Those who are familiar with the music scene in Doha, have surely heard the name of Shehzad Bhanji as he's quite active in the community. He is an instrumental rock guitarist, from Karachi, whose powerful melodies have touched millions of hearts in Qatar and beyond. He's also a senior financial services marketer here (he moved to Doha in 2013) and while the two professions are not readily correlated, they play a vital role in configuring his life as it is today.
Shehzad is all set to release his third album on 18 October, titled ‘Dreams’. This will be his third full-length solo release, following 2016’s debut 'Never Say Goodbye' and the follow-up album release 'Profound Beginnings' in 2017.
Want to hear a sample of Shehzad's amazing music? Here's 'Till We Meet Again' from the album 'Profound Beginnings':
It all started in the late ’80s where I developed my musical taste and interests. I still remember my first venture into learning an instrument that came when I went to a music concert of a famous rock band, Iron Maiden. It was my first recognition of the instrument. When I saw the guitar and the guitarist playing it, I knew instinctively that I was going to play the guitar someday, and that it would be my instrument of choice. Don't ask me how I knew, I just knew.
After a few weeks of my research, I went to a music store to check out the guitar and how does it feel holding the instrument. So I hit a note and noticed that as you down the notes go higher and notes go lower as you go up. At that very moment, I had a full-on epiphany. I was flooded with the instinctual realization of how music was created and how it worked from a theoretical standpoint—the whole language of music was very obvious. I realized that I could do this, I could make music, and it could be whatever I want.
Excited that I could pursue a career doing something that brought me much joy, I eventually formed a band with my cousins. Our first gig as a band was a complete failure. After weighing our options we decided to take a break, but made commitments to one day reunite. As life would have it, we were never able to reunite.
Fast forward two decades, I was well-established in my career in financial marketing, yet wasn't feeling fulfilled, so I decided to pick up where I left off in my music career. I was compelled by a deep desire to touch the lives of others through my music. It all started with a New Year resolution that my wife and I made to each other, who is my strongest supporter and critic. I embarked upon my debut album project in January 2015 (after two decades) with an intention to finish the recording by end of the year.
As an instrumentalist and a producer, I play most of the key instruments such as electric and acoustic guitar, keyboards, drums, bass guitar, percussions, etc., but the electric guitar has always been my favorite instrument.
I've listened to so many guitarists from various genres, but Joe Satriani has been my source of inspiration. For reasons unknown, his music reached out and grabbed me. I don't think anyone can explain why they have a direct link with particular artists. But you know it when you hear it—the sound that they make just somehow touches you.In February 2017, I had the opportunity to meet Joe Satriani as part of my album promotion in Asia and share my album 'Profound Beginnings' with him. It was a dream come true for me. I was sitting and discussing not only with the world’s no. 1 guitarist but with someone whom I've been listening to for the last 25 years. He is a great person and shared his positive feedback.
I'm an instrumental rock guitarist. It is a niche genre. Many people don’t really understand when I tell them that I’m an instrumentalist. They immediately have an impression of a person playing an acoustic guitar and singing. But when I say I narrate stories and emotions through my instrumentals, let’s just say it gets very difficult to make people understand.
Guitar players are not really different than any other kind of composer. I wake up in the morning and I'll have a feeling about a place or somebody or something that happened to me. I might read something or bump into somebody and some feelings will hit me and I go with the inspiration. That’s my true passion: simply to write music around what I experience in life.
The biggest achievement is my interview published in the leading music magazine Rolling Stone. It was a dream come true moment for me. Rolling Stone is the benchmark for every musician and Im blessed that it came through.
I was being interviewed by one of USA based radio stations as part of my promotion for my second album Profound Beginnings. After the interview, I got a call from the station that someone from Rolling Stone requested my contact details as they loved my music and would like to explore the possibilities of an interview.
Honestly, I just couldn’t believe. It took me a few minutes to digest what just happened. But they were very supportive and did an amazing feature. It really helped me opening doors to other opportunities for sure. The reviews from other international blogs have been phenomenal.
