Ali Sethi is a Pakistani singer, musician, and author who has sung many hit songs and written a critically acclaimed novel. He became one of the most popular Pakistani artists after the release of his song Pasoori in 2022. He hit the headlines in 2023 when rumours of his gay marriage were circulated on the internet.
Ali Aziz Sethi was born on Monday, 2 July 1984 (age 39 years; as of 2023) in Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan. His zodiac sign is Cancer. He hails from the Shergarh town of Depalpur tehsil in the Okara district of Punjab, Pakistan.
He attended the International School of Choueifat and Aitchison College in Lahore, Pakistan.
From 2002 to 2006, he pursued graduation at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Initially, he planned to pursue graduation in Economics; however, after attending a class about Islamic culture in contemporary societies by Ali Sultaan Asani, a Kenyan-American Academic, he changed his mind and opted for South Asian Studies. Later, he wrote a thesis on Anarkali, a woman said to be loved by Prince Salim. Since his childhood, he was interested in music, linguistics, and the culture of the Indian subcontinent which led him to pursue a career in music.
Height (approx.): 6′ 1″
Weight (approx.): 80 kg
Hair Colour: Black
Eye Colour: Black
He belongs to an affluent family.
Parents & Siblings
He has a sister named Mira Sethi, who is an actress and married to Bilal Siddiqui.
He is unmarried.
His maternal aunt, Moni Mohsin, is a famous British-Pakistani writer and columnist.
Ali Sethi allegedly dated many men including Salman Toor, a Pakistani-born American painter who has been his friend since his high school days. In 2022, Toor said in an interview that he and Ali realised in 2016 that they were made for each other. The New Yorker
Ali Sethi openly identifies as Queer. While studying in high school in 1995, Ali once read ‘Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man’ by Norman Mailer with his friends which compelled him to explore his sexuality. In an interview, he said that homophobia was rising in his country, and he felt a responsibility to be visibly queer. SDLGBTN
He follows Islam.
Singer & Musician
Training & Influences
Ali Sethi mentioned in an interview that his mother was the reason he took an interest in music during his childhood. He added that during his childhood, his mother introduced him to South Asian music of different genres including ghazals of Mehdi Hassan and Farida Khanum, folk music of Indian and Pakistani Punjab, and classical Indian music of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and other classical singers and made him sing complex songs and verses.
During his teenage years, Ali was drawn towards the local Sufi music of Lahore, Bollywood songs, particularly songs composed by R. D. Burman and written by Gulzar, and Western pop music. In 2008, he started training from Ustad Naseeruddin Saami of the Delhi Gharana, and in 2012, he started learning under ghazal and classical singer Farida Khanum.
He sang his first song in 2012 titled Dil Jalannay Ki Baat Karte Ho which was featured in Mira Nair’s film, The Reluctant Fundamentalist. He made his debut in the 8th season of Coke Studio Pakistan in 2015 and sang Asad Amanat Ali Khan’s folk song, Umran Langiyaan. He later sang many songs in different seasons of Coke Studio including Aaqa with Abida Parveen, Tinak Dhin with Ali Hamza and Waqar Ahsin, Ranjish Hi Sahi, and Gulon Main Rang.
In February 2015, Ali released his first music video for Kithay Nain Na Jori song. He also collaborated with several international singers and musicians for several projects including Mahi Mera in 2016 with Pakistani folk singer Jamaldin, Resident Alien in 2017 with American Dhol player Sunny Jain, and five songs in 2019 with American music producer Noah Georgeson including Chandni Raat and Dil Lagaayein. In September 2021, he composed and sang the musical narration of Jungle Nama: A Story of the Sundarban, a book written by noted Indian author, Amitav Ghosh.
Pasoori & Afterwards Popularity
Ali Sethi gained worldwide popularity with his song Pasoori in the 14th season of Coke Studio Pakistan in February 2022 which he sang alongside Shae Gill. The song made many records including the fastest song of the season to gain 1 million views on YouTube, the first song of Coke Studio Pakistan to feature on Spotify’s Viral 50 global chart, the most-watched Coke Studio Pakistan music video of all time, the most-streamed Pakistani song globally, the most-streamed song in Pakistan in 2022, and the most-searched song in the world in 2022. The song was also ranked number 1 in Spotify India’s Viral 50 chart and Spotify’s Viral 50 global chart.
