When you realize that not only is your birthday coming up, but so is your drummer’s, then it makes perfect sense to celebrate getting another year older with a big bang.
At least that’s how Nezqwik bandleader Aleef Mehdi sees it. The local jazz band celebrated their March 2nd with good friends, fellow bands and great music.
The band consists of Mehdi on guitar, Ben Duff on bass and Jinu Isac on drums. Music has been a big part of all their lives for as long as they can remember.
Mehdi and Duff grew up in Hamilton as childhood friends. They played in a band together before Mehdi started his studies in McMaster’s psychology program and Duff pursued a Bachelor of Music at Humber College.
Isac is a Toronto-based musician. He learned to play the tabla at seven years old, the piano at twelve, and the drums at fourteen. Much to the dismay of his father, a pianist, Isac has been passionately pursuing percussion instruments.
Shortly after starting his first year, Mehdi formed an eight-piece band, but things dwindled down after some difficulty coordinating rehearsals and gigs with a series of rotating members.
Determined to keep the band alive, Mehdi convinced Duff and Isac to join him as a trio.
Despite the challenges over the past two years, Nezqwik has stylistically stayed the same. They play primarily jazz, jazz fusion and funk, and are influenced by the likes of Snarky Puppy, D’Angelo and Kendrick Lamar, for a unique touch of hip hop and neo soul.
Despite rehearsing pieces on a weekly basis, the band is all about improvisation. They vibe off one another’s energy and build on top of another’s instruments, like having a conversation through music.
Nezqwik, like most jazz bands, perform standards, a collection of well-known musical compositions that each jazz musician has memorized, and each member will take turns improvising on a song.
“Each time you play the song it should be unique and different.… The other thing is we arrange the songs differently. Like with Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Wish’, we like to have a different arrangement of it and it makes it a little bit more interesting than going to a bar and listening to a cover band play it,” explained Duff.
The band remarked that some people can’t relate to instrumental music and often think of the melody coming from just vocals. Nezqwik throws around the melody, it’s found in every guitar, drum and bass solo.
“It’s really interactive. You have to be actively engaged into our music to appreciate it… if people feel groove they’re going to move,” said Mehdi.
Their interactive on stage presence translates off the stage too. Their musical journey together, while mostly consisting of good times, has had its fair share of crazy experiences too, but it all came down to bringing them closer together as friends.
One of Nezqwik’s favourite performances was at the Stonewalls Restaurant last year.
The restaurant was packed with over 130 people for their gig, but it was the interactions and responses from the audience that made the night memorable.
The band also vividly remembers another performance at Corktown Pub, but perhaps that experience was more memorable for the events that unfolded after finishing their set and realizing that the all the money from the cover box, with exception of a five-dollar bill, was gone.
“We found out that one of the [other] band member’s roommate was also at the show and he peaked inside the box, according to someone else there, and left the venue right away,” explained Mehdi.
The next few hours consisted of waiting for the convicted thief to come home while bonding with the other band and playing Super Smash Bros. He eventually came home to a living room filled with 15 people waiting for him to give the money back.
“He tried to give us a hard time. He threw change at us. Like the musician struggle is a real thing because he was throwing the change and [Isac] actually grabbed all the change.”
“Then he just [says], ‘you want your money back?’ We’re like, ‘yes obviously that’s why we’re here.’ Then he said, ‘take me to an ATM!’… We asked him if he took it and he said ‘not proud of it, but I did it. Take me to an ATM’,” explained Duff.
Despite the stress of the situation, the band looks back on it with laughs and they look forward to the performances to come.
Nezqwik added their Birthday Bash to their list of epic experiences. They had a wild performance and Shariq Tucker, a renowned drummer from New York, decided to drop by and jam with the band. The lives of Nezqwik never have a dull moment.
You can see Nezqwik live at their upcoming gig at The Piston in Toronto on March 20th and at the Artword Artbar in Hamilton on April 27th.