desiFEST Music and South Asian Music Society got a chance to catch the incredible and talented musician .. Zeshan B, live in TORONTO.
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Born in Chicago to Indian Muslim immigrants, Zeshan Bagewadi’s musical identity was formed at the junction of two different worlds.
His parents’ nostalgic yearning for the sounds of their native land gave him a profound exposure to Indo-Pakistani music. However, his father, having been one of the few journalists in India to cover Black literature and music in the 1960s and 70s, was immensely fond of Black artistic expression. As such, Zeshan grew up with the sounds of his father’s blues, soul, and R&B collection as well. Additionally, his mother–a retired social worker at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital–imbibed Zeshan with a sensitivity and awareness of the plight of disenfranchised minorities.Those two worlds collide on his debut album ‘Vetted’. Produced by Lester Snell (the legendary arranger for Isaac Hayes, Al Green, Mavis Staples), ‘Vetted’ is a mixtape of Zeshan’s originals and lesser known 1960s and ‘70s deep soul gems. The album was recorded in Memphis at the famed Ardent Studios with a wrecking crew of Stax Records’ sidemen.
And in 11 tracks and 3 languages–English, Urdu and Punjabi–Zeshan pours his heart out.
Tempestuous soul arias, urban love dramas, Memphis blues, and a civil rights anthem are all performed with an idiomatically Indo-Pakistani feel —with blaring tanpura and harmonium alongside hard grooves, delicate strings, and riveting horns. But floating above it all are Zeshan’s powerfully mellifluous vocals as he narrates–through the prism of his family’s immigrant experience–tales of instability, ambiguity, loss, injustice, unrequited love, urban despair and youthful ecstasy.
‘Vetted’ was released in April 2017 by Chicago label Minty Fresh to commercial and critical acclaim–with the album charting in its debut at #8 on Billboard’s Top 10 Albums (World Music) and receiving rave reviews from Rolling Stone, NPR, ABC and the Times of India. Zeshan’s hit single from the album ‘Cryin in the Streets’–his reinterpretation of George Perkins’ 1970 classic civil rights anthem–has garnered praise from PRI, American Songwriter, Chicago Tribune and the New York Times (WNYC) for its musical finesse as well as its relevance in America’s current socio-political climate.
Zeshan B’s live show has sold out venues across America, U.K., Italy and India–including the famed Apollo, Excel Arena, and Coke Studio’s Jaipur Fest. He has opened for the likes of Mos Def, A Tribe Called Quest, Rakim, Rev. Otis Moss III and Rev. Jesse Jackson. In 2015, Zeshan performed for the Carter Foundation in Detroit with a rendition of the U.S. National Anthem–after which Former President Jimmy Carter emphatically stated, “I have never heard a more beautiful rendition of The Star Spangled Banner than the one we just heard.” This acclaimed performance led to the ultimate honor for Zeshan–an invitation from President Obama to perform at the White House for its inaugural celebration of Eid.
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