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Indian Muslim Soul Singer Zeshan B on Black Lives Matter, Staying “Woke” & His New Album, “Vetted”

Web ExclusiveNovember 15, 2017
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Watch our interview with Chicago-based Indian Muslim soul singer Zeshan B, who also performs several songs from his new album, “Vetted.”

Zeshan B was born to Indian Muslim immigrants and grew up listening to African-American soul music. His father was a journalist who covered the U.S. civil rights movement from India. Zeshan B is an opera singer and is trained in Sufi devotional music. But his debut album sounds more like ’60s-style American funk and soul—sung partially in Punjabi and Urdu. Earlier this year, Rolling Stone named him one of the 10 new artists you need to know.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: As a candidate, President Trump called for a, quote, “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States. As president, he introduced several versions of the travel ban that are facing a number of legal challenges. There has also been a sharp increase in hate crimes against Muslims, Arab Americans, African Americans, women, LGBTQ people and others since Trump took office. Well, in the face of these attacks, our next guest is calling for black and brown unity.

AMY GOODMAN: Zeshan B is a Chicago-based soul singer, born to Indian Muslim immigrants. He grew up listening to African-American soul music. His father was a journalist who covered the U.S. civil rights movement from India. Zeshan B is an opera singer—or he was—trained in Sufi devotional music. But his debut album sounds a lot more like '60s-style American funk and soul, sung partially in Punjabi and Urdu. It's titled Vetted. That’s right, as in Trump’s calls for extreme vetting. Well, earlier this year, Rolling Stone named Zeshan B one of the “10 new artists you need to know.” And he just performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

ZESHAN B: [performing “Cryin’ in the Streets”]

[singing in Urdu]

I see somebody marching
They’re marching down the street, yeah
I see somebody marching
They’re marching down the street, yeah

AMY GOODMAN: Zeshan B, welcome to Democracy Now! There you are, on the Stephen Colbert show. I don’t know if it was the first time that there were Urdu words on the backdrop of the Stephen Colbert set. And there you are singing in Urdu. What were you singing, before you broke into English?

ZESHAN B: Well, basically, I was just singing what’s right here on this patch, that black lives matter, that my friends, you know, stay woke about black lives, because they matter, because that’s what I feel. And a lot of people feel that way, and I think it’s good that they do feel that way.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So you wrote the lyrics.

ZESHAN B: I did.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, how come you decided to write them in Urdu rather than in English, or at least that part?

ZESHAN B: I feel that I wanted to send a message to my own people. I think that—I mean, Nermeen, you can speak to, that I think there is a sequestration that exists in our own community, Indians and Pakistanis here in the United States, Muslims, as well, in which I think that sequestration has allowed for racism to be prevalent, particularly towards blacks. And I’m pretty appalled at seeing that. And I—in one way, I wanted to, you know, in my own way, reach out to my own people and say, “We’ve got to stay woke about this. Like these lives matter. These are our lives, too. These are our brothers and sisters.” They’re the ones that fought and sacrificed and, you know, laid down their lives. And that laid the path for, you know, Indians, our people, coming. I mean, you follow the history. I mean, you know, the Civil Rights Act is signed in 1965. You know, LBJ signs the Immigration Act, that pretty much my aunt and uncle came as a direct result of that. And my mom and dad came, too, and here we are. So, you know, we—you know, my people, like our success, I feel, is predicated and is on the shoulders of people who sacrificed dearly. We have a debt of gratitude towards them.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we go back to your grandparents’ and your parents’ roots, let’s continue on the line of this song. The Urdu introduced George Perkins’ song, “Cryin’ in the Streets.” That’s in Vetted, your debut album. Talk about the title and then talk about “Cryin’ in the Streets,” why this song is the one you played. Then we’ll play you singing in our studios.

