Nadia Ali (Urdu: نادیہ علی) (born 3 August 1980) is a Pakistani American singer-songwriter. Ali gained prominence in 2001 as the frontwoman and songwriter of the band iiO after their debut single "Rapture" reached No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart. The song also charted across several countries in Europe. Their 2006 single, "Is It Love?", reached the top of the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play Chart.
After embarking on a solo career in 2005, Ali became successful as an oft-requested vocalist in electronic dance music. She released her debut album Embers in 2009. Critics praised her unique songwriting, which combined electronica with ballads, Eastern and acoustic music. Three singles from the album reached the top-ten of the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play Chart, including the No. 1 hit, "Love Story". The song was also nominated at the 25th International Dance Music Awards at the Winter Music Conference, while "Fantasy" was nominated for a Grammy award.
In 2010, she released a remix compilation titled Queen of Clubs Trilogy to mark her decade-long career as a singer-songwriter. "Rapture" was re-released as the only single from the compilation and the song was once again a chart success in Europe. Ali released the single "Pressure" with Starkillers and Alex Kenji in 2011, which became a club and festival anthem and received an International Dance Music Award. In 2012, she collaborated with BT and Arty on the single "Must Be The Love", which was nominated for an International Dance Music Award. She has also collaborated with several notable producers and DJs, such as Armin van Buuren, Schiller, Avicii and John Creamer & Stephane K. Ali is currently working on her second studio album, titled Phoenix.
Life and career:
1980-2005: Early life and iiO:
Nadia Ali was born in Libya to Pakistani parents in 1980. The family relocated when she was five years old and she was subsequently raised in Queens, New York. An eight-year-old Ali used any opportunity she could get to sing after a friend heard her humming a Madonna song at school and complimented her. While continuing singing as a hobby and for the thrill of performing and receiving no formal vocal training, she had also started writing poems and songs for her friends by the time she was 15. As a teenager her interest in dance music developed after visiting nightclubs in Manhattan and inspired her to dream that she would one day be featured on one of the records playing in the club.
Ali started working in the New York offices of Versace when she was 17, where she attracted attention by singing at the Christmas parties. A colleague from Versace introduced her to producer Markus Moser, who was looking for a female singer to collaborate on some of his original productions for a girl group in Germany. The two teamed up with Moser working on production, while Ali wrote the lyrics and vocals for the songs. Her first song was the single "Rapture", which she wrote in 30 minutes based on an encounter with an Australian nightclub patron. A demo of the song was first played at the New York club Twilo in 2001 and received early support from influential DJ Pete Tong who played the demo on his show on BBC Radio 1. The song eventually became an Ibiza favourite after support from prominent DJ's such as Sasha, Danny Tenaglia and Sander Kleinenberg during the summer season. Released in late 2001 by Ministry of Sound, the single became a commercial success peaking at No. 2 on UK Singles Chart and Billboard's Hot Dance Club Play Chart, while charting in several countries in Europe. The success of "Rapture", Ali said, caused the formation of iiO as the music they were initially working on was quite different from dance music and were asked to come up with a project name to promote the single. They originally named themselves Vaiio after the Sony VAIO laptop Ali used to write the lyrics on. The duo toured internationally and released several more singles, including "At the End", "Runaway", "Smooth", and "Kiss You". Their first studio album, Poetica followed in 2005.
Ali left the group in 2005 to pursue a solo career, while Moser continued to release iiO material featuring her on vocals. Most notably, these releases include the 2006 single "Is It Love?", which reached No. 1 in America on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play Chart, the 2007 remix album Reconstruction Time: The Best Of iiO Remixed and the 2011 studio album Exit 110. When asked about her decision to pursue a solo career, she said her time with iiO was a great learning experience but she decided to leave because she didn't want to restrict herself to one style of music but explore her creativity and also to have the freedom to collaborate with others artists.
