcall, a Kannada song, and then a retreating from the radar, pushing up briefly for air with AR Rahman ’ mho cheery, longing ‘ Safarnama ’ in Tamasha ( 2015 ) , and then again, radio hush. In 2019 he released a birdcall with Israeli musician Eliezer Cohen Botzer, and followed up with another Botzer collaboration survive calendar month. He turned 62 last year, and is armed with that sincerity that can entirely manifest as emotionlessness to commercial imperatives of consistent output ; Ali is toeing a different line .
25 Years of O Sanam: An Oral History Of Lucky Ali’s 90s Smash Hit, Film Companion
It has been 25 years since Sunoh released on May 6th, 1996. ‘ O Sanam ’, the song on which the popular music video set in Egypt was filmed, was the first of 10 songs on the album. seismic shifts in trends, taste, and endowment have taken put since. Ideas of stardom, art, and rhythm have taken a hair-pin deflect. In this cultural swerve, to love ‘ O Sanam ’ is to love the song as one loved it back then, tinted with nostalgia and memory. To listen to it nowadays is thus not precisely about responding to its melody, and its lyrics, but to the experiences embedded within it—a elementary, consummate kind of longing .

The Indi-pop Revolution

When Sunoh came out, in 1996, the music industry was in thick ferment. At a time when Hindi movie music accounted for more than 80 percentage of music sales, there was a sudden burst of energy. Just two years ago, in 1994, in a frenzied agitation of 20 days, Channel V was launched by Star TV net. The estimate was to have a channel that was local in message, but international in aesthetic. The Hinglish universe of Quick Gun Murugun, and Jaaved Jaaferi ’ s Hip Hop Hingorani and Vengeance Veerappan was lapped up. It was getting about 37 million viewers every calendar month .
then a class later in 1995 Alisha Chinai ’ s album Made In India became the first non-film album to break whole sales records in India, selling more than 5 million copies. then, MTV, which was launched in India in 1991 but failed to capture the indian resource by playing Nirvana and authoritative 80s music, was re-launched in 1996 with a newly recipe of “ East-West masala ”. It worked .

The music scene was evolving beyond Hindi films. Any music that was popular outside of the horizon of films became “ Indi-pop ” ( Indian-pop ), a genre unto itself. even Asha Bhosle, the pledge of film music, decided to release a dad album .
A set of sequencing and remix was on the rise. Ankur Tewari, the musician, then a college scholar in Bhopal, noted the sudden surge of ‘ Jhankar Beats ’, which were drum beats played on octapads artificially inserted into film music. T-Series was at the forefront of this. Tewari noted, “ It had a strong double value. I remember I asked person about it and they said it cuts through the randomness, so the truck driver can listen to these songs. Everyone was listening to music through cassettes, a batch of which was traveling via highways through truck drivers and bus drivers taking it from one set to the other. ”
In the midst of this came Lucky Ali, just a guy with a guitar and some tunes, and that part which was carefree, untrained, and however bristled the insides of the hearer. “ His voice texture is quite unique—it somehow cuts through everything and gets to you. precisely what was happening with the remix beats, but here you didn ’ t need the beats because his voice was doing it, ” Tewari, who has over the years become close with Ali, exchanging recordings of music for feedback, noted .
BMG Crescendo, the label introducing him, were pitching him as a “ singer-songwriter ”. The music critic Narendra Kusnur noted that this wasn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate common in those early days of Indi-pop. “ Singers normally had person else doing the music. Alisha Chinai had Biddu doing the music, Daler Mehndi had Jawahar Wattal. ” This was the add tempt of Ali — that the melody came from a put of deep feel, and not performed fabrication. The lyrics for his songs, simple however profound, curling about within the limit of the tune, were written by Syed Aslam Noor .

Ali ’ s soundscape was besides striking for its time— it was more spare, with short instrumentation. It set the template that would be followed by Silk Route and subsequently KK ’ mho Pal ( 1999 ). When Tewari would come to Mumbai two years late to pitch his demonstration, he didn ’ t have to convince music producers about the nature of his songs that weren ’ thymine sequenced, programmed, or remixed. Ali, who had the first-mover advantage, so to speak, had convinced music producers of the success of spare music in India. tied Ali noted the importance of releasing Sunoh in 1996 — that it “ happened at the right time. ”

