It’s a late summer afternoon, the heat outside is stifling and Nadir Shehzad Khan is standing tall in a pink-collared shirt and jeans. He arrives at my house, in this wretched brutal heat, with a smile on his face and parks himself on a couch. It takes Nadir time to talk freely. He’s not someone who is accustomed to giving the press intimate interviews; Nadir can talk about music, certainly, but he’s a private person, and wants to keep parts of his life outside the limelight.
Fair enough, I say. We now live in an age where artists reduce their own selves by posting hysterical, controversial status updates on sites like Facebook and Twitter, possibly to court the press and to find a permanent residence in the glaring spotlight.
As I listen to our recorded conversation while writing this, it’s clear that Nadir is shy, thoughtful and soft-spoken. He struggles to articulate himself, but gets better as the interview progresses.
Spearheading Pakistan’s revered independent music show, Lussun TV, is just one of the many things that Nadir does. He’s also the backbone of the impressive musical outfit called Sikandar Ka Mandar (SKM), the premier indie Urdu band from Karachi. SKM’s debut album has been reviewed (by Asad Khwaja) as an album that “explores the notion that there’s plenty out there with which to fill your cup, ample reason for a positive outlook despite the tribulations around us. Even at its most gregarious moments, the songs on this album prompt a sense of introversion, a silent consideration of the world and people around us.”
If that’s not enough, Nadir also directs music videos. “Music has always been a big part of my life,” says the twenty-something artist. His first foray into music began as a 17-year-old with a band called Ash. “I was their guitarist, one day I just got up and decided that I wanted to learn how to play and that was it,” he reminisces.
The son of a businessman and a doctor, the singer-songwriter describes himself as a “horrible” student. “My parents didn’t know what to do with me. I went to boarding school, KN Academy, as a result.” Life at boarding school was structured and rigorous but Nadir isn’t bitter about the experience at all. “Now that I think about it, it was good, in a way. I studied there for three years but I lived there for just one year. I was exposed to different people from different places like Lyari,” he trails off.Studying was not Nadir’s strong suit; reading, however, was a habit he developed early on. It reflects in his conversations, and music.
“I was good at sports, I played cricket and my father’s a fan of the sport so he liked the fact that I played.”He attributes discovering the Beatles to his mother. “When I was younger, my mom introduced me to Abba and the Beatles. I would ask her to make a mix-tape for me and I would listen to it on my Walkman.”
From a young age, Nadir had realized that he wanted to play music, and not as a hobby, but as a way of life.
Strangely enough, the opportunity presented itself while he was at boarding school. “It’s very interesting because I met this guy called Hamza Khalid; he was the first drummer for my own band. I started playing with him. Hamza’s neighbor was Shajie Hassan.”
Shajie Hassan, a pilot from Multan, who sings and writes beautiful dreamy, melancholic songs, is also another artist from the indie music scene who has captured the attention of both, critics and music fans, and has an ever-growing fan-base.
“Shajie is my best friend and has been on the journey with me.”
The indie music community, without support from mainstream channels, corporate overlords and record labels, is thriving, at least in terms of content it produces, because artists work together in harmony. Nadir Shehzad Khan’s Lussun TV is perhaps the biggest example. It’s a show by the artists, for the artists. Every season is different from its predecessor with an artist roster featuring the likes of Mole, //orangenoise, Mooroo, Usman Riaz, Shamoon Ismail and many others.
Ask Nadir about Lussun TV and he pauses for a quick minute and finally says, “There’s no sense of community in the industry, people work on their own. There’s no sustainability when it comes to the music scene in this country, whether its ideas or regular revenue for the musicians who exist here.”
Lussun TV is, therefore, a platform where emerging artists can showcase their work without worrying about compromising their sound. “I just eventually want to create a situation where the artist can do what they want and feel confident about their work,” reflects Nadir.
Nadir’s disposition about music is accurate. For his upcoming second album with Sikandar Ka Mandar, Nadir is hosting gigs and selling band merchandise to fund the album. And he holds a day job as well because survival as a musician is incredibly difficult unless you’re one of the established names.
Coming back to his origins, Nadir describes the birth of Sikandar Ka Mandar and says, “I wanted to pursue music so I created Sikandar Ka Mandar. My first SKM gig was like a Radiohead tribute show. It was Danial Hyatt, Daniel A. Panjwaneey, Faizan Riedinger and a few others.”
The show led to more meetings, jam sessions, friendships ensued and Karachi indie scene took off, without looking back.
As the conversation rolls towards the end, Nadir mentions another member of the indie music fraternity, Ali Suhail, a musician playing in multiple bands while producing his own music as well, as a friend and a mighty talented artist who has a big role to play in SKM’s ingenuous songs.
Despite the many obstacles, Nadir Shehzad isn’t complaining. He is determined to continue.
“I think every person has a purpose, and so you try and find those avenues and do something. And if you can’t find them, you create these avenues for like-minded people who may or may not be able to afford to play music and create a sort of sustainable industry that can rely on itself.”