ZESHAN B: Well, I—as far as the title, Vetted, I—it’s funny, I came up with that title before it was even a tongue-in-cheek remark, a tongue-in-cheek sort of, you know, piece of paraphernalia associated with Donald Trump and all that. And I just felt that, you know, there is a process of vetting that I think everybody goes through in life. And here in America, people are vetted. I was vetted. You’re vetted. Nermeen is vetted. And I’ve been vetted, but somehow I am where I am right now.

But I feel that the scrutiny with which and the unfairness with which, you know, disenfranchised indigenous minorities, like like blacks, Latinos and Native Americans, as well as a groups like LGBTQ and transsexuals, are vetted, in—with scrutiny and in unfair ways, and the results have been much less than desirable. And so—and there are those that deserve to come to here to America—I mean, to come here to America. My mom and dad were able to come. They lived the American dream. But now it’s not so easy. And people are being vetted in unfair ways, that deserve—whether it’s like, for example, Syrian refugees, that could very well contribute to the fabric of American society, as Syrian Americans have done for many years. They’re being vetted unfairly, with—and, you know, a certain scrutiny that I think is unscrupulous. And so, this album is for them.

AMY GOODMAN: So, “Cryin’ in the Streets,” that you sang on Colbert, it also might have been the first time he had the backdrops of, well, photos of Martin Luther King, but Angela Davis, as well. Talk about this song and why you chose to sing it and have it on your debut album.

ZESHAN B: Well, I think that, you know, I’m like a—I consider myself a junkie of soul music. I listen to all the—you know, I like all the fixes, you know, and I listen to the artists that are well known, like Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye and, you know, Bill Withers and cats like that, but also some of this stuff that’s criminally obscure, in my opinion. And I came across this song, “Cryin’ in the Streets,” and it was right around the time that, you know, somebody I knew in high school, Sandra Bland, was killed in—she died, rather, in very mysterious circumstances.

AMY GOODMAN: Sandra Bland, the young woman who a police officer confronted, pulled over on the streets of Texas.

ZESHAN B: Exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: And she ended up dead three days later in her jail cell.

ZESHAN B: Correct.

AMY GOODMAN: Pulled her over for failing, he said, to use her lane change—

ZESHAN B: A lane change, yeah. And then—

AMY GOODMAN: —signal.

ZESHAN B: And then she’s dead.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you knew Sandra Bland?

ZESHAN B: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: In high school?

ZESHAN B: Yes, I did know her. She was, you know, peripherally in like my group of friends. I’m not—I wasn’t like super close to her, but, you know, I sat next to her at prom, at the—after, during—she was my best friend Robert—she was his prom date. So I sat next to her, you know, after prom and hung out with her. And she was just a really exuberant, beautiful young woman.

AMY GOODMAN: So when you heard what happened?

ZESHAN B: Well, I just was like—I remember, the first thing I thought was like, “Sandy? Like, wait, no, this isn’t the same—it’s the same Sandra Bland? Like Sandy?” You know? And then, you know, I saw her picture, and I was like, “Oh, my god. That was Sandy.” You know? I mean, you read about Eric Garner or Michael Brown, and it tugs at you. But like, you know, when you knew that person, you sat next to that person, and you joked with that person, and that person complimented you on your bow tie? I remember she said she wanted to try some of the burger that I had, you know, that I had ordered. I remember that. It galvanized me. I felt like I’ve got to do something about this.

And the Black Lives Matter movement was really starting to gain traction, with the events, you know, in Ferguson and Baltimore and like what happened in Chicago with Laquan McDonald, the young man who was murdered in cold blood by the CPD—and caught it on camera. So, this was kind of like the zeitgeist, I guess, of that time. And when I heard that song, it was during all of that. And I just felt like, “Wow!” And I read—you know, I needed to read on this thing. I said, “Wow! I need to read into this.” So I read into it, and I find out that it was written as a reaction to the death of Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil unrest and the riots that followed in major American cities. People were marching in the streets, crying in the streets, dying in the streets. And, you know, as I read that, I said, “Gee, that it’s strange how that was so many years ago, and yet it’s so relevant today.” And then, of course, this election happens, and it’s even more more so relevant, you know, then, the same way it was in 1968.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Zeshan, let’s go to you singing “Cryin’ in the Streets,” here in the Democracy Now! studios.

