Despite the political hostility that divides South Asia, shared cultural roots connect its people across borders. On the evening of Oct. 12, Variety Playhouse witnessed an exhibition of the same as noted Pakistani musical artist Ali Sethi (of “Pasoori” fame) took the stage.
Greeted by loud cheers as he and an entourage of talented musicians graced the stage, Sethi launched into “Ghazab Kiya,” one of his top hits from 2023. Soon after, he spent some time interacting with the crowd, getting a feel for the energy at the venue. The audience was a mix of age groups; Sethi’s music has appealed largely to older listeners and Punjabi/Sufi classical enthusiasts, but some of his newer hits have changed that dynamic and brought in a younger audience. A sizable portion of the crowd was thus content to sit back and enjoy the music, with a smaller proportion right up in front, eager to get close-ups of the performance.
Sethi continued to build up the mellow mood with two of his slower numbers, “Gulon Main Rang” and “Ve Main Chori Chori,” before building up the tempo with some crowd-pleasers. Performing evergreen Bollywood numbers like “Laila Main Laila” and “Mehbooba,” Sethi ensured that music enthusiasts could have a good time even if they had not been keen followers of his work. Having captured everyone’s attention, the 39-year-old paused to joke about his citizenship and hyphenated identity as well as the often-conservative nature of love in the subcontinent. He used this as a segue into “Ranjish Hi Sahi,” a song about longing and heartbreak that had the audience singing along.
There was then a stream of slow-burn hit songs that followed, from “Chan Kithan” and “Chandni Raat” to Bollywood classic “Kabhi Kabhi Mere Dil Mein” and Urdu ghazal “Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo.” Sethi made sure different sections were involved in the performance, requesting the light operators to highlight one portion of the audience at a time. “Muddat,” a new song made in collaboration with Nicolás Jaar, was also featured in this segment, even as the majority of the crowd seemed unfamiliar with the lyrics.
Throughout the nearly two-hour-long performance, Sethi was aware of the effect one single song — “Pasoori”, featured on Coke Studio — had in catapulting his fame worldwide and drawing in fans like the one at the Variety Playhouse. Despite his masterful exhibition of range, stray voices in the crowd demanded for the hit single to be performed. The musician had planned well for this, keeping “Pasoori” for the very end, tantalizing the crowd with hints that it would be on its way soon.
After indulging the audience in a brief conversation about his global hit song, Sethi performed “Left Right,” a peppy and popular song recently made in collaboration with Shae Gill, Abdullah Siddiqui and Maanu. This track resonated well with the audience, particularly with the crowd up in front, and fed off their energy for what was to follow. Sethi prolonged the wait with anecdotes about how the lyrics for “Pasoori” were finalized — including the word “Pasoori,” meaning conflict — after the initial melody or “raga” was decided upon. After a substantial buildup, Sethi gave the crowd what they wanted — a rendition of “Pasoori” that matched the studio version quite closely. Once this was done, Sethi and his crew promptly left the stage.
However, a combination of audience demands for an encore and pre-planning on Sethi’s part saw the whole band return to perform the hit again. This time, Sethi was full of improvisation and looked to get the crowd involved, masking his fatigue with adrenaline. Fans gave it their all, singing at the top of their lungs and reveling in the experience of being part of this iconic cultural moment.
Sethi wholeheartedly appreciated the crowd’s response before leaving the stage, hoping to have a similar impact at other venues throughout his multi-city tour in 2023-24. More information can be found at alisethi.info