Shehzad Roy is a singer and humanitarian from Karachi, Pakistan. With five hit albums under his belt, including the 2008 ‘Qismat Apney Haath Mein’. He is also the president and founder of Zindagi Trust, a non-profit charitable organisation, that seeks to educate the underprivileged children.
In June 2004, Roy was honoured as one of the youngest ever recipient of the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz for excellence in serving humanity. For his organisation’s earthquake rehabilitation efforts in Kashmir, he was awarded the Sitara-e-Eisaar. He was also selected to be a torch bearer for the 2008 Olympic Torch relay as the pride of Pakistan. Recently, Roy took the city of Chicago by storm when he was awarded the 2008 Patricia Blunt Koldyke Fellowship award for excellence in social entrepreneurship.
You started the trend of combining music with socio-political issues (example Laga reh album). Do you feel it is right to infuse politics with music?
A musician can infuse his music with any subject- that is the great thing about any art form. I make music about what I see around me- Laga Reh was a true reflection of the lessons I learnt from turning around a government school. SMB Fatima Jinnah Govt School. I had to really struggle and I came across a very strong resistance to change. After that, when I sat down to write a romantic album, I wrote “laga reh” and “qismat” instead.
You are running Zindagi Trust which has played a vital role in helping the underprivileged children get medical and educational facilities, what is your drive behind this philanthropic act? What made you initiate this in the first place? What are your other future plans?
As a child, I was struck by the huge class divide in Pakistan’s society. Wheny my cousins would visit from overseas, they would aske me why the street children were not in school studying. I did not have an answer. It pained me to see these young children who had no future and who were never going to break free of poverty. A lot of other reasons built up and in 2002, I established the non-government organization, Zindagi Trust, in 2002. The organization’s objective was to provide quality education to the underprivileged children of Pakistan.
In 2006, Zindagi Trust attained management of SMB Fatima Jinnah Government School in Karachi, from the government. Our 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 appaling 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. We 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.
Zindagi Trust was criticized for trying to bring Pakistan’s outdated school syllabous into the 21st century. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, we replaced the out-dated government textbooks with thought-provoking and imaginative textbooks. Modern learning modules were introduced such as art, photography, roller-blading, 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.
Zindagi Trust has set a precedent for how a public school should function. We are now working with the government to reform policies, textbooks etc. The public education sector is the only channel through which we can have educated masses in Pakistan.
You have travelled across the world to raise funds for this Trust and most recently you were in Chicago. Tell us more about your endeavours.
Recently I was in Chicago because I was awarded the 2008 Patricia Blunt Koloyke Fellowship award for excellence in social entrepreneurship. I received this award in recognition of Zindagi Trust’s reform efforts in government schools.
Are you doing justice to your musical career by cancentrating on philanthropic activity?
When my single “Sadi” was relaesed. It was a huge first in India. Film directors wanted to use the track in their movies, for which I would have had to go to India, I could not leave Pakistan because as the time. I was struggling to reform SMB Fatima Jinnah Govt School. It was a sacrifice I made happily because this reform work is my passion and for me. It is just as important as my music.
Why did you decide to combine music with charity?
We do not like call our work “charity”. Charity implies a favor, whereas education is a basic right.
I wanted to bring a change in the lives of the street urchins. Music gave me a platform through which I was able to gather public support and launch Zindagi Trust.
I do most of the fundrasing through my own concerts, so I guess it’s a useful combination.
Doing a song with a Baloch man.
I am not working on an album right now but will soon be releasing a few singles.
Any international collaboration.
Not any this year
An unknown fact about yourself…
I lost my little finger as a child
Your favourite artiste (local and international)
My Pakistani favourite is Abida Parveen, I did a song with her (de dain inhain zindagi) for Zindagi Trust’s SMB Fatima Jinnah Government School. These days I enjoy listening to Maroon 5 Favourite
“Ankhein” and “Ek Baar”
What has been your finest musical creation?
To date, I am proud of my most recent album- Qismat Apne Haath Mein. It was a real risk, because although it came straight from my heart, I was not sure if people would relate.
Your day starts with… praying to God
You are addicted to… Xbox and fi to
Dream destination… Koh Phangan island, Thailand
One thing you would like to change about yourself… My forgetfulness
Up for grabs on your shopping list… Nowadays. I Pad!
The thing I treasure most from my wardrobe are… My suits.
A must have for you… My small diary
Beauty secret… Peace of mind. One’s face is a reflection of mind.
Style statement… Comfort first
Style icon… Bano, U2
3-must haves in anyone’s closet… Comfortable running shoes, a great suit, polo shirts.
Personal strengths… I try not to harm my enemies.
Personal weaknesses… My forgetfulness
Your journey so-far… Unpediotatile and exciting
A city that inspires you… Karachi
A person who inspires/inspired you the most… More than one
The best thing about being a Pakistani… The fantastic variety of fruits, landscape, cultures, people, cruisine. We have almost everything here!
One thing I would change about Pakistan is… There are several things-one thing alone can not change our current predicament. Simultaneous interventions are needed in security, health, education, industry, population etc.
Success to your means… Responsibility