ZESHAN B: [performing “Cryin’ in the Streets”]

I see somebody marching
They’re marching down the street, yeah
I see somebody marching
They’re marching down the street, oh, yes, they are

This time we stop and pray, we pray, oh, lord
To have a better day, yeah
I see somebody marching
Marching down the street, oh, yes, they are

I hear somebody crying
They’re crying in the street, yeah
I see somebody crying
They’re crying in the street, yeah

Now while they make that
They moan and cry, yeah
Go to your window
And have a look down, yeah

Now, go to your window, I’m telling you now
And have a look down, yeah
I see somebody crying
They’re crying in the street, yes, they are

I see somebody dying, oh lord
They’re dying in the street, you know they are
I see somebody dying
They’re dying in the street, yeah

Someday they’ll all be dancing, oh lord
They’ll dance in the street
Someday they’ll all be dancing
They’ll dance, they’ll dance in the street

Oh, they’ll dance, they’ll dance, oh lord
They’ll dance in the street
They’ll dance in the street someday, I pray
They’ll dance in the street

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Zeshan B, Indian Muslim American soul singer, based in Chicago, living in Baltimore. His debut album is called Vetted. And that song is George Perkins’ 1970 song “Cryin’ in the Streets.”

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Zeshan, talk about some of the musical influences over the course of your life, because your music is as a mélange of many different traditions.

ZESHAN B: Well, you know, I’ve been fortunate to have come up in the great city of Chicago. And with that, I feel like I’ve inherited a very rich musical heritage, with artists like Curtis Mayfield and Donny Hathaway and Mahalia Jackson, who were, you know, I mean, as far as musical acumen, like on a whole different level, on like a Beethoven level. I feel proud to be an inheritor of that tradition, and I’ve grown up with the consciousness of that. And my mom and dad liked listening to that stuff.

I think a common strand with immigrant families—and, you know, I think you can understand this, Nermeen—is nostalgia. You know, they left something behind, and they hanker for it. In the case of my mom and dad, it was the music from India and Pakistan, you know, that they grew up listening to, that they brought with them. And I grew up listening to artists like Mehdi Hassan or Amanat Ali Khan or Mohammed Rafi, you know, these great singers. And so, I feel, like I said, you know, on one hand, growing up in Chicago, I inherit that one tradition, and being the child of Indian immigrants, inherit another really rich tradition. And—

AMY GOODMAN: You became an opera singer.

ZESHAN B: I did. Oh, to do all that and then become an opera singer, right? When I was in high school, my favorite thing to do was I sang in gospel choir. And that was just really where I was just in my element, in my groove. I was the lead soloist in it. And I felt like really at home, musically and emotionally, with just being able to just like let it out. But in the process, you know, I get told, OK, well, I should take voice lessons. Once I started voice lessons, my voice teachers discovered that I have an operatic voice. I have the ability to go “aaah” and do all that, you know, crazy stuff.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let’s go to you singing in an operatic voice.

ZESHAN B: Oh, boy.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In 2014, you sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” for former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

ZESHAN B: [singing “The Star-Spangled Banner”]

For the land of the free
And the home of the brave

JIMMY CARTER: I’ve never heard a more beautiful rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” than the one we just had.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. So can you talk about that moment, for you, and also the fact that—what’s happened recently in the U.S., with American football players taking the knee as the anthem is played, and what the effects of that have been?

ZESHAN B: Well, it was a tremendous honor to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” for President Carter and for him to come out and say that he really dug it. And you what I mean? I mean, I imagine he’s heard quite a few of them in his time. To say that that’s the most beautiful one he heard, I felt—you know, I was like, “Oh, man, don’t make me blush.”

