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Line art in pop singing

Not all of Lucky Ali's tunes are memorable, but he brings a welcome minimalist tradition to Indipop

Lucky Ali launched his career with Sunoh. O sanam, the most popular song from that album, took you all the way to Egypt and its spectacular pyramids, when most music videos were stuck with silly wedding scenes.

O sanam used its instruments without ostentation. It downplayed its violins and highlighted a banjo, achieving a sound different from the run of the mill. It had the rattle of the hookah and some telling silences, and seemed to go perfectly with the desert expanse that we saw on its music video. The singer, though not of great voice, impressed.

In Hrithik Roshan's big hit Kaho Na... Pyaar Hai, Lucky Ali's songs Kyo chalti hai pawan and Ik pal hai jeena are again sung with the barest of inflexions.

Lucky Ali is cosmopolitan in his music, and often talks about the pleasures of being a wanderer. Being the son of Mehmood -- the comic genius best remembered for his role in Padosan -- hasn't made him aspire for a hero's role in Mumbai cinema. Called Lucky because his father believed he brought him luck, this singer lives in New Zealand.

In Aks, which means 'reflection', Lucky Ali picks instruments from all over the world. He must be one of the very few musicians in Indipop to consciously keeps away from loud music. Many instruments overlap and contrast, and add a simple effect to his country-style singing. The guitar, an instrument he plays, is a constant in all his songs.

Tere mere saath has an Irish music feel, stressed by the pipe tone that stands out. The lyrics are inaudible, thanks to the mixing which foregrounds the instruments.

Kaisi tanhai also has a strong Arab touch to it, but not the sort with loud violins and a heavy dance beat. Kitni haseen zindagi is pleasant, has a morsing on the silent patches, an Indian folk phrase or two on the flute, and gave me the feeling that it was a Bobby McFerrin song because of the voices going ooh--ooh.

Behti nadi seems to gather Lucky Ali's general philosophy: the ephemeral nature of things, of loving, of moving on, of destiny. "The artist acknowledges the fact that his success and acceptance is temporary, as is his own existence, and that there are far more important issues to be dealt with in life than show business," says the jacket.

Behti nadi features a flute playing Celtic phrases. Mehboob has the resonance of a synth played in the background, and Lucky Ali sings in rock style with deliberate flat notes, the strain of reaching them highlighted rather than the actual notes. The Indian element comes in the rhythm with the ghatam or the earthen pot. But the song loses its way around the stanza.

Aks ,the title song, has the strangest and most intriguing sound of all, a grand mix of Arabic percussion and violin bangs, reggae chords and bass. The violins just back up, and the tune itself comes across as being quiet. A pipe-like tone plays all over the song and almost gives it a snake charmer's hypnotic power.

Pyaar ka duniya is by contrast louder, and even uses his popular refrain from Kaho Naa ... Pyar Hai. The dholak gives it a Punjabi accent. Tu kaun hai is the promotional video and seems to borrow its theme from Michael Jackson's Who's that girl? The locale (Puerto Rico?) is also the one that Michael Jackson used for his protest song They don't really care about us.

Ek na ek din has a peaceful flute and violin on it and is otherwise full of guitar chords and a piano. The tone is high and the higher frequency drums get highlighted. Sandesh is about the message in rainbearing clouds. All songs in the album are written by Lucky Ali.

Lucky Ali is a self-taught musician who has grown up on sentimental, guitar-strumming country music, and of course ubiquitous Hindi film music. You'll find more of the first on his albums, and very little of the brash energy that you find from time to time in film music.

S Suchitra Lata

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