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The trajectory of Reza Khan's life reveals all but A Simple Plan. Instead, his story unfolds like a cloth woven from fine, vibrant threads of singular experiences on a sturdy frame of tradition and commitment.
Born in 1964 into a musical family in what is now Bangladesh, when other boys were out in the fields playing cricket, Reza and his brothers were closeted with their father, an instrumentalist, composer, and poet, receiving a firm grounding in Indian classical music. But from the day that one brother came home with a Peter Frampton album, Reza's sights leapt westward, smitten as he was by progressive rock music; he embraced the guitar as his signature instrument, back burnering the tabla, sitar and sarod (a stringed instrument similar to the sitar, but smaller). From that first glance westward, Reza has touched upon various cultures, following a life's path of exploration and discovery. With Frampton opening the way for Passage from India and the absorption of a panoply of classic rockers, with groups like the Beatles and the Eagles salient. Later, Pat Metheny became his beacon, setting the bar for guitar virtuosity and exploring the possibilities of his instrument. "Pat made me want to make myself better and better musically," he says.
Today, Reza sees the jazz icon as a jumping off point, a master who, like all good masters (Reza's father among them) edges their fledglings from the nest in the hopes that they will soar. Other strong influences have been in the smooth jazz vein, including the Rippingtons and Acoustic Alchemy, as well as the gamut of Brazilian sounds from bossa nova to samba to tropicalia.
Reza formed his first band, Yours Sincerely, in the Bangladeshi capitol of Dakha. Their album, Members Only (1991), sold an unprecedented half million copies. Having come to the States and earning a degree in computer science from Queens College in New York, he began to nurture a humanitarian calling. He journeyed throughout Latin America, and, struck by the poverty and human rights deficits there, he began working for the United Nations upon his return.
1996 found him headed for Angola, a member of the peacekeeping force in that war-torn country. Immediately, the soul of Africa began to penetrate his artistry, his very being. He moved to South Africa in 1996, performing and composing and growing all through his five-year stay, during which time he also married and had a baby daughter. These were defining years for Reza Khan and they live with him still.
Reza returned to the US in 2001, eager to get back on the recording track. His concept for a new CD, Painted Diaries, was clear and he began to search for players; most of the line-up fell into place after meeting drummer Graham Hawthorne, a David Byrne mainstay with special mastery of Brazilian and West African rhythms. Graham was instrumental in introducing him to musicians with global breadth. The stories and musicianship of his players became more and more integral to Painted Diaries, meeting Reza’s reach for a globalized sound. Most have remained, taking the next step with Reza, towards A Simple Plan.
Painted Diaries was evolving at the same time that the world was beginning to learn of the horrors of the war in Darfur, in the Sudan, and Reza launched a companion website to Painted Diaries to promote peace in the area. A critical success, Painted Diaries has done Khan proud, but not complacent; A Simple Plan began to take shape and would become the most western of Reza’s output to date.
Admittedly, A Simple Plan may be a deceptive title. Despite the “catchy melodies, hooks and grooves,” says Reza, “…the arrangements, the layerings, every single instrument and how they blend together…it’s definitely not simple.” What is simple, universal and overarching is the feeling. “It’s like a day at the beach with family.”
Reza’s next project will look eastward, returning to the musical foundation of his Bengali homeland and ancestors while revisiting Africa to release the trove of rhythms and stylings he collected during his years there.
In the meanwhile, Reza will be able to serendipitously mesh his music with his humanitarian commitment. Through Peace Partners, a Canadian NGO, he is writing songs for Amnesty International Frankophone in Montreal.
In addition, Reza continues to work for world peace as an advisor to the UN.