How to introduce your Indian friend to Sajjad Ali

Editor’s note: This a rare essay better consumed as an Instagram Story. You can also see this collection of songs (sans commentary) in a YouTube playlist.

I once found myself in a situation where a number of brown people were smoking a hookah and taking turns figuring out what to play in the background. The situation somehow became mildly competitive. In such scenarios, the strategy to win is to bring in trump card Sajjad Ali.

To do this right I think you have to go in a particular order.

  1. Start off with a hook. One must create intrigue around Sajjad Ali the character, and so it is best to start with one of his more ridiculous recordings. If you know me personally, you know that I use the word ridiculous not as a slight but as a glowing compliment. There is great power in the ridiculous to free us from the trappings of our everyday. I think Laari Adda is the right starting point. The dancing, the costumes, Sajjad Ali’s flowing hair, all good reasons. But of course the killer is the lyrics. One of my friends asked a question that stayed with me for a while: “Tumhare aur meray ghar ke beech mein laari adda kyun hai?”. And why are these two lovers meeting at a bus depot? The tension in this question sets up everything else.

  2. I think at this point it is good to lean into the ridiculous a little bit more. Perhaps Mood. Sajjad Ali acting out the lyrics in random open spaces with a female model reacting to it is classic Sajjad Ali. And of course the line containing the title of the song, *chef’s kiss*.

  3. The worry now is that your Indian friend is beginning to think of Sajjad Ali as some accidental comedy artist. So it is necessary to establish his seriousness both as a person and as a musician. Tum Naraz Ho, from his Coke Studio appearance, works well. The live nature of Coke Studio establishes the reverence he is afforded by a high class of musicians, and underscores his vocal ability.

  4. Now that some interest has been developed in Sajjad Ali the chameleon, it is time to dive into Sajjad Ali canon. (I know I use the word canon a lot.) For me, the classic Sajjad Ali recording is Paniyon Mein.

  5. Cinderella has to be pulled into this. Why is Sajjad Ali asking Cinderella of all people to wait at the altar, because he’s on the way? In the video he literally is on the way. Then he fights what are presumably Prince Charming’s goons outside of the church, before fighting Prince Charming himself. Iconic.

  6. Of course Sajjad Ali has also gone political: Chief Saab.

  7. At this point I like to bring in a little bit of sincere, effortless, modern Sajjad Ali. In Qeemay Aalay Pooray he starts seemingly on ridiculous lines, before calling attention to world hunger.

  8. Lots of great songs to keep this list going, depending on how much time you have: Raavi (the lament of diaspora), Har Zulm (semi-classical ballad), Rang Laaga (with Sanam Marvi, leaning further into classical), Chal Rein De (the minor key of the main song is haunting, but the chorus seems to turn major which always hooks me; also seems to be a reflection on stardom), Teri Yaad (those sunglasses against that blue background, iconic)

  9. This competition has to end with Kirkir Kirkir, because it explains Sajjad Ali’s philosophy with self-deprecatory country music. I don’t have an explanation for why and how Sajjad Ali is making country music but at this point I don’t really ask these sorts of questions regarding Sajjad Ali. He can make whatever he wants. But what this recording asserts for me is that Sajjad Ali, at the core, does not take himself too seriously. He gets that he’s a pop artist; he makes pop music. He can sing classical; he also has some fun. There is no reason to overthink it.