You know, as far as the conversation and the context of it all today, I couldn’t be more proud of people like Colin Kaepernick, who are using the tremendous platform that athletes have—that athletes, in many cases, have more than musicians, singers, talk show hosts, whatever, people in the public—people who are indeed in the public eye, athletes—I mean, you know, Americans take their sports really seriously. And for an athlete to, you know, in a Muhammad Ali fashion, to use his platform to kneel and metaphorically stand up for something worth standing up for, I think, is tremendous.

And I think that we have to understand like the full context of everything. I feel like the right wing has a very hypocritical stance on the national anthem and have kind of reduced it to a piece of paraphernalia, an empty vessel, whereas the real context of the national anthem is the essence of democracy, in that people are allowed to dissent. The Founding Fathers were—they dissented. They were rebels. You know, these guys were rebels. And, you know, the same people that say, “Respect the flag,” how do you respect the flag by waving a Confederate flag? That’s—which is, you know, a symbol of treason, right? So I feel like it’s been reduced to, you know, to this kind of empty vessel, that it’s far greater than that.

AMY GOODMAN: Which takes us to the song “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke, and really believing that, the King of Soul, who influenced so many. Now, this isn’t on your Vetted album.

ZESHAN B: No.

AMY GOODMAN: But you love to sing this song.

ZESHAN B: I just wanted to do it for you guys. I was—I came in. I was like, “I’ve got to preach.” You know, like this is Democracy Now!, man. We’ve got to—you know, we’ve got to get into some stuff here, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: This is Zeshan B.

ZESHAN B: [singing “A Change Is Gonna Come”]

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I’ve been running ev’r since
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
'Cause I don't know what’s up there, beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

Now I go to the movie and I go downtown
Somebody keep tellin’ me don’t hang around
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, you better believe it will

And then I go to my brother
And I say brother help me please, oh please
But he winds up knockin’ me
Back down on my knees, yeah

There have been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m gonna able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

I tell you it’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will
Now it’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, you better believe it will

AMY GOODMAN: That’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” It’s by Sam Cooke, and it’s sung by Zeshan B, an Indian Muslim American soul singer here in the United States who has just released his debut album called Vetted. I want to go way back in time now to your grandparents, because you have a very proud tradition of dissent. Go back to India. And this is 70 years since the partition of India and Pakistan, your grandparents, of course, Muslim, in India. Many millions of Muslims left for Pakistan. They refused.

ZESHAN B: Yeah, they didn’t leave it, because they didn’t want to. When you’re established in your own neighborhood, in your own city, and you’ve got your neighbors that love you, and you got, you know, the vendors on the street that know you by your first name, as my grandfathers used to tell me about, why would you want to leave that, you know? That was their impetus for staying, when—in the face of some of their relatives deciding, “Well, we need to go to Pakistan.” You know?

AMY GOODMAN: But what happened to your grandparents?

ZESHAN B: Well, you know, my grandfather, he paid the price for staying. I mean, his shop was burned down in an act of retaliation.

AMY GOODMAN: By?

ZESHAN B: You know, by a mob of Hindus. I think what’s amazing is, my grandfather went his entire life without telling any of his children or his grandchildren about this. I found out about this when my grandmother’s health was declining. And I really wanted to know what happened in the partition, and she told me. And it’s astounding to think—and I said, “Why didn’t, you know, Nanaji”—my grandfather—”Why didn’t he tell us?” And she said he felt—”He said he didn’t want any of you to grow up with resentment towards Hindus.” What does that say? You know? And I asked her, I said, “Did you honestly feel resentment towards Hindus?” And she said, “No. They were our brothers. They were misled.” And she said, “You know what? And our people, Muslims, killed Hindus, too, and that, then, what happened, there was a Muslim that killed a Hindu in our neighborhood, and the Hindus were retaliating. So it happened on both sides.” You know, it’s remarkable to think of the resilience and the virtue that that generation had and that they instilled in my parents and me.

