Chicago-based Muslim Indian-American singer/songwriter Zeshan Bagewadi (Zeshan B), 29, is making a stir with his music which he calls “brown-skin soul.”
His album Vetted (which debuted at No. 8 on Billboard’s Top 10 chart of World Music Albums )is bilingual and contains 11 tracks of a mix of soul and Indian-Pakistani music. As the son of Indian Muslim immigrants, both his southern Asian heritage and upbringing in Chicago concocted his love for both genres.
On his first single “Cryin’ in the Streets,” Zeshan channels the Chi-town soul-influence of Jerry Butler, Sam Cooke, and Buddy Guy into a piece expressing outrage over oppression. The video interweaves clips from some of the well-known cases of police brutality famously caught on camera.
Vetted was produced by Lester Snell, who arranged and produced music for legends such as Isaac Hayes, Al Green, Mavis Staples and many other soul artists in Memphis. After graduating from high school, Zeshan B attended Northwestern University, where he earned both a bachelor’s degree in music performance and a master’s degree in vocal performance and literature. Following grad school, he changed direction in music after moving to New York. It was in the Big Apple where Zeshan B began performing with several opera companies. While he showed impressive classical and operatic vocal skills for three years, Zeshan ultimately walked away from this genre of music.
“I just decided classical and operatic singing wasn’t my thing,” he said. “I felt really constrained by it. Don’t get me wrong, classical music and operatic music are beautiful. They helped develop my vocal techniques. However, classical and operatic music didn’t allow me to express myself the same way that gospel, soul or blues music did. Gospel, blues and soul music is about feel and about the groove; classical music is more structured.”
Zeshan B also plays guitar and harmonium (a keyboard instrument popular in India, as seen in the video), and he and his band “The Transistors” are currently preparing to tour nationally.