Following this song, he became one of the most popular Pakistani singers and was invited to perform at the first Coke Studio Pakistan live concert held at the Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai, UAE in June 2023. In July 2023, he released his first EP titled Paniya.
Notable Live Performances & Tours
Ali Sethi has performed at various popular venues and programs including at Sanders Theater for Harvard University’s Arts First festival in May 2019, at Carnegie Hall in New York City in 2019 which was later shown on two NASDAQ billboards at Times Square, three performances in September 2022, first at Saxena Center for Contemporary South Asia at Brown University in Rhode Island, U.S.A., second at Harvard University’s ’75 Years of Azadi: A Celebration of South Asia’ event, and third at the O2 Arena in London, and at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April 2023, which made him the second Pakistani to perform at the prestigious musical event.
From November 2022 to February 2023, he did a North American Tour, performing in eleven cities in U.S.A. and Canada. In June 2023, he announced his World Tour from October 2023 to November 2023, with performances in many cities including London (U.K.), Dublin (Ireland), and Dallas (Texas, U.S.A.).
Musical Styles & Goals
Sethi is renowned for modernizing the ancient ghazal singing style, receiving praise for his fresh take on iconic ghazals. He’s drawn to reviving forgotten poetry and music forms, aiming to blend tradition with experimentation. Despite ghazal’s declining popularity, he sees it as a genre for young people. In live performances, he discusses the evolution of ghazals, classical ragas, and the origins of Urdu words. In an interview, he said that his goal is to increase awareness and appreciation for classical music and South Asian poets through his work.
His early life was surrounded by journalists, artists, activists, and politicians, due to his parent’s professions, creating an environment filled with diverse and dissenting voices. Growing up in a home with jail-going writers and activists, he attributes these experiences to shaping his perspective. This background strongly impacted his musical philosophy, inspiring him to address social issues through his songs and music videos. In his musical work, Sethi delves into the intersections of art, philosophy, scripture, and music. He’s a strong advocate for pluralism and tolerance and often challenges societal norms around gender identity and sexuality with his music and videos.
Praise & Acclaim
Ali Sethi has been praised by several noted musicians and music reviewers. Renowned Indian classical singer Shubha Mudgal, in a 2015 column, described Sethi’s voice as a blend of disciplined training (Taaleem and Riyaaz) and a unique touch of heartbreak. She noted that this quality sets his singing apart, unattainable through training or cultivation, attributing it to an inherent, unexplainable gift.
this song by @alisethimusic @zulfiqarjkhan has taken the people of our subcontinent by storm. The template is like the yore of #Bollywood with a fresh,rich production in my opinion.Of course our lot will happily borrow,steal this; not commission, pay for such songs or creators. pic.twitter.com/oZ04xYJKUl
— Sona Mohapatra (@sonamohapatra) September 27, 2022
RJ Haroon Rashid of BBC Asian Network once described him as The King of Modern Ghazal. Many people have praised him for blending traditional Urdu poetry and ghazals with modern genres of pop, jazz, reggaetón, hip hop and salsa, popularising it among the younger generations. Indian actor-singer Ayushmann Khurrana praised Ali’s singing in an interview, and the Indian singer-rapper Yo Yo Honey Singh compared him to the legendary Indian singer Mohammed Rafi.
Writer & Author
Ali Sethi published his first novel titled The Wish Maker in 2009, which contained themes of Pakistani identity and middle-class society. He wrote the novel over the span of three years, with the first draft at Harvard University in 2006, and later in New York, U.S.A. and Lahore, Pakistan. His novel was praised by many book reviewers for its originality and depiction of emotions. It was later translated into many languages including Italian, Dutch, German, Hindi, Chinese, and Turkish.
Articles & Essays
He has also written essays and articles for many newspapers and articles including The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Guardian, The New York Review of Books, and The Caravan. He has mentioned the need for an inclusive Pakistan, open to the practices and beliefs of all communities, in his writings. The Express Tribune, a Pakistani Newspaper, has banned two of his articles from being published, claiming them to be very controversial.
Accused of Plagiarism
In October 2021, a fan named Ali Hyder expressed his dissatisfaction on social media because his artwork was used without his permission, and upon finding out that his artwork had been used for such a long time, he became more disappointed. This artwork had been used as the cover for Ali Sethi’s song Chan Kithan since 2018. Ali Sethi’s response was that they didn’t ask for permission because they couldn’t find the artist on Instagram.