Her decision to pursue a career as a singer was not initially encouraged by her Pakistani parents who were academically inclined and wanted her to pursue a more stable career. She has said since then they have evolved and are one of her biggest supporters. Speaking of her identity as a Pakistani woman, she has said it is very important to her to set an example that they are able to contribute positively and capable of taking their career into their own hands. Explaining further, she said that she feels it as her responsibility to any women who are sometimes stereotyped to show that they can contribute to arts or any professional field. Her ethnicity, she has stated, has been an advantage and helped her stand out in the entertainment industry. She has said that over the years, she has met South Asian women who have told her that her story has inspired them to pursue something they loved.
Ali started working on her debut solo album soon after leaving iiO, a process which took her four years. She attributed the delay to her busy tour schedule and the fact that she was still learning and "trying to establish her identity as a songwriter and co-producer". Her first solo release was the 2006 single, "Who is Watching?", a collaboration with Dutch DJ Armin van Buuren, which appeared on his album Shivers. She has described "Who is Watching?" as one of her most meaningful songs, the song described one's struggle to reach the top, only to realise once one is there how lonely it is and how one has forgotten their priorities and the important people in their life. This was followed by "Something to Lose" in 2006, a duet with singer-songwriter Rosko, produced by John Creamer & Stephane K and released by Ultra Records. The track was licensed to Roger Sanchez's Release Yourself, Vol. 5, as well as Sharam Tayebi of Deep Dish for his Global Underground debut Dubai.
In June 2008, she released "Crash and Burn", the first single from her solo album. The single became a club success peaking at No. 6 on Billboard's Hot Dance Club Play Chart. She released the second single, "Love Story" from the as-yet untitled album in February 2009. It topped Billboard Hot Dance Club Play Chart in April 2009 and was nominated for the Best Progressive/House Track at the 2010 International Dance Music Awards at the Winter Music Conference. Ali was featured on MTV Iggy in March 2009, where she recorded three live acoustic videos, performing "Rapture", "Crash and Burn" and "Love Story".
The third single "Fine Print" was released in July 2009. Ali announced that the single preceded the release of her debut solo album Embers. The single peaked at No. 4 on Billboard's Hot Dance Club Play Chart.Embers was released in September 2009. Co-produced by Sultan & Ned Shepard, Alex Sayz and Scott Fritz, Ali self-released the album on her own label, Smile in Bed Records.Embers generally received positive reviews, Chase Gran from About.com called it a "well rounded, gourmet album with impressive songs". Gail Navarro from Racket magazine complimented Ali on her songwriting saying, "It wasn't just her sultry sound mixed in together with that enchanting singing voice; her songwriting got me hook, line and sinker". Speaking about the self-release of the album, she has cited her creative independence and the pressure of deadlines as the main reasons why she created her own record label. She chose to release her singles and albums digitally citing the nature of the electronic music audience with the listener choosing to click a button and getting music instantly and the traditional method of distribution deals in the United States.
Ali released two collaborations in 2009, the first "Better Run" with Tocadisco was released on his album TOCA 128.0 FM and "12 Wives In Tehran" with Serge Devant was released on his album Wanderer.
2010-2011: Queen of Clubs Trilogy:
Ali's first release in 2010 was the track "Try", a collaboration with German producer Schiller, chosen as the lead single from his album Atemlos, the music video premiered on YouTube in February 2010. In April 2010, Ali released "Fantasy", the fourth single from Embers. The track was chosen as a single by her fans after a poll conducted by Ali on her Facebook page. The music video for "Fantasy" was set to the Morgan Page remix, which served as a prologue to Ali's next project; Queen of Clubs Trilogy: The Best of Nadia Ali Remixed. Speaking about the project, Ali mentioned that she wanted a remix compilation, which spanned the 10 years of her career from her one-half as iiO, to her solo album and collaborations. Explaining the name of the concept, she said she wanted to incorporate her upbringing in Queens and the fact that her music is predominantly played in nightclubs. Using that inspiration, she decided to use the playing card "Queen of Clubs" as the title, portraying herself as the Queen, a move she described as "audacious" but something she felt she could prove because she had the substance. The package was broken into three releases: Ruby Edition (August 2010), Onyx Edition (October 2010) and Diamond Edition (December 2010). It featured collaborations with, and remixes by, Armin van Buuren, Gareth Emery and Avicii amongst several other prominent DJs and producers.
