Sounds Like: Memphis R&B, Chicago blues and a jolt of raw South Asian soul.
For Fans of: Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Arif Lohar
Why You Should Pay Attention: First generation Indian-American Zeshan Bagewadi has sung for two presidents: Jimmy Carter deemed his version of the national anthem “best ever,” and Barack Obama invited him to the White House. Obama came up in Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, with whose choir Zeshan B closed out Black History Month this year. The gospel roots of this powerful soul singer are apparent on his new Vetted, which debuted at Number Eight on Billboard‘s World Music chart. World music? Well, in addition to cover versions and originals dealing with frequent soul-music concerns such as lust, alienation and resistance, Vetted includes “Meri Jaan” (My Baby), a sexy original sung in Urdu, and “Ki Jana” (Who Knows), a 200-year-old Sufi poem in Punjabi. Horns and strings also accommodate a droning tanbur and harmonium in Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City,” which Zeshan opens with an improvisatory Indian-classical alap.
He Says: “The singers I idolize – Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway – all started singing in church. I grew up with devotional music. I was a cantor in my mosque as a kid and I sang in a gospel choir during high school. I was taken in by Chicago’s black Baptist community and have a strong relationship with Trinity United and the Reverend Otis Moss. But India and Pakistan have their own type of soul music that’s not as commercialized as Bollywood. It’s down-home, raw, and visceral, especially in Pakistan, where most of the population lives in abject poverty. People sing about unrequited love, urban despair, and oppression – just like here. It’s all about that feel, that groove, bro. It comes from a deep place. I’m into all music that serves a greater purpose, whatever that may be.”
Hear for Yourself: George Perkins’ response to Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral was “Cryin’ in the Streets”; Zeshan turns in a stately version for the era of #BlackLivesMatter. Richard Gehr
This article originally appeared on RollingStone.