By Umer Nangiana
It was Karachi, Pakistan of late 1980s. Taken in by the changing musical aura of his time, Shehzad Bhanji too picked up a guitar and set out to explore the world of popular music. He was 14 then. Bhanji found three ‘partners in crime’ in his cousins and together they formed a rock band.
SOLO ACT: Bhanji has composed and recorded his first album all by himself.
The band was doing well when life intervened — the music industry was still underdeveloped and their parents were not too happy with this as a career choice. So studies took priority, they all went their own ways, promising to return one day to pursue their passion to form a music band and take the industry by storm.
The reunion did happen. But life intervened again. Now they were married and were going places following their livelihood. But Bhanji was still determined to follow his dream of producing music and sharing his melodies with the world.
After a hiatus of almost two decades, he has finally done exactly that. Earlier this year, the Doha-based Pakistani expatriate musician released his first album to raving reviews from fans and critics in the industry.
The full album featuring 11 instrumental tracks was released globally on Feb 19 on iTunes, Amazon, Tidal, Google Play, Deezer and Microsoft Groove. His music video, Never Say Good Bye, was released in February globally and in India through Hungama Music. Heath Andrews Review gave his album 4 out of 5 stars.
For Bhanji, it was his unwavering commitment to pursue his passion and his lifelong attachment with his guitar that made it possible.
“I never left my guitar. I always kept playing. And it was my wife, herself an artist, who encouraged me. It was the year 2014 when in our New Year’s resolution, we both made a commitment to each other to pursue our passions,” Bhanji tells Community in a recent chat about the success of his first album and his future plans.
A lot of credit, he says, goes to Qatar as well for giving him inspiration and the opportunity to reconnect with his dream. “The most interesting thing about Qatar is that it is a multicultural environment with a lot of people from different backgrounds and different musical influences and it is always interesting to interact with them,” the musician observes.
However, he feels there is lot to be done when it comes to producing original music and take it a level up.
He, however, took his music to that level with his first album which took him a year to complete. From composition to recording and production, Bhanji did everything by himself at his home studio.
When he restarted his musical journey, he did not want it to begin with a one-off single, rather a complete project. So he did 20 tracks, out of which he selected 11 for the album. All tracks were instrumentals.
“The challenge was to make people understand that [the album] was instrumental, that there were no vocals in it. And producing such an album in itself is very challenging. You have to keep the engagement going with the listener, or else, it becomes too monotonous,” says Bhanji.
A banker by profession, he has been living in Doha for four years. He is a completely self-taught artist, learning to play from listening. Bhanji says he has been following different genres but his biggest influence has always been Joe Satriani, followed by Eric Clapton and Eric Johnson.
“These are guys who are more into melodic rock, which I prefer. My music is not the sort of screaming, shouting thrash metal guitar, it is more melodious,” says the artist. For Bhanji it all started in Karachi with a musical programme called Music 89. It was a source of inspiration for youngsters at that time.
He too started playing guitar. He and his three cousins decided to form a band. In 1990 they got their break when Rhythm, the first ever programme launched as a musical chart, launched them.
“We had a very good thing going and we had our studio and we were producing our stuff. But then studies took priorities. We all departed but then we had a commitment that we will get back together and will start again,” recalls Bhanji.
“We of course did that but it was very difficult. We all had our jobs and we were married now as well. And then we went abroad for work and everything just disbanded,” he adds.
For him, initially it was strictly a career choice. He acknowledges it was social pressures that prevented it from becoming a reality.
“Our parents obviously were not too keen that we play music and move away from our studies. And there was also a change in our looks at that time. (Laughs). So it was a shock for them. They were freaking out at it,” says Bhanji.
But he believes whatever happens, happens for a reason. It was meant to be this way. He is however happy for whatever he has achieved at this stage. Now he has control and he can shape his life whatever way he wants to. “I have resources to do it as well. So I will take that,” Bhanji smiles.
Bhanji says he would love facing the audience now as he feels ready. However, by launching the album the idea was to launch Shehzad as a brand and to establish who Shehzad is and what sort of music he plays.
In the last two months, he says he has achieved a lot. The kind of recognition he has been looking for has been established. So at this point in time, he feels he is better off working alone, and not with a band.
“In a band, every person has his own mind-set and it gets difficult sometimes to gel in all the different thoughts into one,” feels Bhanji.
Working with likeminded musicians, however, is one of the options that he is considering for his second album, which he has already started working on. Three instrumentals have already been recorded, waiting to be finished.
His second album will be all about collaborating with other musicians from around the world. There are two musicians from US and UAE who have already played in his solos.
“I am trying to fuse different instruments into my music. You would listen a bit of violin or flutes, accordion or Irish pipes, so I am trying to give the audience a different flavour,” says the musician. He is also doing at least one vocal track for the album.
The rest will be instrumental as an “instrumental has no boundaries in terms of language.”
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