With a decade-long career, MTV described Ali as one of the "enduring empresses" of electronic dance music and the Queen of Clubs Trilogy as "aptly titled". Noted for being the "definitive" and "unmistakable" voice of dance music, she is said to have "enriched" and "invigorated" the genre. Ali has went on to become an oft-requested collaborator by DJs and producers. She was praised for acquiring notability in a male and DJ-dominated genre where vocalists serve as supporting acts. She said this was a double-edged sword as she was also treated as competition by DJs. In December 2010, she received her first Grammy nomination when the Morgan Page remix of "Fantasy" was nominated in the Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical category.
Her first track with iiO, "Rapture" was re-released as a single from Queen of Clubs Trilogy with remixes by Tristan Garner, Gareth Emery and Avicii. A new music video for the track was shot based on the "Queen of Clubs" theme and released on 24 January 2011. The song peaked at No. 3 on the Romanian Top 100 chart, while charting in other European countries.
Throughout 2010, Ali's collaborations with DJs and producers were released. These included remixes of her upcoming collaboration "That Day" with Dresden and Johnston, which were released on compilation albums. The next, "The Notice" with Swiss duo Chris Reece was released on 13 July. Ali was featured on the track "Feels So Good" on Armin van Buuren's fourth album Mirage. Released as the fifth single from the album, the song was voted as the Best Trance Track at the 27th International Dance Music Awards. She was also a featured guest on his Armin Only tour.
During 2011, Ali announced the release of collaborations with several DJs and producers. The first of these was "Call My Name" with the duo Sultan & Ned Shepard, released by Harem Records on 9 February. "Call My Name" was a club success, charting at No. 5 on Billboard Hot Dance Club Play Chart. The second track "Pressure", a collaboration with Starkillers and Alex Kenji was released on 15 February by Spinnin' Records. The Alesso remix of "Pressure" became a club and festival anthem and received support from notable DJs such as Armin van Buuren, Tiesto, Swedish House Mafia and Calvin Harris and was voted the Best Progressive House Track at the 27th International Dance Music Awards.
In April, iiO released the studio album Exit 110, which featured Ali on vocals. She distanced herself from the album and stated she had no involvement in the project besides her vocals and words from nearly 10 years ago being used for the songs. She described it as "interesting" that there was new material featuring her released by iiO when she hadn't worked with Moser since 2005. She further said that she hadn't spoken with Moser since her departure and when asked whether the split of iiO was amicable, she refused to explain the circumstances surrounding the dissolution of the duo. On 23 May, her next collaboration, "Free To Go" with Alex Sayz was released by Zouk Recordings. She was featured on Sander van Doorn's second studio album Eleve11 on the track "Rolling the Dice", a collaboration between van Doorn, Sidney Samson and her. Her next release was the single "Believe It" with the German duo Spencer & Hill, which was released on 3 October by Wall Recordings. She collaborated once again with Starkillers on the single "Keep It Coming", which was released on 26 December by Spinnin' Records.
As of February 2010, Ali had begun working on her second studio album. A music video for the lead single from the album, "When It Rains", was released on her YouTube channel in August 2011. Ali mentioned in September 2012 that the single would be remixed by Tommy Trash but was noncommittal about a release date. She attributed the delay in the release of the album once again on her busy touring schedule citing the demand to perform live particularly in the United States. However, beginning in February 2012 she took 40 days off to work on the album, which she said would be titled Phoenix. She chose the name as an allusion to what she felt was a relaunch of her career. Explaining the creative process behind the album, she said she chose to work with a mix of international producers in an effort to combine the North American understanding of good songwriting with the European expertise in production to create a high energy dance album catered for her dance music fans. Elaborating further, she said she had collaborated with producers from both within and out of the electronic dance music genre to bring a different flavour to the album. She also tried to bring together the DJs with whom she had released songs within the last few years to make one cohesive compilation. The theme of the album, she explained, was to help the listener understand the artist personality and the singer-songwriter behind the music.
