Three years since his debut album Vetted, first-generation Indian-American and multilingual Muslim singer Zeshan B is back. While his last project focused on soul covers, this time around he's grounded his voice into uplifting the ones who have been discriminated against.
In the epic Adeel Ahmed-directed video, several politicians and celebrities like Hasan Minhaj, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Hari Kondabalu make cameos at the end to demonstrate the solidarity that Zeshan B aims to instill in all of us. You can read the full list of appearances as well as a short interview with him via email below.
"Brown Power" is the first single off of his upcoming project which is due later this spring.
At the end of the poem in the opening of the video, you say "of what's to come next." What is to come next?
Zeshan B: What's to come next" is really what's happening now in real-time: the browning of America and for that matter, the browning of the rest of the world. And I believe that so many unsavory aspects of public discourse today are rooted in a very palpable backlash against that browning. There's a lot of people and entities out there who are deathly afraid of a world that is less vanilla and more chocolate.
But no matter what, I feel that no one—no matter how hard they try—will have the power to halt this "caramelization" of vanilla and chocolate. Whether it be interracial marriages (like my own), business partnerships, artistic collaborations, elections, sports—people are slowly starting to embrace a more brown paradigm that is more inclusive, more dynamic and more accountable to the complexities of the human race.
Who is included in brown power? Who isn't?
a.) Genuinely embraces all melanistic cultures,
b.) Acknowledges the axiom that brown people all over the world have by and large been historically subjugated to harsh injustices (colonialism, slavery, police brutality, disenfranchisement, war crimes, genocide) and then consequently...
c.) Believes that Brown people deserve social, economic and political empowerment (i.e. a seat at the table) just like anyone else they can join this beautiful team. They represent Brown Power to me. And by the way skin pigmentation has nothing to do with it. (refer to my Chicago comrade Father Michael Pfleger who graciously made a cameo in the video).
And as to who isn’t included: well, basically anyone who doesn't subscribe to a, b, or c.
In an age of social media, more and more are taking activism to the internet and less in real life. Is this the future of activism? What would you like to see more of?
Yeah, it's tough not to get caught up in that world. As an artist, there's a lot of peer pressure to engage in armchair activism—it's really easy to do and it can give you a bigger platform. I don't want to get all high and mighty here by saying that I haven't been guilty of it myself. But I will say that it definitely doesn't come naturally to me.
That's because I think that while social media activism is certainly a potent vehicle of positive change, it's probably most impactful when supplemented with work on the ground. And there are so many ways—big and small—to roll up one's sleeves with that. Like going to town hall meetings. Checking out that Frida Kahlo exhibit that's in town. Learning another language. Trying to be an eco-friendly consumer. Going to the library and empowering your mind. Engaging with our elders and getting inspiration from them while learning from their mistakes. Investing time and energy in our children. Encouraging others in our circles to vote. Point is—the work has to be put in.
There are athletes in this video and you are a musician. Do you believe that everyone should be speaking out on political matters regardless of profession? Is it to be expected?
Yup. Really, I do. Some folks think I'm insensitive for believing that. But I always remember my beloved grandmother telling me, "speak the truth even if you stand to lose something from doing so." While it does sadden me that I've lost so much over the years for following her advice, I honestly can sleep at night knowing that I sought out the truth and spoke it.
Whether it's my grandmother or whether it's Dr. Martin Luther King, Curtis Mayfield, B.R. Ambedkar, Fanny Lou Hamer, Guru Nanak, Medger Evers, Colin Kaepernick, or anyone else I look up to, they all spoke the truth—even at their own peril. And no, I don't think it can be expected—but it must be demanded.
What do the Urdu lyrics translate to at 3:00?
"May you prosper, O friends [and] loved ones
May you grow [increase]
Higher, Higher, Higher!
I'm a free man
I've got the high ground
Now I'm flying [up]
Higher Higher Higher!
Full cameo list:
U.S. Representative for Minnesota Ilhan Omar
U.S. Representative for Michigan Rashida Tlaib
Rev. Jesse Jackson
U.S. Representative for New Mexico Deb Haaland
U.S. Representative for Illinois Jesús “Chuy” García
Rev. Otis Moss III
Dr. Cornel West
Father Michael Pfleger
Photo: Harris Ansari