I think that instrumental music always has its place because there's nobody’s telling you what the song is about. That leaves your imagination free to associate your story with what it is, and you can make it about whatever you want. This is the freedom that instrumental music has always held for people - it gives them the ability to write their stories into it. Also, everybody listens to music for various reasons. I always wanted to produce instrumentals that provide an escape to the listeners. The world needs an escape. I know I do. I never put on music to remind me of how terrible the world is. I put on music to make me feel good or to make me forget what is happening, something that puts me in this great place.
Yes, we can be as creative as we can as an artist in the new digital world order, but we need to be smart enough to understand the dynamics of this ever-changing digital music space to survive.
My instrumentals have a strong focus on powerful melody and emotions. These are the foundations of my music. Each track has a story to tell and brings something different to the table. So you will hear plenty of melodic lines; bone-hard riffing and explosive shredding too. But each is delivered in easily consumable doses and does not numb the aural senses as much as captivate them. And, my signature singing guitar tone and playing style differentiates me from other players as the guitar is seated right at the forefront of the mix, enjoying a prestigious clarity and power, backed luscious bass, drums, pianos and tones of electronic sounds.
When I generally start working on the concept of a song, I always search for something, something undefined and unknown, which would push my own buttons. It can be frustrating to work like that - ‘What is it? What am I looking for?’ But when you get it, it’s really joyous. So, it starts with writing songs, making their demos, listening to them over and over again, sharing them with selected audiences (family and close friends) to gauge initial response and, eventually, recording them at my home studio. The whole process is time-consuming, especially if you have a full-time day job.
Although, there is no narrative that anybody has to follow, each of the songs, in my view, relates to the specific milestone I remember, the crazy moments, the desperate moments, the wonderful moments, the moments that were just fun. They all relate to the journey of writing a song.
All my instrumentals are built on hopes, dreams, inspiration, and commitment. I think it all depends on the personality of a person. These are not just words, but the basis of everything I do in my life.
At this point, I'm completely focused on the promotional aspects of the album 'Dreams. Other music videos are in the pipeline too.
But one thing I always wanted to do was to start a blog or a space that provides a platform for the upcoming musicians in Qatar. Unfortunately, the country has so many bloggers but none of them are focusing on music or promoting local musicians effectively. I can understand that from a reach and appeal perspective the music blog may not be as commercially successful compared to other categories such as lifestyle, food, travel, clothing, etc. But. I honestly feel that it needs to be done. Also, the musicians need to understand how to navigate in the new world of music marketing and expand their fan base. There is no set timeline as yet, but this project is very close to my heart.
I strongly believe that moving to Qatar has made a tremendous contribution to where I am now. The journey has been amazing so far. This place has something special. Its very difficult to explain, but it's really helped to restart my passion which I had left years back.
The best thing about Qatar is that it’s a multicultural environment which paves ways for different genres of music to flourish. This is where the collaboration projects happen, too. Fusing different styles to create a unique sound. It also reminds people there is homegrown talent just waiting to be given the attention it deserves.
Identify musicians whose music has a strong connection with you and study their techniques. Because every single one of these musicians is completely different, despite the fact that they are all playing the same twelve notes. It's so fascinating to discover how different each of them sounds. It's not only a reflection of the mechanics or the equipment or the music theory, but of the personality. That’s where the real fun begins.
But most importantly, never give up on your dreams. Yes, it will be a lengthy and difficult journey. But trust me it will be all worth it once everything starts to fall in the right place.
Support new genres and upcoming musicians in terms of buying their tracks and promotional merchandise, concert tickets and their singles/albums. This is the best gift we can give to any upcoming musicians. It’s actually giving them hope and confidence to keep producing good music regardless of genre or classification.
The album 'Dreams'will be released on 18 October 2019 across all streaming platforms around the world such as Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, Amazaon Music, Deezer, Tidal to name a few.
Want to know more about Shehzad Bhanji and listen to his music? Check out his social media pages:
Presave the Album: http://bit.ly/shehzadbhanji
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