The Second-Generation Soul Of Zeshan Bagewadi

Apr 8, 2017
Originally published on April 8, 2017 9:42 am

Zeshan Bagewadi's new album, Vetted, sounds a lot like classic American funk and soul from the 1960s and '70s. The difference? He sometimes sings in Punjabi. Bagewadi was born in Chicago to parents who were Indian Muslim immigrants, and he learned about soul, funk and blues from his father's music collection.

"Through his work as a journalist, [my father] covered concerts," Bagewadi explains to NPR's Scott Simon. "He also did profiles on certain movements here in America — literary movements, and did some work on the civil rights movement as well. And that very much informed his taste in music and aesthetics and style.

"My father was enamored of the music that he grew up around in 1960s, 1970s India, and the music of Pakistan. But in addition to that, through his work as a journalist he was given insight into soul music here in America, and he had a collection of records of Otis Redding, of James Brown, Marvin Gaye. ... And I guess the byproduct of that is me," he says.

For Bagewadi, soul isn't just a specific genre — it's a feeling that pervades American and Indo-Pakistani music alike.

"There is soul music of India-Pakistan; it speaks of urban despair, of poverty, of unrequited love, of being down and out," he says. "And that was the plight of my parents, that was the plight of my grandparents. That's why they've decided to come here in search of something better. That zeitgeist is present in the music. And we know how to get down, we've got soul. We've got soul — it's in our food, it's in our music — and I feel very lucky to be a part of that."

Hear the rest of Bagewadi's conversation with NPR's Scott Simon at the audio link.

Web intern Jake Witz and web editor Rachel Horn contributed to this story.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KI JANA?")

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Queue up Zeshan Bagewadi's new album, and at first, it sounds like you're in for some good ole American funk and soul, then he begins to sing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KI JANA?")

ZESHAN BAGEWADI: (Singing in Punjabi).

SIMON: His vocals are in Punjabi. Zeshan Bagewadi was born in Chicago to parents who are Indian Muslim immigrants. The soul, funk, and blues on his new album called "Vetted" traced back to his father's music collection, but we're going to let him tell you about it. Zeshan Bagewadi - Zeshan B - joins us from member station WBEZ in Chicago. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. B.

BAGEWADI: Thank you, Scott, for having me. It's a pleasure.

SIMON: Your father came to the United States as a reporter.

BAGEWADI: Through his work as a - as a journalist, he covered concerts. He also did profiles on certain movements here in America - literary movements - and did some work on the Civil Rights Movement as well, and that very much informed his taste in music and aesthetics and style. And he was just a super-fly guy. What can I say (laughter)?

SIMON: What kind - what kind of music did he like?

BAGEWADI: My father was enamored of, of course, the music that he grew up around in 1960s and 1970s India and the music of Pakistan. But in addition to that, through his work as a journalist, he was given insight into soul music here in America. And he had a collection of records of Otis Redding, of James Brown, Marvin Gaye - prominent soul artists from America - and I guess the byproduct of that is me (laughter).

SIMON: Yeah. How did you get to love the music?

BAGEWADI: I mean, it was just always playing in the house whenever my dad picked me up from school. Whenever we'd go on road trips, we'd be listening Stevie Wonder or Curtis Mayfield or Mehdi Hassan, who was the greatest singer, in my opinion, to ever come from the Indian subcontinent. And so this was - I really consider all that music to have been the soundtrack of my childhood, and I just really was drawn to it because there's just something so visceral about soul music and visceral about Indo-Pakistani music as well.

SIMON: We hear a lot of the influences you're talking about in the cover version of the 1972 by George Perkins called "Cryin' In The Streets." Let's give a listen to that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRYIN' IN THE STREETS")

BAGEWADI: (Singing) I see somebody marching - marching down the street. Yeah. I see somebody marching. They're marching down the street. Oh, yeah.

I was so moved by that song when I first heard it, just how poignant it was, just how simple it was, yet so eloquent. It's just a narrative of those times and these things are still going on today, and I said that we have to do it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRYIN' IN THE STREETS")

BAGEWADI: (Singing) I see somebody marching, marching down the street.

SIMON: That's very nice.

BAGEWADI: Thank you. Don't make me blush, Scott. I can't.

SIMON: (Laughter) What happens? Your head pops or something if I make you blush?

BAGEWADI: I just think, you know, I have that amount of melanin in me. It precludes blushing, but thank you anyway. That means a lot coming from you.

SIMON: All right.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AT THE BREAKING POINT")

BAGEWADI: (Singing) I've tried all I know how to be sweet and nice to you. Your idea of loving someone is too much for me to chew. You've destroyed all that was left of any love I had for you. Don't know the reason myself.

SIMON: How did you develop that vocal style?

BAGEWADI: Well, between you and I, tight underwear does a lot getting those, you know, high notes out. But, you know, in all seriousness, I was blessed to have been given guidance by my choir instructor in high school and my voice teacher. They saw that I was endowed with a voice that could, you know, that had those capabilities, and, you know, gave me a lot of guidance in the right direction, and having developed the - a technique - a vocal technique that allows me to sing in, you know, any genre. It's all about that diaphragm. But I think that what I love about singing soul music, and which is why I've made it my career, is that it's all about that feel. It's about that feel. It's about that groove. And I find that you can have all the technique in the world as a vocalist, but you need to be able to groove.

SIMON: And all the while you were singing Chicago, you were keeping in touch with Indo-Pakistani music too.

BAGEWADI: Oh, yeah. You know, being the spawn of immigrants who brought that music, who had that nostalgia - that hankering for the sounds of the home country. And I feel - I find that there's so much - there's so many similarities with the music of, like, a Mehdi Hassan, who is India and Pakistan's, you know, greatest singer because this is soul music. There is soul music of India and Pakistan. It speaks of urban despair, of poverty, of unrequited love, of being down and out, and that was the plight of my parents. That was the plight of my grandparents. That's why they decided to come here in search of something better. That zeitgeist is present in the music, and we know how to get down. I mean, we've got...

SIMON: (Laughter).

BAGEWADI: ...We've - we've got - we've got soul. We've got soul. It's in our food, it's in our music, and I feel very lucky to be a part of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIN'T NO LOVE IN THE HEART OF THE CITY")

BAGEWADI: (Singing in Punjabi).

SIMON: Zeshan B - Zeshan Bagewadi - his new album, "Vetted." Thanks so much for being with us.

BAGEWADI: Thank you very much, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIN'T NO LOVE IN THE HEART OF THE CITY")

BAGEWADI: (Singing in Punjabi).

(Singing) Ain't no love... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.