Hyder was unhappy with Sethi’s explanation of not being able to find him on Instagram and pointed out that he had posted the art cover in 2018 and even tagged Sethi’s sister, Mira Sethi, in the tweet. Runway Pakistan
Rumours about gay marriage
On 11 August 2023, rumours started circulating on social media claiming that Ali Sethi reportedly married his long-time friend and Pakistani-American artist, Salman Toor, in a private ceremony in New York City. Nor any official confirmation or details about the wedding were available on social media, and neither party confirmed the news. The news stirred a reaction on Twitter, with congratulations and dissenting opinions.
While some congratulated Ali, others expressed strong dissent and trolled him. India Today On 12 August 2023, Ali Sethi denied the marriage rumours in an Instagram Stories post. He clarified that he’s not married and doesn’t know who started the rumour. He humorously suggested that if they wanted to help, they could promote his new song Paniya. Hindustan Times
Awards and Achievements
- Nominated for Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize Award at Shakti Bhatt Awards in 2010 for The Wish Maker
- Nominated for Best Single Music Award at Hum Awards in 2016 for Kithay Nain Na Jorin
- Nominated for Best Male Playback Singer Award at ARY Film Awards and Lux Style Awards in 2016 for Aah Ko Chahiye
- Included in Time magazine’s Time 100 Next list in September 2022
Time Magazine picks out 100 inspiring people ranging from musicians to medical professionals, government officials as well as movement leaders, and high-profile whistle-blowers alongside top CEOs for its TIME100 Next list and this year, Pakistani singer #AliSethi is among them. pic.twitter.com/PI2BFhL9Bp
— TheCivilEyes (@TheCivilEyes) September 29, 2022
- Nominated for Top Internet Sensation Award at Hitlist OTT Awards Season 4 in 2023
Vote for the Top Internet Sensation !
Log on to https://t.co/3e2VrmSSaN and submit your choice now!
— Mid Day (@mid_day) February 13, 2023
- Sethi’s favourite authors and literary inspirations include Mirza Ghalib, Daagh Dehlvi, and Faiz Ahmed Faiz from the realm of Urdu poetry. He also draws influence from Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, V. S. Naipaul, Alan Hollinghurst, and Arundhati Roy.
- He is proficient in many musical instruments including keyboard, harmonium, and piano.
- In May 1999, when Ali Sethi was just 15 years old, the police entered his family’s home and arrested his father, Najam Sethi. His father was accused of giving a speech in New Delhi, India which was deemed as anti-nationalist. Ali Sethi and his mother later campaigned together to seek his father’s release during this challenging time.
- In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic led to a global lockdown, Ali Sethi initiated a series of virtual concerts on Instagram, collaborating with Indian artists including Rekha Bhardwaj, Vishal Bhardwaj, Shilpa Rao, Varun Grover, and Zakir Khan, aimed to showcase the shared heritage and culture of India and Pakistan while promoting peace between the two countries. The initiative was cut short in April 2020 due to a directive from the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) which warned Indian artists against collaborating with Pakistani individuals, resulting in the conclusion of Sethi’s cross-border musical efforts.
- His song ‘Pasoori’ completed 100 million views on YouTube in 90 days. As of 10 August 2023, the song has more than 600 million views on YouTube. YouTube – Coke Studio
- In April 2023, fans shared Ali Sethi’s performance at Coachella Music Festival, many fans criticised his costume, a white angarkha (a traditional robe with long sleeves), and called him Pakistan ka Ranveer Singh, comparing him to the Indian actor, Ranveer Singh, known for his unique fashion sense. Hindustan Times
- In January 2023, he pulled back from singing the anthem of the 8th season of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) after the request of his father to avoid any controversy. The Indian Express
- In June 2023, when the remade version of Pasoori, sung by Arijit Singh, was released in the film Satyaprem Ki Katha, many people criticised the rendition. During that time, old videos of Ali got viral in which he was heard praising Arijit Singh’s voice and style of singing. The Free Press Journal
- He likes shoes and has a collection of many fancy shoes.
- He has worked under many music labels including True Brew and Mainstage Productions.
- He is a dog lover and has a pet dog.