And on my dad’s side, some of his relatives, they marched with Gandhi in the salt march in—I think it was 1931. And so, you know—and, in fact, my dad’s grandfather was an officer in the British Indian Army and was ordered to lead what was called a lathi charge, which means they go on horses with sticks and beat the, you know, living daylights out of people that are protesting, you know, Gandhi’s people that are protesting. And he refused and was court-martialed, you know, by the British Army for that. So, it’s all in—it’s in my blood, you know? And like I said, I think I inherit a musical and spiritual tradition that I’m really proud of.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I mean, just to say also about the partition, that, I mean, that was the largest mass migration in history—

ZESHAN B: My goodness.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: —in which, I think it was, about 14 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs crossed borders. And in a large number of cases, as I understand it, it was not voluntary. I mean, they were forced—

ZESHAN B: No, they were forced, yeah.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: —to leave. So most people didn’t really have a choice whether they wanted to stay or to go.

ZESHAN B: Yeah.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Is that your sense?

ZESHAN B: Yeah. And, I mean, I think, you know, Punjab—places like Punjab and, you know—

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Bengal.

ZESHAN B: —Bengal, those were the—they really bore the brunt of it. And my grandparents were lucky to have been in a state like Hyderabad, which, you know, kind of was an oasis of—you know, as a majority-Muslim city, and it kind of remained that for a long time. But, you know, a million people were killed in the largest, you know, mass migration. And that’s an entire generation of—and it’s like my grandfather. I feel like I’ve heard so many stories of other people my age, Indian Americans, Pakistani Americans, who have the same thing to say, that say, you know, “Yeah, my grandmothers, they didn’t talk about it.” They don’t—the reticence that they had to talk about that trauma that they experienced is quite strange.

AMY GOODMAN: So set this up for us. 2014, you collaborate on a video called “Border Anthems,” and it is you singing both the Indian and Pakistani anthem, changing your clothes and having a split screen, where you have Indians and Pakistanis essentially doing the same thing.

ZESHAN B: Mm-hmm. Well, you know, as you can see, I just love singing national anthems. You know—

AMY GOODMAN: And then protesting them.

ZESHAN B: And then protesting, yeah. You know, first of all, I love the national anthems of both India and Pakistan. I think they’re beautiful, and they’re so uniquely different. The Pakistani one has kind of like this Soviet influence, and the Indian one has got this kind of, you know, dreamy Hindustani sort of, you know, influence. And so I just musically was very drawn to both of those pieces.

But 2014 was when my grandma passed, and that’s when I learned about what happened in the partition. And I felt so galvanized to do—I said, “I have to do something about this.” I just came up with the idea that, like, why not—nobody’s ever recorded both of these things into one musical composition. Why not go that route and see, you know, if that does—and it was received very well, especially—and it’s interesting. I’m Indian American, even though I have relatives in Pakistan. It was more—it was actually more well received in Pakistan than it was in India. And Pakistan—

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Oh, really? How do you know that? How did you—

ZESHAN B: —showed it on TV. Yeah—because I was told that it was shown on HUM TV in Pakistan. When I went to Pakistan for the first time—

NERMEEN SHAIKH: HUM TV is a cable channel in Pakistan.

ZESHAN B: Yeah, it was shown on HUM TV, you know, major cable channel. At the time, YouTube was banned in Pakistan, so it got, you know, amazing—it went viral on Vimeo. And when I went to Pakistan the first time, I actually via the Wagah border from India. So I was literally singing the “Border Anthems” like on the border. It was kind of, you know, just kind of surreal, like “What am I doing?” And when I crossed the border, the border guards, they all recognized me. They’re like, “That’s that cat that sang the—come on, man! Have to jive with us!”

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to “Border Anthems.”

