After cutting his debut album last year to a warm reception, Doha-based instrumental rock guitarist Shehzad Bhanji is all set to release his second album, in which he continues to make his guitar “sing” his melodies.
The Pakistani expat says Profound Beginnings, which will premiere on Music Existence on March 17, and will then be available on iTunes, Amazon, Tidal, Deezer, Microsoft Groove, Anghami, and other platforms, is quite unlike his debut album.
“I am always looking for a situation in which a record can help me usher in a new era of writing, playing, and expression, and I get to take that message out to my fans,” Bhanji tells Community. “I get fascinated by harmonic possibilities, and at the same time, I’m interested in simplicity and elegance that goes straight to the listener’s heart and gives him or her a great feeling. So I basically play around with things. That was my approach for the new album.” To know more, Community caught up with Bhanji for a chat.
How challenging is it for you to balance your job as a banker and your passion as a guitarist?
Honestly, it’s really tough managing and balancing work, music and family. Producing an album requires a lot of time, commitment and passion. Back in the 90s when I started playing music, recording process was complicated and less flexible. One had to spend hours in the studio to complete the project in a given timeframe. However, things have changed for the good. At my home studio, I can now record whenever I want. It’s funny but an idea can strike any time. Most good ones come in the middle of the night. So having a home studio makes life so much easier. For me, producing music is a very fulfilling experience. But it requires a lot of time, especially when you are handling everything; music, recording and marketing. And in the end, all the hard work and creative adventures pay off.
Musically, following last year’s Never Say Goodbye, why was it necessary for you to put out the new album Profound Beginnings?
In this digital age of downloading music, there has been an underlying push over the last few years to deliver fresh content to fans on a more frequent basis, so as to stay on their radar and satiate their desire to get more from the artiste. Singles are the reason why fans bought albums in the past. They wanted one song, but had to purchase the entire album to get it. Today, no-one needs to buy an entire album anymore; iTunes, artiste websites, and other online retailers, make it very easy for consumers to sample songs and only buy the ones they like. So, if people are only buying one or two songs, why would an artiste want to spend so much money recording a full album instead of giving them a new single every month? However, I prefer releasing albums. It shows the complete side of an artiste. From a marketing perspective, it has a much bigger story to tell rather than releasing a single.
Your tracks carry a wistful mash of melodic guitar sounds and feels of the past. What about melodic rock music or musicians inspires you the most?
That’s hard to say because I have listened to so many guitarists from various genres. But I’ll try to narrow it down. When I listened to Joe Satriani, his music reached out and grabbed me. I am stunned at how revolutionary his guitar playing is, how he used the rich history of music he grew up with in such an original way. You hear pure instrumental rock, a bit of blues and jazz, the excitement over how to manipulate equipment to get a distinct sound, and a dedication to a new way of thinking. It’s astounding. I am also inspired by Eric Johnson and Eric Clapton but for me, Satriani leads the way in influences. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet Satriani and share my upcoming album with him. It felt so great to hear a positive feedback of my album from him.
As an instrumental guitarist, how difficult is it to find your foot in the Doha music scene? Also, what sort of feedback does your music usually fetch here?
Let’s start by accepting that instrumental rock is a niche genre. Many people don’t understand when I tell them that I’m an instrumental guitarist. My true passion is simply to write music about what I experience in life. So if I want to write a song about the onset of summer and I’m driving a convertible, I will write a summer song. The big difference between an instrumentalist and someone who writes lyrics is that I write music that I hand over to the audience, and they are free to associate any feeling with it that they like. The local band scene in Qatar is emerging, representing a unique sound and style. The best thing about Qatar is that it’s a multi-cultural environment which paves the way for various genres of music to flourish. It is in this space that the collaborations happen, too; fusing different styles to create a unique sound. There are a lot of cover bands and DJs, playing all the radio hits. But they have a long way to go when it comes to producing their own content. Furthermore, there is a dire need for professional music marketing professionals or established musicians to help upcoming artists, mentor and support them in forming the marketing and PR plan for their project, building their profile, distribution and sales strategy, social media management, guiding them about how to keep the fans engaged through content-based marketing and most importantly, preferred partners who can help at every step. It is a challenge that I face every day. It’s almost impossible to produce, record and mix music and take care of the above as well as the latter demands a lot of time and energy.
Shehzad Bhanji, left, with Joe Satriani.