Shehzad Roy was born in Karachi, Pakistan. He made his debut in music in 1995 with his first album Zindagi. At the time, he was only in grade 11. Even though he went on to get a Bachelors in Commerce, it was clear to him that music was going to be his career. From a young age, he was struck by the huge class divide in Pakistan’s society.
He established a non- government organization, Zindagi Trust, in 2002. The organization’s objective was to provide quality education to the underprivileged children of Pakistan.He uses the proceeds from his concerts to fund the trust’s operations.
At the age of 25, in 2002, Roy pioneered the concept of I-am-paid-to-learn that provides child laborers with monetary compensation for attending Zindagi Trust educational units.The vocational and practical teaching methods alog with incentives for children to attend make it a viable solution to Pakistan’s urban illiteracy. Roy has established 35 educational units with 3000 children being educated in the most impoverished regions of Pakistan.
Advocate for quality government education
Even though the program was a great success, Roy realized that the “I am paid to learn” initiative was not enough.In 2006, Roy became an advocate for quality government education for all in Pakistan. Zindagi Trust along with Bookgroup (a partner organization) attained management of SMB Fatima Jinnah Girls Government School in Karachi, from the government. Roy’s objective was to turn around this public school into a model school and then push the government to replicate it in all public schools of Pakistan.
Replaced out-dated government textbooks
Everyone is worried about the millions of children not going to school”, Roy says, “but I’m just as worried about the millions of children who are going to public schools!” In 2006, Roy became an advocate for quality government education for all in Pakistan. Zindagi Trust along with Bookgroup (a partner organization) attained management of SMB Fatima Jinnah Girls Government School in Karachi, from the government. Roy’s objective was to turn around this public school into a model school and then push the government to replicate it in all public schools of Pakistan.
Zindagi Trust started with civil works. Even though this public school was termed as one of the city’s “best”, it was in an appalling condition. The school grounds were being rented out in the evenings for private parties and other functions. The food remains would, in turn, attract dogs and rodents. In fact, when the trust went for its initial inspection, they found a decaying dog body in the kindergarten room. The school water lines were mixed up with the sewage line. There were heaps and heaps of garbage and some walls were on the verge of collapse. Roy not only renovated the existing structure but also went on to add more facilities such as a library, cafeteria, computer lab, health room, audio-visual room etc, that did not exist before. You can see the “before” and “after” pictures of the school
Roy was criticized for trying to bring Pakistan’s outdated school syllabus into the 21st century: “Trying to alter the mind-set of the people is the most grueling task,” he says, “and therefore we have to battle with forces that are too complacent with the status quo.” For the first time in the history of Pakistan, Zindagi Trust and Bookgroup replaced these out-dated government textbooks with thought- provoking and imaginative textbooks. Modern learning modules were introduced such as art, photography, rollerblading, rowing to nurture individual talent. These students are now participating in sports and art competitions and are winning against top private schools.
The public school teachers have drastically improved their performance. The same teachers who came late every day are now well prepared for class and are taking an interest in their students’ performance. Significant turnaround has been seen in students’ test results and their critical thinking skills. The school’s success has led many in Pakistan to speculate that the future of Pakistan lies in the capable hands of the young breed of philanthropists like Roy.
Zindagi Trust and Bookgroup have set a precedent for how a public school should function. In 2010, their aim is to set up a similar model in other Pakistani provinces and achieve a critical mass that will enable them to pressurize the government into replicating this model in all public schools.
For the first time in the history of Pakistan, Zindagi Trust and Bookgroup replaced out-dated government textbooks with thought- provoking and imaginative textbooks. Modern learning modules were introduced such as art, photography, rollerblading, rowing to nurture individual talent. These students are now participating in sports and art competitions and are winning against top private schools.
As Roys’s humanitarian reach grew, so did the tone of his songs. He went from mainly singing romantic songs to songs that reflected social issues.
In order to promote cross-border cultural exchange with India, he sang a hit duet with Indian singer Sukhbir in 2005. To promote cultural awareness through music, Shehzad Roy brought Bryan Adams to Pakistan for a charity concert to aid the victims of the tragic October 2005 earthquake. Bryan Adams commended Shehzad Roy for his efforts in education. Adams also pointed out that one need not look for inspiration elsewhere when it came to material for music, as there was so much to write and sing about right here in Pakistan.
In 2007, Shehzad Roy came out with a musical collaboration between him and queen of Sufi soul, Abida Parveen. Previously , she has never collaborated with any other musician on any project and this is also her first proper music video to date.The song, titled Zindagi, was rooted on his latest venture — Equality in Education. Shehzad Roy isn’t the primary vocalist, leaving that to Abida, and prefers to sing only the title throughout the composition: Aao de dein inhein zindagi (Let’s give them life). According to Roy, she added an amazing spiritual element to the song.