ZESHAN B: [performing the Pakistani national anthem]

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s the Pakistani national anthem, Zeshan B singing it now, or at least he is Zeshan B now. And now we’re going to go to the Indian anthem, that was part of the same compilation, “Border Anthems.”

ZESHAN B: [performing the Indian national anthem]

AMY GOODMAN: Zeshan B is our guest, Indian Muslim American soul singer. His debut album is called Vetted. That was “Border Anthems,” a project he did about the partition of India and Pakistan. This year is the 70th anniversary of that partition. But this is a big deal. You’ve got your debut album, and it’s a lot of soul, Zeshan. A lot of soul. And I was wondering if you can talk about “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City,” one of the songs on this album.

ZESHAN B: I love that song. You know, my dad used to listen to Bobby “Blue” Bland, the guy that originally sang it. And, you know, I feel like that that motif—doo doo doo doo doo doo doo—it’s just like you hear the despair in that, you know? And I feel like this song is like an anthem in itself to the vicissitudes of urban life, the unforgiving pace of urban life, the struggles and the triumphs of urban life. And, you know, I think of—I think it’s commensurate with the immigrant experience, too, you know somebody leaving their home country, leaving their home town, and the feeling of loss that someone is no longer around. And many people, like my uncles, who came and were all alone, you know, here in America, and, you know, the desolation they must have felt. And so, I feel like when I was tracking that song, I really wanted to channel all of that. And it’s a soul aria, really. It really is kind of operatic, in many ways.

ZESHAN B: [performing “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”]

[singing in Urdu]

Ain’t no love in the heart of the city
Ain’t no love in the heart of town
Ain’t no love and it sure is a pity
Ain’t no love since you ain’t around
Oh, since you’ve been around

Ain’t no love in the heart of the city
Ain’t no love in the heart of town
Ain’t no love and it sure is a pity
Ain’t no love since you ain’t around

When you were mine
Oh, I was feeling so good
Cause you lovelied up
This whole neighborhood
But now that you’re gone
The sun don’t shine
From the city hall
To the county line

I said ain’t no love in the heart of the city
Ain’t no love in the heart of town
Ain’t no love and it sure is a pity
Ain’t no love since you ain’t around, no, no

Well, every place that I go
Oh, it seems so strange
Without you there
Things have changed
The nights are cloudy
There’s a field of gloom
Another teardrop falls
In my lonely room

I said ain’t no love in the heart of the city
Ain’t no love in the heart of this town
Ain’t no love and it sure is a pity
Ain’t no love since you ain’t around

Oh, but now that you’re gone
Girl, you know the sun don’t shine
From the city hall
To the county line

I said ain’t no love in the heart of the city
There ain’t no love in the heart of town
Ain’t no love and it sure is a pity
Ain’t no love since you ain’t around
Since you ain’t around, around
Since you ain’t around
Since you ain’t around

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that was Zeshan B singing “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City.” So, can you talk about that song? And tell us about the instrument that you’re using.

ZESHAN B: The instrument is called a harmonium. It’s basically a pump organ. Pretty much I’ve used it on all of my songs.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: How did you start to play it?

ZESHAN B: My mom bought me one when I was 11 years old. And that was a really cute little dinky one, kind of like the one I was playing. And then, when I went off to college, you know, when I decided to go to music school, my dad said, “OK, why don’t we give him a going-away gift?” And he, you know, got me a really nice one from Kolkata, actually, made out of teakwood. It’s beautiful. It’s the one that was on Colbert that I used.

AMY GOODMAN: But you were standing on Colbert. Here, you were sitting on the floor.

ZESHAN B: Yeah, and that’s, you know, an aesthetic choice. The harmonium is really synonymous with Indo-Pakistani folk music, and most of that stuff is played sitting down. And, you know, when I’m by myself, I like to play it sitting down. When I’m with the cats, you know, when I’m with the fellows playing behind me, I like to groove with them, and so I’ll stand up. But I—you know, I feel like it’s always kind of been at my side, and it’s just a remarkably versatile instrument. And it’s part of the—look, I’m very unapologetic about how Desi I am, how Indian-Pakistan—you know, Indo-Pakistani I am. And like I said, you know, I inherit that rich culture, and the harmonium is part of that, that rich inheritance.

