His new album has strong and powerful melodic structure. It also goes into experimental genres. Keeping himself within the instrumental rock genre, he explores himself in different sub-genres like blues, punk, ballad and acoustics.
This is the kind of uniqueness which Dreams — the new album — by Shehzad Bhanji, a Pakistani instrumental rock guitarist based in Doha, brings to the table. The third album of the guitarist is far different from his two earlier ones as it has an experimental genre attached to it.
“It is not going to give you one sound across all. It has so much variety. It is going to appeal to much broader audience. There is something for everyone in this album,” said Bhanji who recently released the album.
Bhanji has tried to create a perfect balance in the new album. “While I was bouncing ideas about the third album in my mind, one aspect was very clear to me that it should have a perfect balance of melody, experimental genres, harmony and groove.”
Dreams contains 10 songs and is all about key moments in Shehzad’s life that occurred over the last two years. The songs are: Matched Hearts (featuring T Julliet), Dreams, Papa’s Got A New Car, Uncertain Certainties, Misplacin’ Love, A Butterfly’s Wings, In Your Embrace, What the Funk, Dancing in the Rain, and Wishing Upon A Fading Star. His two earlier albums were Never Say Goodbye and Profound Beginnings.
The guitarist, who was speaking to Community on the eve of the album launch, spent more than two years writing, making demos and eventually recording them at his home studio. “The 10 songs that appear on Dreams, culled from upwards of 40 musical ideas in various forms of completion, cover considerable and even surprising sonic and emotional ground. I had to be brave enough to be lighthearted. But how do you do that and still maintain the perfect balance between melodic appeal of the track and guitar techniques!”
The musician often finds it hard to explain to people what exactly is an instrumental guitarist all about. “Basically, an instrumentalist is one who creates melodies just like a typical song but is played through guitar. It is expressed through guitar. It is a very difficult kind of job because you have no vocals involved. So, you need to create a right kind of story first, then the highs and lows, ups and downs through the variations of guitar. That is something extremely challenging. While you are producing an instrumental song, it is very important to narrate the story to establish a connection with the listeners. That is where the whole magic of instrumental comes into play.”
This is something that entices Bhanji and keeps him going. There were times when he was collaborating with vocal artistes. “Honestly, the sense of satisfaction which you get while doing an instrumental is far more for me. The journey started when I was 14 when I went for the concert of very famous band Iron Maiden. The guitarist just caught my attention.”
The guitarist found it really hard learning how to play the instrument. He was not accepted by a music school in Karachi because he was left-handed and the guitars are made for only the right-handed. “I do all the stuff with my left hand. The problem is if you want to play left handed, all the strings need to go the opposite side. There is a specific guitar for southpaws. To save the hassle, the school told me that southpaws cannot play the guitar. I however, practised on an acoustic guitar with my right hand just to make sure that I play the guitar. Now, I am a right-handed guitarist.”
His passion towards music composition started after he watched the show Music 89 hosted by the subcontinent’s first pop star Nazia Hassan. “It was the same year — 1989 — that all pop music bands came into being, Vital Signs, for instance. The show provided a key platform that inspired the youth towards music. So, I and three of my cousins also decided to form a music band. We had a guitarist, drummer, keyboard player and vocalist. Initially, we had some success.”
The young boys had to quit music to follow higher studies. Their families did not give them the required support. “I think our parents were right. Even the music industry at that time was not evolved as such to be a full-time professional musician. Eventually, all four of us had to give in. We went abroad for studies in 1994. We also made a commitment to each other that we would come back and start again. We came back, got jobs and married. It became difficult to start it again. It never happened again as a band.”
Bhanji, a banker by profession, came to Qatar in 2013. He however, always felt that something was missing in his life. “My wife Shazia, who is a painter/artist, and I made a resolution on 2015 New Year night that we will pursue our artistic dreams. In pursuit of the resolution, I have so far launched three albums.”
The guitarist has mixed feelings about the response of his first two albums before the launch. “When I started the first album I was bit sceptical. The reason was instrumental rock — a very niche kind of genre. Secondly, the music industry had advanced so much and I had no clue about that. When I sent a few demos to producers in the US, I got the response that who in the age of pop and rap was trying to produce an instrumental rock album. I was confident and persistent. However, the response was great from countries like US where the genre had been appreciated for quite a while. The response was good and it pushed me to release the second album in 2016. I was interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine in 2017. It was like a dream come true.”
Bhanji’s principle of making instrumental music is basically something that people can listen to while they want to relax. “It basically distracts you. Enjoy the music with a cup of coffee after a long day. Instrumentals are very different but yet very similar. Instrumental music also needs to have a very strong melodic structure. It is like you paint a story. You create and define the mood. Within that mood, you create ups and down, highs and lows. It has to do more with your personal feelings which come into a guitar. That is the only way you can connect with the listeners.
“The genre started in late 1970s in the US. There have been many famous guitarists. Instrumental rock as a genre has again evolved. Previously, it was more of classic rock. Now, every new guitarist is bringing his or her own style. It will continue evolving. It is not going to die because there is an audience that listens to it.”
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