In May 2012, Ali announced her move to Los Angeles citing the need for a change after spending 26 years in New York City. Ali said the move had also provided her with new inspiration to work on Phoenix and helped her become more proactive about finishing the album. As of December 2013 the album has still not been released.
Her first release in 2012 was "This Is Your Life", the fourth single from Swiss DJ EDX's album On The Edge. That was followed by "Carry Me", a collaboration with Morgan Page, the fourth single from his third studio album, In the Air. Her next release was "Must Be the Love", the lead single from BT's ninth studio album A Song Across Wires, which was a collaboration between him, Arty and Ali. Ali said she had to bring out the best in her while working with BT as not only was she a long-time fan but also because he is a pioneer in electronic dance music. She also mentioned that despite having worked with him on the song for nearly two and a half years, they have never met. The single was nominated for Best Trance Track at the 28th International Dance Music (her fourth nomination for the award).
In December 2012, Ali announced her engagement to her fiancé, who she married in October 2013. When asked about an update on her album in a Google Hangout in December 2013, she said the release would take a while citing commitments in her personal life as the reason for the delay. However, she added that she was still working on the album and in 2013 had written 25 new songs, which include collaborations with Stargate, Steve Aoki, R3hab and Fedde Le Grand. She also wrote songs for Krewella for their debut album Get Wet.
In January 2014, Ali released an acoustic cover of The Police song "Roxanne" as a free download. The song was her first release as a lead artist since 2011.
Musical style and influences:
Ali is perhaps best known for her characteristic voice and vocal abilities. Reema Kumari Jadeja from MOBO described her work as "masterfully encapsulating euphoric and melancholic, Ali's signature music style sees Eastern mystique caressed with intelligent electronica and fortified with soul". The songs on Embers were likened to Madonna's work in her prime and a "modern re-interpretation" of Stevie Nicks. Billboard praised her voice for having "too much life on its own". Ali has been influenced by an eclectic mix of artists, which she credits to her Eastern background and upbringing in Queens. She listed alternative, folk, Indian and Pakistani music as her biggest influences. Some of her vocal and songwriting influences, she said, were Stevie Nicks, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Madonna, Sade and Bono.
Her debut album was noted for a blend of electronica, acoustic and Middle Eastern melodies. Speaking about Embers, Ali said she did not want a typical dance record and chose to experiment, particularly with the number of ballads on the album. Meanwhile, her second album Phoenix, she said would be a more "high-energy" dance album, where while she maintained her characteristic vocal style, she also experimented with the musical style. She said while working on the album she was inspired and influenced by indie pop and the styles of Avicii, R3hab and Skrillex. Ali has collaborated with DJs from a broad range of genres and styles in electronic dance music. Some of the resulting work has been described as minimal trance, "sad disco", "dance floor ballad" and "mainstream pop". With collaborations, Ali said she adjusted herself to the kind of song the DJ/producer wanted to produce - whether it was commercial or lyrically meaningful.
She has been praised for her songwriting, describing personal experiences with people, which "hit a powerful and striking chord" with the listener. Ali has said she almost always prefers to sing a song she has written herself and that the best songs are mostly written when they narrate a true account. The songs on Embers, Ali has stated, describe the relationships she has experienced and the emotions they have left behind. The song "Fantasy", she said, summed her up how she likes to be recognised, "an emotional songwriter who loves being a part of electronic music". Ali has said in the future she would like to focus more on production and songwriting and has written songs for Tocadisco, Avicii, Hardwell, Sultan & Ned Shepard, EDX and Pete tha Zouk.