Adnan Sami

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About Adnan Sami

If there’s one word that describes Adnan Sami’s many decades in music, it’s adaptability. The son of a Pakistani father and Indian mother, born and raised in London, Sami was a piano prodigy who started playing the instrument when he was five and made his debut performance on the BBC World Service aged just nine. At 16 he wrote his first song—an appeal for help for famine-hit Ethiopia titled “Run for His Life”—which earned him an award from UNICEF. His 1989 debut album The One And Only, a virtuosic juxtaposition of Western classical piano and Indian tabla, was made with tabla maestro Zakir Hussain. Sami seemed set for a career as a classical virtuoso, but he had even grander plans. His 1991 solo vocal album Raag Time yielded a hit in the mournful heartbreak song “Teri Yaad Aati Hay”, earning him an acting gig as the star of 1995 Pakistani musical Sargam, which also featured Bollywood legend Asha Bhosle singing for the soundtrack. The two collaborated on 2000’s Kabhi To Nazar Milao, with the album’s blend of Hindustani classical, pop and dance propelling it to the top of the Indipop charts, where it stayed for 72 weeks. The cheeky Urdu pop of “Lift Karaa De”—a fun strings-and-dhol ditty about asking God for a little boost to his fortunes, with a music video starring action-comedy star Govinda—reflected the irreverent optimism of post-liberalisation India, and it transformed Sami into an instant pop star. When the pop bubble burst in the early 2000s, Sami effortlessly changed tack into a career as a playback singer and film music composer. He lent his voice to some of the biggest hits of the decade, demonstrating his musical chops by collaborating with more classical-leaning singers like Bhosle as well as younger pop artists such as Sunidhi Chauhan and Shreya Ghoshal. He’s also a big name in Telugu film music, where he’s worked with composers like Devi Sri Prasad, A.R. Rahman and Yuvan Shankar Raja. Though less prolific since the late 2010s, the Padma Shri awardee continues to sing on Hindi and Telugu film songs and regularly performs to packed arenas all over the globe. A remarkable run of eight sold-out shows at London’s Wembley Arena in 2017 are a testament to Sami’s enduring popularity not just in the Indian subcontinent but across the world.

August 15, 1973

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