In 2008 Roy came out with a bang with the release of his socio-political defiant album, Qismat Apnay Haat Mein, (Fate Lies in One’s Own Hands) that he launched at the Karachi Juvenile Prison at Central Jail, in July 2008. He underscored the need to rehabilitate Pakistan’s justice system that ignores the pitiable conditions of many prisoners, most of whom have spent many years in jail just waiting on their court hearing.
Qismet Apnay Haath Mein in 2008
While too many musicians in Pakistan seem content to skirt over issues of socio-political importance, treading the same dregs of human emotion again and again. However, after the boisterous Saali, Shehzad Roy has decided to pen an album of tracks that has more than its fair share of swipes at the current elites in charge of the nation.
Qismet Apnay Haath Mein has generated a substantial amount of hype and fanfare for the seemingly controversial material embedded within the album. Of the songs on the album, Laga Reh, is a stark commentary on the way our nation is run, with the usual Shehzad Roy manner of song; lots of jovial guitar riffs running around coupled with bhangra-esque percussion.
The soundtrack of Akshay Kumar’s movie “Khatta Meetha” features a song by Shehzad Roy. The song, titled “Bullshit” has been composed, written and sung in Pakistan. Khatta Meetha is a political satire revealing the rampant corruption in the Indian bureaucratic system. Akshay Kumar was looking for a theme track for his movie when he first met Shehzad Roy. He was immediately taken by Roy’s song “Laga Reh” and “Qismat Apne Haath Mein” and asked Roy to make an original song with the same them
* Zindagi (1995)
* Darshan (1997)
* Teri Soorat (1999)
* Rab Jaanay (2002)
* Buri Baat Hai (2005)
* Qismat Apney Haath Mein (2008)
Awards & Recognitions
* 1999 Ptv World Awards- Best Pop singer
* 2003 1st Indus Music Awards- Best Male Artist
* 2004 Tamgha-e-Imtiaz
* 2005 Indus Music Video Awards- Best Performer in a Video (Saali)
* 2006 Sitara-e-Eisaar
* 2006 Indus Style Awards- Best Stylish Song
* 2006 3rd Indus Music Awards- Best Pop Song (Saali)
* 2006 3rd Indus Music Awards- Best patriotic song (Hum Aik Hain)
* 2008 Torch Bearer for 2008 Beijing Olympics
* 2008 Mtv Style Awards- Best video (laga reh)
* 2009 Mtv Music Awards- Best lyrics (laga reh), Best pop song (laga reh)
* 2009 Patricia Blunt Koldyke Fellow
* 2009 Lux Style Awards- Best album (Qismat Apne Haath Mein), Best video (laga reh)
With his latest album Qismet Apnay Haath Mein on top of the charts, Shehzad Roy comes across as a very angry young man on the one hand, a social activist driven by a passion for change on the other. The very next minute he also gives me an impression of harbouring aspirations to launch a political careeror does he? Let’s find out as the singer, who believes in the goodness of a deed done gives me a guided tour of the SMB Fatima Jinnah Government Girls Secondary School which his Zindagi Trust has adopted.
Are you the proverbial rebel with a cause?
People think that if I talk about providing adequate health and education I am a revolutionist or a rebel. It’s just that these are the basic needs which should be provided to the general public.
I would answer your question by saying that my inspiration comes from the academic system in this country, and me being a singer with a cause comes from my music. The latter has supported me to raise funds and the power that music gives me transcends into a conflict with the government to improve the flawed education system in Pakistan.
Qismet Apnay Haath Mein has an eclectic mix of songs where some spell patriotism, some are naughty while others talk about the political situation in the country. What inspired you to come out with such an album?
Just by saying we are one one does not become a patriot. I am trying to point out problems but that also doesn’t make me the ultimate patriot. This country is not another planet’s hell and it’s not going to the dogs. My point is if you do not upgrade your education system you will have a chronic sense of despair among the masses. I am a patriot to the core, to the extent of giving my life for the right cause. I, in regard to Zindagi Trust, and Sami Mustafa of Book Group have both received threats while working on improving the existing system in government schools. But nobody can kill the passion that is there and I strongly believe that goodness is contiguous.
Saali was a controversial song/album, then came Qismet and specifically the song Khul Kay Pyar in which the guitar riff represents the words emanating from frustration and which could not be put into words.
Saali was my last album and the title song just came about without any specific pattern of thought. On the contrary, the songs in the latest album have a definite thought process. The song Khul Kay Pyar is basically a message to the young and old alike that due to the lack of creative outlets our youth indulge in mischief and then end up covering their misdoings. How are they supposed to vent their energy? What I am basically saying in the song is that one does not relive his youth again so we should make the most of it.
The other song in the album, Laga Reh, and its video by Ahsan Rahim says a lot under the garb of its comic theme. Who owns the concept and are there any more videos in the offing?
I have only written and composed the song. This was my first song and Ahsan, who is also a friend, came up with the concept. Four more videos are also in the pipeline all to be directed by Ahsan, namely the title song followed by Aik Baar Kehdo, Quaid-i-Azam and Aankhain which sketches the life of a suicide bomber.
