In this wide-ranging playlist, Chicago singer Zeshan B celebrates the universal language of soul. He shares his own unique sound—which draws from a variety of influences that include Punjabi folk songs, Italian opera, and Islamic and Christian religious traditions—to the David Rubenstein Atrium on May 31, where he'll perform songs from his debut album, Vetted.
"Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin
I dig classical music, and I'm really into songs that are symphonic in nature. I'm talking about songs that have very contrasting sections—maybe a different tempo, a different key, different instrumentation—like symphonic suites. And MAN, oh man! This tune is just that—a symphonic suite. Starts out with this light, ethereal, medieval folk vibe. Then the second movement's got this dope prog rock vibe. Then the last movement is this thunderously sweaty, rumbly, maniacal conclusion that rocks and rolls you to your core. Truly one of the greatest songs ever written.
"Walk On By" by Isaac Hayes
This is another tune that's symphonic in nature. This time, it's a truly epic ode to a man's pain. I really think that Isaac Hayes had the same orchestral mind of a Beethoven or Tchaikovsky. He knew exactly how to take a theme or a motif, build it, and let it blossom into a symphonic poem. That's precisely what he does in this song, and you can also hear him do it in the theme song to Shaft. Real talk, Isaac Hayes was bad as hell.
"Everybody loves the Sunshine" by Roy Ayers
"Just bees and things and flowers." Love that '70s synth lead in this!
"Tere Bheege Badan Ki Khushboo" by Mehdi Hassan
This is the original Brown Skinned SOUL! Seriously. I think it's criminal just how underappreciated Pakistani film music from the '60s and '70s is. Thank God I grew up on this stuff! It's interesting to note that the Pakistani film industry had barely a fraction of the commercial and societal support and resources that the Indian film industry had. But when you listen to just how sophisticated (in spite of being lo-fi) the orchestral arrangements are in tunes like this one, you come to realize something about these Pakistani film score cats: They were making some SERIOUS lemonade with the lemons they were given. Hands down, the GREATEST singer to ever come out of the Indian subcontinent is Mehdi Hassan. If there is any Desi singer who was my idol growing up and who continues to be my idol today, it's Mehdi Hassan. The man had this fortress of a voice. And his phrasing? Man, don't get me started! And he had so much dard ("pain") in his voice that even an intensely romantic and sensual song like this one can (and will) make you cry.
"Kadi Tey Has Bol" by Shaukat Ali
When it comes to Punjabi folk music, my favorite singer without a doubt is Shaukat Ali. I love how versatile he is. He can vibe out so sweetly on a provincial, rurally Punjabi tune like this one, but then turn on the stateliness and pull of the more urban repertoire like ghazals and nazms. And this tune is particularly catchy.
"Cousin Mary" by John Coltrane
Any time I need inspiration I turn on Trane. The man had his palm on the pulse of life and as such, his music can speak to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
"Excursions" by A Tribe Called Quest
Jazz hip-hop and rhymsmithin' at its very best! I love the nocturnal vibe of this joint, too.
"Retrograde" by James Blake
What a voice James Blake has! And man, when that lead synth element drops! Sweet Baby Jesus! My bones start to rattle.
"Other People" by LP
LP has one of the most unique voices in the biz. Love her vibe and the way she crafts modal sonorities in this tune, with whistling too! Someday I really want to write a song with her!
"Come Down" by Anderson .Paak
This brother's grooviness is SO fly! I super dig the melodic bassline in this tune.
"Am I Wrong" by Anderson .Paak ft. ScHoolboy Q
Anderson .Paak is so dope that he deserves an encore in this here list. Listen to those horn lines towards the end! Righteous!
Listen to the full playlist.
About the Curator
Zeshan B uses his powerful voice—singing in English, Urdu, and Punjabi—to tell tales of instability, ambiguity, loss, injustice, unrequited love, urban despair, and youthful ecstasy. His debut album Vetted, produced by legendary soul arranger Lester Snell and recorded in Memphis with a wrecking crew of Stax Records sidemen, was released in 2017. He has opened for Mos Def, A Tribe Called Quest, and Rakim, and performed at venues across the world, including the White House at the invitation of President Obama.