The Music production

Around 1995, Mikey McCleary, the producer of Sunoh, was working in a studio in Soho, London. originally called the trident Studio it was celebrated for recording songs of The Beatles, David Bowie, and Queen, “ I had found a job there when Lucky precisely knocked on the doorway and said, ‘ Hey, I am your modern brother-in-law ’. ”
McCleary ’ mho baby had just gotten married to Ali, but he didn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate know much about the details, since she only informed everyone after the marriage took place. They chatted for a snatch when Ali told him that he had come to London to record a few songs, but the studio of the people he was working with burned down and he hadn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate much going on. McCleary told him to come back over the weekend so they could “ play around with the songs, experiment with it. ”
Ali played his rough cut of ‘ O Sanam ’ and ‘ Sunoh ’, the beginning two songs on the album, on the guitar. McCleary recorded his voice, replayed the guitar parts, and reworked the chords. He then used samples of other instruments — where you reuse portions of a sound recording from another recording. Many of the samples were played by McCleary himself from the keyboard, “ I was just guessing at that time with sounds I thought sound good. ” There were no live instruments used for this album early than the guitar, and the keyboard. McCleary experimented with reverb and echo like the opening of ‘ Sunoh ’, and did not use the conventional tune of the guitar, producing a more “ world-music ” feel. Samples of Udo pots, african drums like the Maktab, were used in ‘ O Sanam ’, along with log drums and Djembe. Some flute lines were added, “ I was going with whatever instincts I had for what heavy I wanted to create. ”
Ali went back to India to show the recordings to studios. He returned to London a few months late to record the remaining album. McCleary was given full dominance over the musical arrangement. “ Ali would barely be there, in truth. The creation of the musical arrangement was in my pass ; he would react to things and that would help. He was very open, he didn ’ t have any specific kind of concept in mind. He was excited, I think, that his music was being re-interpreted in ways he wouldn ’ t have imagined. ” For exemplar, McCleary used whale healthy samples to bookend ‘ Tum Hi Se ’ .

“ That was that. He went back to India and 6 months subsequently after it was released I heard from respective people in India that the album is becoming quite democratic, ” says McCleary .
The minimal musical arrangement, by Indi-pop standards, was a direct descendant of McCleary ’ mho influences, like Bob Dylan. He didn ’ thymine think what they were producing at that time was radical. It was only when he came back to India that he could see how different their audio was, “ surely unlike from film music which at that time. ”

The force of the simplicity came from both the spare product, and Lucky ’ s unique vocals, “ To this day when you hear golden ’ sulfur voice you can distinguish it quite distinctly. It ’ sulfur two things, in truth — there ’ s a comfortingness and sincerity to his voice, and second, there is a distinct sound, a discrete grain to his voice. I have never heard anyone who could impersonate his voice, ” he adds .
It was this vogue that calcified inseparably with his voice, creating the mythic, iconic artistic figure we often think of when we think of Lucky Ali. part of the ocular language of this style came from the music television of ‘ O Sanam ’, directed by Mahesh Mathai, which gave expression to Ali ’ s mobile nature .

The Making Of The Video

In 1995, it had been more than ten years since the ad-filmmaker Mahesh Mathai had last speak to Lucky Ali. They had studied in concert for a class in high school. Ali was a celebrated son because his beget was drollery legend Mehmood and his aunt was Meena Kumari. But Ali had moved about schools before and since, and so they lost touch, till they met again after they finished school. “ We had a few months of holidays when we met again. He had grown long hair, and learn to play the guitar — he was the cool matchless among us. He would sing, not compositions but covers. Thereafter I lost touch with him wholly. ”
And then, in 1995 Mathai got a birdcall from him out of the aristocratic. Ali had recorded an album and wanted him to hear it. At 4D Studios in Century Bhavan, Worli, Ali who had all the songs recorded on a candle, rare in those days, played the entire album. He had been talking to different record labels without much success. Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited ( ABCL ) held onto his album without releasing it for 6 months and Ali asked for the album back .
Mathai heard the entire album in one sitting, “ I loved it. It was a unlike sound. My background wasn ’ thymine Hindi movie music at all. It was much more western. This was interesting because it was Hindi music but in key, arrangement, and form, it appealed to a western ear as well. But most recording engineers thought he wouldn ’ t make it, that his voice didn ’ t exercise. ”
When Mathai asked what he could do for him, Ali told him that BMG, the recording company, agreed to print and distribute the album if he could get a music video done. Ali had told BMG he could get Mahesh Mathai, a known name in the ad-world, on display panel to direct the video and BMG agreed. Mathai acquiesced. “ I agreed because he seemed like he was in fuss. He was besides married and had a child. then he said, ‘ One more thing. I didn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate state you this, but you ’ ve got to pay for the video ’. ”
Mathai, who was under the impression that BMG was paying for the video, was shocked. Ali explained that the deal actually was for BMG to entirely publish, print, and distribute the album, with a 50-50 profit sharing agreement between them and Ali. Mathai told Ali to renegotiate the contract ; that he would shoot the film with his money, since Ali was broke, but that profits must be shared three-ways, between BMG ( by and by Sony when they acquired BMG ), Lucky Ali, and Mahesh Mathai. Mathai was dumbstruck when BMG agreed without pushback. “ This has never happened before or since in recording album history. That [ the director of a music video recording is ] the owner of 1/3rd of the album ’ s profits. Every December-January, even till final year, the accountants of Sony send a modest check. ”

