The portrait of a young artist

November 8, 2020

Nadir Shehzad Khan discusses shifting between film and music, collaborating with Track T and teaching music.

Jajji Ji collaborates with Sikandar Ka Mandar, with proceeds from the single going towards helping an organisation called Track T.

Once upon a time, they were one of Karachi’s favourite and most active independent music groups: Sikandar Ka Mandar (SKM). Back then, slain social and cultural activist Sabeen Mahmud was alive and always encouraged them. Though they’ve performed at T2F after her passing, the Karachi scene no longer holds appeal the way it did with Sabeen around.

Since then, SKM may have moved base from Karachi to Lahore and Islamabad but the music will always keep flowing. Sikandar Ka Mandar still count Nadir Shehzad Khan (Islamabad), Ali Suhail (Lahore), Zahra Paracha (Lahore) as key members with Daud Ramay (Lahore) as their drummer and a Macbook pro as their bassist.

They do stay in touch and the band, as Nadir Shehzad states, never broke up. It’s obvious given how the song came together.

With two full length records as well as some changes in line-up as the group evolved towards their sophomoric effort, Chatees (36) post their self-titled debut album, SKM is back with a new song.

Politically and socially inclined since their early days, palpable in the songwriting, the group went the whole nine yards for their newest single, ‘Chand si Baanu (ft. Jajji Ji)’. Replete with a music video, individual artwork and a beautiful audio experience, they’ve delivered a knockout of a song.

However, even as the song is out, there are some changes between my first interview with Nadir Shehzad Khan and now. He still finds it hard to articulate himself and doesn’t take his accomplishments including multiple LSA nominations for SKM too seriously.

“The times, they are a-changing,” sang Bob Dylan and Nadir - now a married man to actor Mariam Saleem Nawaz. Once a prominent part of the counterculture music movement in Karachi, he has moved on.

Calling Islamabad home now – with the rest of Sikandar Ka Mandar members living in Lahore – the band has come out of its self-imposed exile of sorts to create ‘Chand si Baanu (ft. Jajji Ji)’.

Speaking to Instep about the effort, after a hiatus from releasing music SKM’s chief songwriter and front-man, Nadir Shehzad Khan explained that the song was done in collaboration with an artist. The gender, to be fair, mustn’t be an issue but is enough of one in Pakistan that it has to be named. SKM were thus working with a trans-artist.

“We did it to spread awareness about Track T, an organization gathering funds for trans-people who are in need of aid during lockdown, etc.”

Given the present numbers stirring fears of a second wave of Covid-19 coming back to haunt us, lockdown is possible and among those who will suffer the most are minority communities including artists such as Jajji Ji.

The streak of altruism continues to run in SKM.

Discussing the motivation behind the single, Nadir further reiterated, “We met Jannat, a trans activist for this organization called Track T. She introduced us to Jajji Ji, who is a Naat Khawan and a beautiful, natural singer who loves Noor Jehan and old Indian songs. We asked Jajji Ji to send us a few songs just so we could see how we could collaborate. She sent us a few songs that she had recorded on WhatsApp. The ‘Chand si Baanu’ hook was one of the things she sent.”

The making of the song

“Zahra (Paracha) came over to my house soon after in Islamabad. Zahra added guitar to Jajji Ji‘s vocal track. Then I started writing around that song. I wrote the verses and the outro. Zahra then left and shared the song with Ali (Suhail) who has shifted to Lahore. He changed the second verse a bit, added a few synths. Zahra and Ali produced, mixed and mastered the song together. Zahra has a very synth pop vibe to her production style and Ali has this very prog/neo soul vibe that kind of mixed in the production of this song.”

The result is an atypical SKM sound. As for the change in the overall SKM sound that was palpable in their second album, it was deliberately different. “Our live set has an out from the MacBook, the computer plays bass and additional synth for our set.”

From music to films

Nadir Shehzad Khan, in his younger days, directed several music videos including shooting multiple seasons of the independent digital music series Lussun TV, music videos for Shajie, Sikandar Ka Mandar and //orangenoise. He always had a visual eye. He was also involved with a Pakistani film in the music department. So, the switch from purely doing music to films is not a surprise.

Artwork for ‘Chand si Baanu (ft. Jajji Ji)’, provided by Sikandar Ka Mandar. 

However, unlike others who jump straight into direction, Nadir Shehzad Khan is working as a film editor as well. Apart from working on TVCs, bread and butter of directors, Nadir did a feature last year and worked as film editor for an Al Jazeera documentary called Letters from Death Row: Life after Prison in Pakistan – Witness. He submitted a 48 hour film project called Zom Com, a first in Pakistan. It won best film, best use of genre, best make-up and best music. It was also screened at Orlando, Florida in a film festival called Filmapalooza.

For the philanthropist, lawyer and political Jibran Nasir, Nadir produced #IlmSeIlaj series including a few films such as one on debunking common taboos in society; one such taboo being Postpartum Depression and how it is often misunderstood.

At present, Nadir is wrapping up a documentary ‘How She Moves’ that he edited and has been accepted at 5 prestigious festivals including 43rd Asian American Film Festival, Tasveer, Montreal Asian Film Festival and Girona Film Festival.

In between editing documentaries/films, Nadir is a music teacher now. At last count, he had seven students whom he was teaching online. As for the single, ‘Jajji Ji’, you have to watch the music video and hear the single to find what it is that makes Sikandar Ka Mandar such revelry, each time. This one is doubly special because proceeds will go towards helping a minority community and that is something we have come to expect of Sikandar Ka Mandar and Nadir Shehzad Khan.

The portrait of a young artist