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Shehzad Bhanji: ‘As an Artist, You Got to Believe in Yourself’

The Pakistani guitarist on his sophomore album ‘Profound Beginnings’ and juggling music and a full-time job in financial marketing

Rolling Stone India Mar 17, 2017
"I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason," says Shehzad Bhanji. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

“I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason,” says Shehzad Bhanji. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Doha-based guitarist Shehzad Bhanji’s story is one of resilience. The music business is a tough industry to break into and most people give up on their aspirations after a few unsuccessful attempts early on in their journey, but Bhanji decided on a path of perseverance. “I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason,” says the Pakistani artist who has just released his second album, Profound Beginnings.

Born and brought up in Karachi,  Bhanji’s music innings started back in the Eighties when he was a teenager. He started a blues rock band with his cousins and they’d perform in and around the city. Although the band was fairly successful by indie standards, he says he had to look for a more realistic career. Bhanji adds that even though he loves his job in financial marketing, music was the first love he could never completely walk away from. “I would always find time to pick up the guitar and just play,” he says.

Excerpts from our exclusive interview:

How different is Profound Beginnings from your first album Never Say Goodbye?

When I started working on the concept of Profound Beginnings, I was searching for something”¦ I was trying to push my own buttons. I was very clear that I wanted to sound different from my previous album, so I brought in different instruments, worked on the guitar tone and added some interesting melodic scales on the menu. I was looking for a rhythm section that would change the way that I not only would play, but think about the songs and where they could go and how they could sound. I asked myself every second of the day, ”˜Is this a real melody or am I just throwing my fingers around?’ I don’t mind kicking back and playing a lot less if it means creating a memorable musical moment that’s unique to a song’s particular story.

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Were there any genres in particular you wanted to explore on Profound Beginnings?

I love to experiment, and that was my starting point for Profound Beginnings. Unlike my first album which was more towards classic rock and blues, I wanted new tracks to have love, emotions and inspiration. Every guitarist will have their signature sound and style of playing but I wanted to explore post rock, experimental rock and add modern sounds to make the album more relevant. 

You were in a band when you were younger but had to put it on hold for a more conventional career in finance. Do you ever regret doing that?

Absolutely not! I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. Yes, I left music to pursue my higher studies but music never left me. I would always find time to pick-up the guitar and just play. It was a perfect distraction for me and still is. Everyone has their own way to spend their “me-time” and this was my way of going into my zone. Plus studies gave me the opportunity to restart my music world once again and understand the music business much quicker. 

When did you return to music and how did you know it was the right time?

It was because of a New Year resolution which my wife and I made to each other. She is my strongest supporter and critic. I embarked upon my debut album project in January 2015 with an intention to finish the recording by end of the year. Initially, I was bit skeptical about the whole thing. Times had changed in terms of recording technology, sound, music marketing, distribution etc and I recall when I shared my tracks with few producers and their first reaction was, ”˜Who is this guy who is crazy enough to play instrumental rock guitar music in a world dominated by hip-hop and pop? What would he call himself?’ But honestly, as an artist you got to believe in yourself and move forward. You also need believers like family and friends to keep you going and telling you to ignore any negativity around you.

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Are there any artists you would like to collaborate with?

I’m always open to collaboration. In fact, in Profound Beginnings I have collaborated with various artists from around the world. My future plans are to do collaboration with vocal artists from Asia. I would also want to experiment with fusion music. That’s next on my agenda. 

Do you have any plans for live performances or a tour this year?

 An album tour is certainly on the cards. I just need to streamline and create a balance between music, a full-time job and family. Initially, I would be focusing on countries where my fans are located. I would love to connect with them live and get first-hand feedback.


Watch the video for “Till We Meet Again,” the first single off ‘Profound Beginnings’:


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