AMY GOODMAN: How many languages do you sing on this album.

ZESHAN B: I sing in three languages on this album. I sing in English, I sing in Urdu, and I sing in Punjabi.

AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts on President Trump’s rise to power in the United States, starting on going after what he called Mexican rapists, then saying he would institute a ban on all Muslims coming into the United States, and becoming president and trying to impose that ban or variations of it?

ZESHAN B: Well, I think it’s, you know, classic—a classic case of—you know, I think it’s a classic case of demagoguery and dividing and conquering. You’re taking—you know, you’re appealing to a base of people who are unstable in their own ways and telling them that, you know, these people are the source of your problems, when those—you know, when that base, they don’t know any better. And in the process, it divides the nation and, you know, allows him to conquer. And that’s—

AMY GOODMAN: Have you become more scared since Donald Trump became president, as you travel the country, and do you feel a different level of fear in the country?

ZESHAN B: I wouldn’t say I’m scared per se, but definitely more aware of my surroundings, especially when I’m in inland America. When I’m in the city, I—you know, maybe I sing “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City,” but I got plenty of love in the city, you know. I’m sequestered with, you know, people that are just like me, you know? But, actually, going to inland America is—

AMY GOODMAN: You mean like going to rural America.

ZESHAN B: Rural America, yeah—you know, is a privilege to me, in that I get to see, you know, what’s going on there, because I think it’s important to know where people are coming from, you know? Even if people are, you know, vitriolic in their hate of you and of their dislike for anything foreign to them, I think it’s important to know where it is they’re coming from. And I think what’s—you know, I’ve seen people that are into—the so-called Trump supporters. You know, some of them are, you know, despicable, but some of them are very good people who have been misled and who have been exploited. And that’s exactly what Trump is doing, exploiting their hardships and their pain for his own political gain. And right now all he’s doing is just, you know, throwing them bones to distract them from the fact that he hasn’t done anything really with healthcare. You know, this thing with North Korea is like crazy. I mean, he’s not delivering on any of the promises that he gives. And these people—and he’s duped them into thinking he actually cares about them.

AMY GOODMAN: Zeshan, let’s end with “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” Tell us about it.

ZESHAN B: It’s very easy to take something for granted when it’s there. In the context of what we were speaking about earlier, I took for granted my own privilege, you know, being able to go anywhere I want and feeling OK and feeling—feeling, you know, secure. And that’s, you know, kind of like the message of songs like “Cryin’ in the Streets,” is that we have to take up the pain of those who are less fortunate. In my case, in Nermeen’s case, we come from a minority group that is largely privileged. And there are those who don’t have that privilege, and who haven’t had it for hundreds of years. And we have to take up their pain. We have to take up their struggle, because, man, if we join forces, if black and brown join forces, like can’t nobody stop us, you know? Nobody can come in our way.

ZESHAN B: [performing “You Don’t Miss Your Water”]

In the beginning
You really loved me
But I was too blind
And I couldn’t see
But when you left me
And ooh, how I cried out
I missed my water
My well ran dry

Now I kept you crying
So sad and blue
I was a playboy
I wasn’t true
But when you left me
And said bye bye
I missed my water
My well ran dry

Now I sit and wonder
Said how can this be
I never thought
You’d ever leave me
But now you left me
And ooh, how I cried, how I cried
I missed my water
My well ran dry

I missed my water
My well ran dry
You don’t miss your water
’Til your well runs dry

AMY GOODMAN: Zeshan B, singing “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” It’s part of his debut album. The album is called Vetted. Zeshan B is an Indian Muslim American soul singer, and that is his debut album. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

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