The Video

Mathai laughed when I asked if he storyboarded the music video. “ It was all instinct ”. The circumstances were different because he wasn ’ triiodothyronine answerable to anyone since it was his own money, “ I was my own client. ” He was certain that he wanted to shoot it in the arab worldly concern, but to besides make it immediately recognizable he zeroed in on the Pyramids, a Wonder Of The World known to most Indians, even if they hadn ’ metric ton visited it. Mathai was clear that he wanted Ali to wear that headgear, and come on a bicycle, denim shirt, denim pants, “ an Arabic expect ” .
Ali ’ s first wife Meaghan Jane McCleary, who then went by Maymunah, made an appearance in the video as the womanhood draped in blasphemous. Mathai was shooting on the fit — if we saw people smoking hookah and playing dominos, he shot it .
At that meter Mathai spent 15 hundred thousand, a “ shit-load of money ” then, to get the gang to and from Egypt and to shoot the video on movie. “ It was a absurd budget, but I was doing well those years, so I took the chance. ” He recovered the entire budget from the profits of the album sales within two years .

The success

There are two stories of how Sunoh’s success played out. Mathai noted that the video recording and the album were an blink of an eye success. “ The fact that BMG was giving us profits means they were making money. It was an blink of an eye strike, no question. lucky Ali was unheard of before the album, and within less than a year he was being asked to sing Hindi movie songs. Lucky was getting throng square away, ” he says .
however, music critic Narendra Kusnur, who was then writing for the tabloid Mid-Day noted that though people liked the video and there was celebrated viva-voce, the album slowly picked up over 4-5 months. It released in May, and it was alone in November 1996 when the video and the album was awarded by Channel V that the buzz bubbled. Channel V pushed him and his video recording out, and soon this was picked up by local channels playing the video of ‘ O Sanam ’ alongside the best of bollywood music. Kusnur besides observed how the other songs on the album — ‘ Milegi Milegi ’, ‘ Tum Hi Se ’, ‘ Pyaar Ka Musafir ’, and ‘ Yeh Mumbai Nagariya ’ — were gaining traction through album sales and the radio receiver. Whatever the timeline, that it was a success is undisputed, having sold over 10 million copies .
25 Years of O Sanam: An Oral History Of Lucky Ali’s 90s Smash Hit, Film Companion
Ali himself was not in India at that time. “ I was so run down of running around trying to release it, that when the album was released, I said that I had done my make. I was in New Zealand. The song became what it became, but I never knew about it, ” he says .

The bequest

Ali never set out to compose an album. His instinct was to travel, and within travel was embedded the instinct to make music. It was only by and by that he was told by close friends and family to compile his music and put it out as an album. When I spoke to him, his stamp of his achiever was in that leftover space between gratitude and indifference. “ At that time, it was about doing something to show my parents that I was not bekaar. That I have thoughts. I have goals. possibly I am not able to express it except through music. ”
Since the success of his first album he would puncture the music landscape of the time every few years before retreating. A myth started being spun around him, aided by his own personality — working on vegetable oil rigs, breeding racehorses, selling carpets, marrying three times, divorcing once. He farms in Bangalore now .

Tewari notes that the myth of Ali was so aligned with his truth, it was bound to make him a star in his own right. “ He has an album called Rasta Man. The thing is he is a rastafarian serviceman who lives his life on the road, traveling in his van. A few weeks ago when I spoke to him he was in Assam, and before that he was in Goa. so, it ’ s not like you ’ re making a brand out of nothing, it is who he is and it is reflected in his music. Because there is no dwell. ”

By all measures Ali international relations and security network ’ t a technically perfect singer. Kusnur has, in his recapitulation, written how he frequently is “ be-sur ”. But his tempt is not his talent, but his climate. When Kusnur first met him in 1996, reluctantly, during the PR crusade for Sunoh, they ended up speaking for an hour. “ He had no airs about himself. When I asked if he would perform these songs live, he said, “ Yahin kisi ke ghar mein bajaunga, chaar-paanch logarithm ke saamne… utna confidence hai mere paas. But ask me to stand in an auditorium… that ’ s not my cup of tea. ” ”
25 Years of O Sanam: An Oral History Of Lucky Ali’s 90s Smash Hit, Film Companion
25 years late, strumming the guitar among a newer crop of listeners, many of whom were besides young or besides unborn to have heard the sung in 1996, he stops in his step again, “ I ’ meter nervous ”, he giggles as fumbles and moves on, singing the like song he sang for Kusnur at that rag-tag PR campaign, the lapp song that played on the radio without exhaustion, the like birdcall that he has been singing since .