Keeping in mind the controversial nature of Laga Reh, how difficult was it to find a sponsor for the album?
While making the Laga Reh video, since I had invested so much in it Ahsan warned me that I won’t be able to sell it due to controversial content. Somehow I did manage to get a sponsor but just two days before the video went on air the sponsor called me and told me that I needed to chuck out three shots one where the old man says leave everything to Allah, second where the lawyer is trying to set a tyre on fire and third where people are picked up by the agency and then vanish into thin air. I was adamant and told them that I won’t because then there won’t be anything left in the video. It might sound very brave but believe me when you see all the money slipping away, it’s not funny. Here, I would like to ask sponsors to kindly support the paradigm shift in music, too.
The song was also supposedly banned. Why indulge in such risk-taking and insist on being a controversial artiste? Are you playing the angry young man?
I also saw the bit on the Internet that Laga Reh has been banned but that was not the case. No risk, no gain, and there is no gain without pain. As I said earlier, trying to provide a sound education does not make me into a revolutionary. Gaining knowledge and empowering ourselves is the only and right way to go about things. I have tried to ask the right questions in most of songs on the album. We generally don’t ask questions and when and if we do, it is seen as controversial.
Each song and video REH Agha summarize this case effectively in the earlier political in the country. Do you think that the song is still relevant?
Earlier during the making of her when I had expressed a similar concern, and video director, and charity, and said deliberately, I do not have to worry about REH Agha because no matter when the song was released listeners will relate to it. Do you know why? I heard When I was 10, on the news around the clock 9’o that Pakistan is at a sensitive stage, and only two days back I heard Sheikh Rashid as saying the exact same thing all over again! Tell me what has changed? We would like to live in denial and continue in a non-issues, but I also think change is coming. We need to talk about the right issues. I think both of the album and the song will remain topical even five years from now. God help us if people can relate to him even after that.
Qismet claims that the album became a bestseller. How do you feel about it?
Is it really that controversial? If you have not sold well and I became poor by now! Loss was difficult to sponsor, but if I had known that the album will not sell, I would not be able to highlight the Qismet …
I try to transfer the message to others through this album is that public opinion in Pakistan has not given an outlet to think for themselves with being a port of the education system right. Once our children start asking questions and demanding an answer to any leader can not make a fool out of us. I write also for a section of the English press, but writing and singing, going to talk shows will not change anything. You can only create an opinion with them. May come with the album like this before, but Qismet came after I started working in the field, and learned about the reality of the Earth.
The reforms in the education system that you speak of are also reflected in your music. So is music a tool to fulfill all such aspirations?
Of course music is such a tool as I have raised the maximum amount of funds through music. It gives you power. People who generally create problems with my trust’s work back off after a while. I strongly believe that when you take a stand on the right issues, no one dare create problems.
You seem to be in awe of Imran Khan and Ardeshir Cowasjee. Any particular reason? Do you have any plans to enter politics?
I will never go into politics because once you go into that arena your hands are tied. The reforms that I am trying to bring in the education system are working out more strongly otherwise. And by the way, I have never given such an impression. As for Imran Khan, I have idolised him since childhood and he is like a brother to me. We are very close. The same goes for Adreshir Cowasjee. Both these men have given me tremendous support in regard to my educational project and I thank them for it.
Ali Azmat, Fuzon, Strings and Zeb & Haniya have all released their albums round the same time as Qismet Your comments on the released albums?
I really liked Ali Azmat’s Klashinfolk and Zeb & Haniya’s. I support Zeb & Haniya because women are not encouraged in our country. Secondly, they are good musicians. As for Ali, I have been attending his concerts since I was young lad. He is the only rock star in our country and I love his music, and not just because he’s a friend.
From pop singer to social activist, how would you sum up your journey so far?
I have never really planned my life. Things just kept happening. But yes, I give credit to my parents and the people who inspired me and taught me a lot.
1 was my passion to play the guitar. This came with the singing in the college access to meetings, and adopt later as a profession. In 2003, the Zindagi Trust with the understanding that there is a need for radical reforms in the education system we have. I feel modern education just grooms you for the rat race, and even if you win the race will still be considered in mice. I get excited when talking about the drama, violin classes or through the sport that the child hidden talent comes out in the open. Our children should be taught to ask questions, and only then have succeeded in life as adults. In our country, one can have the freedom of expression, but there is no freedom of expression yet. I access to the power of music so I do not need to become a politician.
I had already started work on the next album. It will also be a strongly-worded as Qismet?
There is a time for the next album to come out and I’m touring concerts at the moment. Then, we have adopted a few more schools that need attention.
For the next album and I’m thinking of compiling songs on the issue of brain migration. Our young people and the abandonment of Pakistan for greener pastures abroad. In addition to this, there are many other issues that I want to touch. These days, I am also in the control of people in the streets, where one sees the faces of millions and zillions of stories. Our country is very interesting with so many religions, cultures and social classes. I have decided to observe people and collecting my album next along those lines.
Shehzad Roy Pictures