We had the pleasure of chatting to Eurovision France, c’est vous qui décidez star Ali who will be competing with his track Paris me dit (Yalla ya helo!). Ali spoke to us about his background, stepping into the Eurovision bubble, the themes behind his entry, and some of his favourite Eurovision moments. The track will be launched on January 22nd. You can connect with Ali on his Instagram
CF: How did you find yourself working in the arts?
Ali: I always wanted to work in the art field. I was never really encouraged to be an artist where I come from in Lebanon. You’re not really encouraged to be a singer or an artist. You’re normally encouraged to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer – you really need to ‘secure your future’ – and there is the belief that “It’s not a job.” I always wanted to do it, but never got the chance to do it, so instead went into interior architecture – and then I decided to follow my dreams and here we are now. I decided to leave Lebanon and went to Milan, and then finally came to Paris – and now am officially working in the industry that I’ve always wanted to do. As well as working in music, I work in fashion and I just launched my first ready to wear collection.
CF: Thinking about your background in Lebanon, is there a conscious decision to incorporate Lebanese musical influences into your music?
Ali: It’s not about incorporating it in my music, sometimes when you go through things and you live things they just become a part of you. Since I wanted to tell my story in Paris me dit (Yalla ya helo!), my heritage is part of my story so it felt normal for me for it to be present.
CF: Your range of covers showcases quite an eclectic set of musical influences – Gaga, Billie Eilish, 4 Non Blondes, Madonna. How have you been choosing which tracks to cover and has it been a challenge to think of ways to reinvent these?
Ali: Before anything I choose the artists and song that I like – that’s the most important thing. Then I try to write lyrics in French and sometimes these are literal translations as I try and make them my own in French. I wanted to share a part of me with the world because people don’t really know me and I didn’t have a lot of musical content on social media or music platforms so people were wondering “Who is Ali?” I’m just telling the world who Ali is.
CF: Can you tell me a little more about the love heart symbol on your hand which featured in your performance for Paris me dit (Yalla ya helo)?
Ali: I’m a very visual person (as you can tell by my covers) and at a certain point I was thinking of expressing myself in a way that tells my story. I thought, you know what, be simple if you want people to connect and understand. There’s an expression in France that says ‘have your heart on your hand’ and I’m putting my heart and my soul on my hand and I’m sharing it with you. That’s why I have it on my hand, showing it’s all I have and I’m giving it to you.
CF: Talk me through how you came to submit an entry for the French Eurovision selection?
Ali: It was actually because I knew that I wanted to make music. I was never really ready and had the courage to pursue it and express this with the world. Now I am fully proud of myself and at ease with my body, feelings and the person that I am. Now I am really ready to share my music with the world – and what better stage to share your music than the biggest stage ever!
CF: That’s the stage you want to be on! I think 2021 will be such a massive year for Eurovision as 2020 was such a sad year for music fans and Eurofans that the contest didn’t happen the way that it was originally intended. 2021 will surely be a euphoric celebration regardless of the way it actually goes ahead.
Ali: When I was watching last year, I will still happy that it was going ahead – but it was very different. I’m so happy to know that we are still going to keep on doing it because even though we are living in a very difficult time, we can be very happy and grateful that we are still allowing artists to do what they do. For example people in the theatre business don’t have the chance to be on television or to do what they do – so I’m so happy and grateful that we are being given the chance to do this.
CF: Can you tell me a little bit about the themes and inspiration behind ‘Paris me dit? (Yalla ya helo)’
Ali: For those that don’t speak French the track means ‘Paris tells me’ and Yalla ya helo in Lebanese means ‘come over handsome.’ This is what I felt when I came to Paris – it’s me telling my story – where I came from and what Paris allowed me to do and to be. I was this young boy living in a warzone under bombs and living in rejection, going on and not giving up and having hope. This is the message I really want to give with the song: hope. There is always a way for us to make it and we should not give up.
CF: I think that really does translate. There’s such a sense of freedom and hopefulness about the song.
Ali: I want us all to dance. To dance our way through life.
CF: Going forward to the studio recording of the track, can you tell me if there are any differences between that and the live recording?
Ali: I think I can actually say now – and this is the first time I can say this, here you go Culture Fix! – the official launch of the single will be January 22nd. We’re working on a new arrangement – a little revamp. It’s still going to be the same song, it’s just a bit more, I don’t know how to say it, more authentic. This is really me. This is what Ali is about.
CF: Do you think Paris me dit could be part of a wider project: an EP or album?
Ali: All I have to say is this the beginning of the adventure. There are definitely things to come! This is my musical debut and already thing are happening so fast. But I’m already thinking about the future and I’m sure things are going to be amazing.
CF: In terms of your… I don’t want to say competition for ‘Eurovision: C’est vous qui décidez’, your colleagues perhaps. how has the promotional experience been? Can you share some of your experiences with your fellow entrants?
Ali: We’ve been together a couple of times. We’ve done some photoshoots and some television recordings. We’ve already met and now we really know each other. We have this group on Whatsapp where we talk and communicate, so it’s very nice to have this relationship with them. It feels very weird because I don’t know if I should feel like an outsider because I’m one of the only ones that is coming out of the blue. They all make music and it’s incredible what they do! I look up to them and they are all really nice. The nice thing about us is that we are all very different and that’s probably why we should not really talk about competition. There is nothing really to compare – you either like it or not, it’s your taste or not your taste.
CF: What would winning the French selection mean to you?
Ali: It’s me realising my dreams and it’s such an accomplishment. In terms of me making music, it’s me overcoming all my fears about expressing myself and sharing my music with the world. Especially when so many people try to bring you down and say ‘Oh you’re never going to make it,’ ‘It’s too difficult’ or ‘You’re not good enough.’ Second of all, it’s a way for me to thank France and honour France because they accepted me and adopted me. For me to representing what I really consider my country is just amazing. I just want to give back to France what they gave me – at least a little bit.
CF: Thinking back to last year, did you have a favourite entry from the 2020 Eurovision artists?
Ali: My personal favourite was Diodato and his song Fai rumore. I loved the song – it’s a ballad and it’s so amazing. I can cry for hours listening to that.
CF: Speaking of Eurovision more generally, who are a few of your all time favourite acts?
Ali: I have so many. My all time favourite act? One of them is Conchita Wurst with Rise Like a Phoenix. It was just amazing. The song, the message, the vocals, it was unexpected, it was elegant and chic, and it won. Another song that I really like was Australia in 2016, Dani Im’s Sound of Silence. It was so good! Her voice is so good, just stellar. She was just sitting on her little cube and I was like ‘Where did this voice come from?!’ Another song I really like which all the Eurofans will know was Love Love Peace Peace. I love this song!
CF: Måns and Petra, the best hosts that the contest has ever had!
CF: I really appreciate getting the chance to talk to you and find out more about the track and the process. I wish you the best of luck – I’m so excited to watch your journey progress!