Ali Al-Talib made the decision to move away from his humble hometown in Winchester to pursue his passion for music in the city. Tearing himself away from the friendly locals who wished him well and encouraged him to push on, Ali’s now on his way to see what he can make of himself and his music in London. Brought up with a strong sense of gratitude and appreciation for life by his Middle Eastern parents (alongside his brother who is a doctor and also in a band), Ali chatted to us about his hopes, dreams and challenges that lie ahead.
Getting to Know Ali
Why did you move to London?
My hometown, Winchester, is really small – nothing leaves and nothing comes out. If you’re going to go anywhere, you really have to prize yourself out. I’d been commuting to London for ages as I’d bagged myself a job working in advertising for a company based in Soho. It was great to be surrounded by all the opportunities to perform at gigs and network with friends and colleagues who are also similarly active in the music industry. But at the same time, it was torture being restrained by the evening commute home and missing out on opportunities. Sometimes you have to dive in head first, so I packed my stuff and moved to London with the chance to lap up every opportunity that comes along.
What’s your lifestyle like at the moment?
I’m living in Brixton and, as a true twenty-something, am living with flatmates I met through Spareroom. I’m still working in Soho in advertising by day, but I devote my time outside of work to writing, recording and performing.
Where did your love for music start?
At a really young age. My Dad fully encouraged me to take classical guitar lessons for 10 years. For a while all I wanted to do was get my hands on an electric guitar as I was dazzled by the amp, the colours and of course how cool I would look to be playing one haha. At that age no one thinks the acoustic is that cool and I was OUTRAGED when my brother got an electric. It felt like such an injustice… I must have sulked for about a month. But now, I can definitely say those classical classes on the acoustic have been well worth it in the long run. I got to my grade 7 before deciding that actually it’s time I played the tunes I really connect to and that’s when I also began writing.
Do you play any other musical instruments?
Yeah, of course! Well, bits here and there haha. I play a little bit of the ukulele, drums, piano, mini harp and harmonica (you always get a great reaction when throwing one of these into the mix!)
Can you remember the most in love you’ve been music?
Funny you should ask that as it would probably be the most recent piece I’ve been playing. A close friend of mine has recently quit his job to write his own book and is making a trailer for it. He needs a soundtrack for the trailer, which is why he got in touch to pull in a favour from me. I spent time working on his brief to figure out which song would best represent the storyline. When I chose it, I knew it would be the most difficult piece I’ve ever played but the fact that he had asked me to play and ultimately represent the book all of his efforts have been going into, was extremely motivating. I grew up with this friend and so it actually meant one hell of a lot that I was asked to be involved in such a big thing.
“…you’re being entirely transparent and exposing your personal ambitions which, to be honest, feel much safer when kept under lock and key.However, the more open you are, the more you find spots of encouragement in the most unexpected places.”
Why do you choose the cover songs you’ve done?
Well the genre of songs I’ll cover span across such a broad range… I’ll play everything from grime or pop to soul or disco. The one thing I won’t do is cover a song just because it’s trending. So many times I’ll play a set and people will come over afterwards and say ‘oh that cover was just like Ed Sheeran’, but as an artist developing your own style it isn’t always the greatest thing to hear. If you manage to get a style that people love but can’t necessarily compare with a similar artist, that’s when you know you’re winning.
What’s the biggest challenge you face?
I hate self-promotion, yet its’ completely necessary if you’re going to get anywhere. Nowadays, the promo side of things is by far the most important part of growing your audience as an artist and getting people to listen to your music. If you want something that badly, you have to be prepared to get totally obsessed and shout about it at every moment possible, to anyone who will listen…. friends, family, colleagues, friends of friends etc. That does mean, though, that you’re being entirely transparent and exposing your personal ambitions which, to be honest, feel much safer when kept under lock and key. However, the more open you are, the more you find spots of encouragement in the most unexpected places. Your self-confidence and state of mind are powerful tools. If you believe in yourself, others will start to believe in you too.
“If you want something that badly, you have to be prepared to get totally obsessed”
How do you emotionally detach when performing?
It’s quite difficult! Especially if you’re revisiting music you’ve written about someone. A lot of the time you’ll consider that a part of your life you want to leave behind, but when you perform it later down the line, you learn to grow an appreciation for the way you were feeling; you’re able to acknowledge how you’ve grown and moved forward, which is no bad thing.
What would you advise people in the music scene?
Go for it. You just have to do it. The city is expansive and if you have the tiniest bit of motivation, then throw yourself into the circuit and meet as many people as you can.
“…throw yourself into the circuit and meet as many people as you can.”
Rebel Wrap Up
What inspires you to write your own music?
Mm I need to be in the mood to write music. I usually write when something significant happens in my day or even something really small like a sentence someone says, that evokes some kind of emotion in me. Once I have that first spark, I’ll have a song I’m really happy with within an hour or two. You might think it’s a short period of time to write something but if you’re feeling passionate about something and you’re in a creative mood then chances are you’re going to be getting into the rhythm of expressing the way you’re feeling in that moment.
What’s your ultimate dream?
Being a full time artist. I did a gig recently and noticed a couple of people singing along to the songs I’ve written. To see that happen a lot would be the dream. It’s one thing for your brother or your best friend to sing along to your tracks, but to see strangers you’ve never met engaging with your music to the point that they know the lyrics off by heart is, well, a pretty indescribable feeling.
I would be so happy to spend my days being totally enthralled in music. So I plan on conquering the hurdles one step at a time. Gig after gig, track after track; it’s a matter of driving forward at full speed until you gain enough momentum to really kick things off the ground. The music industry is ruthless, you have no option but to make sure you’re working harder than all other potential talent out there.
“Gig after gig, track after track; it’s a matter of driving forward at full speed until you gain enough momentum to really kick things off the ground…”