His name may not be household yet, but his newest song, It’s You, will be soon enough. The stripped-back, acoustic/R&B love song has surged up the charts all over the world, including peaking at #15 on the ARIA Singles chart in Australia, and it’s showing no signs of stopping for 22-year-old Ali Gatie (pronounced ‘Ah-lee Gah-tee’).
So who is this crooner? The Canadian singer is only a few years into his music career – only three-and-a-half years to be exact – and yet his hard-working ethos has seen his career grow remarkably fast with nearly 700K followers on Instagram and an eye-watering 17 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Growing up listening to Ed Sheeran, J Cole and Frank Ocean, Ali realised that music didn’t need to sound a certain way – no rules, no boxes, no preconceived notions. It’s a phenomenon we’re seeing a lot of these days. From Rico Nasty’s rap-rock to Ed Sheeran's blues rock collab with Chris Stapleton to Billie Eilish’s whispered emo-pop to Chance The Rapper enlisting Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard on a new song, genre is close to dead and Ali has absolutely no issue with this.
“Once I got into Frank Ocean, I started thinking about how there’s a lot of diversity in music,” Ali explains. “It doesn’t have to sound a certain way. He was a different type of R&B, it was darker, he sang in metaphors. So I started to explore more – I’m one of those people that will listen to any song.
“Even as a kid I had an understanding of music being universal and I never put it in a certain category, and I think that my music now is [so diverse] – it’s pop, but it’s R&B, it’s a little hip hop, it’s definitely not just one [genre].
“Look at the biggest song in the world, it’s a country rap song!”
It’s You utilises gentle plucked strings and his slightly smoky vocals to reel in listeners, while songs like Moonlight and Remedy rock more SoundCloud rap-inspired beats coupled with free-flowing bars.
He’s obsessed with the studio these days. Starting out singing in the shower as a kid, ever since Ali tried writing original songs at 18, he’s been hooked.
“That was my thing – I’d always be singing in the shower. And I’d always just write poetry. That was a big thing for me. That was for myself but when I got a bit older, I’d send poems to girls. I was that guy,” he jokes. “I’d do little cute stuff like that. I’d be singing covers of Bruno Mars to girls, send them voice notes.
“But then when I was 18, I had this friend who was a rapper, he was like, ‘come to the studio, check it out’. I went and I started making songs and I fell in love with the idea of being in the studio making songs. That was like January 2016, ever since then, no one can get me out of the studio now.”
Born and raised in Abu Dhabi, when he was “9 or 10” Ali and his very tight-knit family moved to Toronto, a city Ali explains is a melting pot of cultures and people and heavily influenced Ali’s commitment to showcasing diversity through his music.
“I had a little time in the Middle East but because my parents are Iraqi, even though I grew up in this Western culture and I have a lot of Western influences, because my parents raised me in the Middle Eastern culture, I got this good mixture of Middle Eastern and Western. And where I’m from in Toronto, it’s so diverse. I grew up with so many cultures that I kind of got an understanding of everyone.”
As one of very few Middle Eastern artists in the Western music world today, it’s unsurprising that Ali would let this overarching theme of acceptance filter into his music.
“One thing I do take a lot of pride in – there’s not really a big Muslim/Arab artist who’s representing that culture, especially not in the music I make. There’s not really anyone I can think of. I’m taking a lot of pride in representing diversity, not necessarily just representing Arab Muslims but representing Asia, South Asia, representing everyone.
“I just dropped this music video for It’s You and it’s like, it shows diversity. Everyone looks different – some people wear hijab, some people don’t wear much at all, some people like the same sex, some people don’t like anyone. I’m always going to push the narrative that I make love songs and love is universal and love can look like anything. I think in general, me being an immigrant and me living in a diverse environment has me pushing that message of acceptance and diversity.
“I want any kid – they don’t have to be Arab – but they just might look different than their favourite artist, and think, ‘Ali Gatie’s different and HE puts people in his videos that look like ME.’ Even the cover art for It’s You is like, ‘you’ in four different languages and obviously I couldn’t put every language, but it’s this vibe of acceptance. It’s a love song and love songs should be for everyone. No one should feel left out; no one should watch the video and think, ‘aww, no one in the video looks like me.’ I want people to understand it’s okay to be different.”
Ironically, it took Ali’s Iraqi parents nearly a year to accept that he wanted to drop out of university to pursue a music career. Like any first-generation kid can relate to, immigrant parents often painstakingly leave their home country so their children are able to benefit from a better education in a Western country, and Ali’s parents were no different.
“When I first started making music, I was in my last year of high school. I’m from an immigrant family – the whole thing was ‘you have to go to university’ – so I went, and I was a good student too, I was a 4.0 GPA student. But I thought, ‘school is pretty much gonna hold me back. If I invest these four years into my music career, I bet by the end of the four years I would’ve invested into school, I could become a popular artist, make a living doing this.’
“I thought about it logically – I’m about to do four years of something I don’t wanna do, why not do four years that I do wanna do? And I’m still young, I was 18 or 19. If it doesn’t work, I can go back and become an accountant or something,” he laughs.
Then he had to tackle the tough conversation with his parents.
“They were NOT cool with the decision at all. I first asked them, ‘hey, I’m thinking of taking a break’, and they were like, ‘don’t even THINK about taking a break.’ So I dropped out without telling them. I’m a good kid, I tell my parents everything. I’m very cool with them, but I dropped out without telling them and three months later, I caved. I couldn’t lie to their face anymore. I said, ‘mum, I don’t go to school anymore, I’m doing music,’ and it was too late, I had already dropped out. She couldn’t do anything.
“It still took me a good year to make a little bit of money doing music so that year was really hard. Now they get it, but my dad will still hint at me going back to school and I’m like, ‘dad, do you understand what’s happening in my life right now?’ But he’s like, ‘oh, school’s a safe option…’ They just don’t get it, you know? They come from different worlds,” Ali finishes.
But like Ali’s gut feelings hinted, his leap of faith into music has started to pay off. We can’t wait to see where he jumps to next.