Zeshan B: What Are You Listening To ?
Zeshan B’s music and life has found him at the center of the American experience. He has performed the “Star Spangled Banner” for former President Jimmy Carter, with Carter noting, “I have never heard a more beautiful rendition of ’The Star Spangled Banner’ than the one we just heard.” This led to his performance for former President Barack Obama at the White House’s inaugural celebration of Eid (a Muslim holiday that celebrates the end of Ramadan).
Zeshan was born to Indian-Muslim immigrants in Chicago and has channeled into his music the inspiration of his ancestor’s lands alongside deep cuts of ’60s and ’70s American soul/blues. On his debut album, Vetted, (out now via Minty Fresh) Zeshan summons the tribulations of the immigrant experience through the lens of traditional Indian music (“Meri Jaan”) and Pakistani music (“Ki Jana ?”). As a whole, Vetted is a portrait of a man and a tribute to life as a multi-cultural human being.
Bill Withers, “Use Me”
Grooviest song of ALL time. In those breaks when he sings, ‘But oh baby…*clap…baby…*clap…
Mehdi Hassan, “Shikwa Na Kar”
Mehdi Hassan is the greatest singer to ever come out of India/Pakistan (he was born in India and moved to Pakistan in the 1947 Partition) and the profundity of his music and his voice has influenced me enormously since I was a kid. ‘Shikwa Na Kar’ is #BrownSkinnedSoul at its very best; it’s a painfully sad tune that offers no deliverance, no redemption at all from the depths of despair. The strings doubling Mehdi Hassan’s sweet, mellow voice along with those beautiful, sinewy lead synth interludes…Oh lord! I get entranced!
The Impressions, “I’m So Proud”
If there ever was a tune that could bring me to tears, it would be this one. Just listen to the tenderness of those bells and the gracefulness of Curtis’, Fred’s and Sam’s singing; it captures the imagination of us now in 2017 because it makes us look back to a time when tenderness, beauty, spirituality and perhaps even innocence were ever so palpable in music. I think EVERYONE in the world needs a daily dose of Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions. I get mine every day and it feels great! And since they are Chicago’s own, they make me SO proud of being a son of Chicago and inheriting an incredibly rich and unique musical tradition!
Isaac Hayes, “Walk on By”
This ain’t even a song, it’s an orchestral suite. Like, seriously, this tune could easily be performed by a symphony orchestra (hey, that’s a great idea, I’m going to do that). I mean, for all of the simplicity of those lyrics, the depth of everything else is mind-blowing: contrapuntal string arrangements, modulations (key changes, sorry I’m being kind of nerdy here), the choral layering and the recurring Wagnerian leitmotifs (OK, I’m taking the nerdiness to new heights! Just Google leitmotifs and I promise you’ll thank me because you’ll have picked up a super badass topic of conversation for cocktail hour). In other words, Isaac Hayes was a genius and his style was so fresh and inspiring.
**Trivia: The guitarist on this record (Michael Toles) also played on my record Vetted. I keeps it REAL!!
Mahalia Jackson, “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho”
This arrangement and rendition of an immortal negro spiritual stirs my soul and makes me want to rise up against whatever tyranny is oppressing me at that moment. In other words, it psyches me out and makes me battle ready.
Some guys like to pump themselves up by listening to ‘Be a Man’ from Mulan. But me? Just hit me with some Mahalia Jackson’s ‘Joshua Fit the Battle’ and I’ll come out feeling like Superman ready to take on the world!
Amanat Ali Khan, “Insha Ji Utho”
It’s that #BrownSkinnedSoul again, people; there’s nothing quite like this gut-wrenchingly sad tune that chronicles the vicissitudes of urban despair. It’s a beautiful collab between a great singer, Amanat Ali Khan, and a great poet/lyricist, Ibn Insha. Ustad Amanat Ali Khan comes from a family of musical stalwarts that have been doing their thing for generations: the whole construct of hereditary musicianship (i.e. coming from musical families where you learn to sing or play before you’re potty-trained) is DEF a thing in India and Pakistan, and interestingly enough, it’s not unlike what you’ll see in New Orleans with examples like the Marsalis family, the Batistes, the French’s, etc.
But anyway, I digress. Amanat Ali Khan and his family are musical royalty in Pakistan and rightfully so. Check out this tune and you’ll see why.
Cicero Blake, “Sad Feeling”
It’s a crime that this song is virtually unknown to the masses. I’m telling you, though, this tune just knocks it out of the park and brings it with something that is totally emblematic of Chicago Soul: sophisticated string arrangements.
Magic Sam, “All of Your Love”
Yea, I know I have a lot of Chicago tunes on this list but, really, who’s keeping score? Love the simplicity of this blues tune that’s a West Side Chicago classic.
D’Angelo, “Playa Playa”
Gotta love the sparse grooves that D’Angelo is the master of laying down!
A Tribe Called Quest, “Excursions”
It’s tough to pick a TCQ joint because I listen to Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders pretty much on a daily basis, but I just love how much jazz they sample so flawlessly like they do here.
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