To hear Pakistan's Ghulam Ali explain it, ghazal is everything. For the uninitiated, a ghazal links back to traditional Arabic poetry from the sixth century; the form spread to South Asia in the 12th century courtesy of the ruling Islamic sultanate. Ghazals are delivered in song, mixing rhyming couplets and refrains with instrumental accompaniment.
"It is an essential part of our being," says Ali, who is set to perform ghazals spanning his 50-year career at the Crowne Plaza in Dubai on Friday night. "It is an expression of our moods, be it romance or the pain of separation, beauty of the soul or our surroundings."
It was in the Pakistani pop world in the 1960s where Ali first made his mark, his Punjabi love songs also earning him a legion of fans in India, before he moved on to focus purely on performing and composing ghazals.
Ali says pop music background seeps into his ghazal compositions. "It is sometimes simplified," he says. "This is to help popularise it and with lyrics added on to emphasise the feelings behind the verse."
Ali denies Bollywood's popularity poses a threat to the future of ghazals. Instead he views the current songwriting techniques as an extension of the ancient art form.
"Classical is generally the base for all pop forms any way," he explains. "Bollywood is perhaps one of the biggest fans of ghazals. Bollywood propagated ghazals since its inception - they live in symbiosis and feed off each other's popularity."
While unaware of English translations of his extensive catalogue, Ali says his live performances thrive off interaction. "I try to bring out each poetic nuance," he says. "In a live performance, the response and the reaction are instantaneous. That appreciation gives me the greatest satisfaction."