This semester, Mohawk College’s music department is partnering with several Indigenous artists to form an Indigenous music mentorship collective. The collective’s bass player is third-year music student Zayd Nawaz.
Nawaz started playing the guitar when he was 13, and soon after discovered his love for the bass guitar.
“There are tons of guitar players, but very few bass players,” Nawaz said. “So when you pick up the bass, all of your guitar player friends are like, ‘Oh man, that’s really, really good. You should play bass for me’.”
Nawaz learned by playing songs by alternative rock bands like Mogwai and Silversun Pickups, but over the years he has explored many types of music and instruments. He can drum, sing, play upright bass, cello, and played the viola with an orchestra at one point.
“I [also] played violin, but I’m not very good at that one,” Nawaz said. “It’s a little too small for me.”
Nawaz originally went to the University of Guelph to study biochemistry where he minored in music while playing casual gigs at local bars in his free time.
“I was spending all my time on my minor, so I kind of decided maybe I should just take a year and work, and go into a music program,” Nawaz said.
Nawaz is currently finishing his final year in Mohawk College’s music program. Mohawk College music instructor Bob Shields said he appreciates the musical creativity Nawaz brings to the table.
“He’s a good arranger, a thoughtful composer, tries different things, doesn’t do the run of the mill thing,” Shields said. “When it comes to music, he’s a risk taker. I like that adventurous spirit he has.”
In addition to being musically talented and adventurous, Nawaz also has an interest in learning about other cultures. He said he has been learning about Indigenous history and practices since he took an Indigenous studies course in high school, which led to his interest in being a part of the initiative.
“I have really a huge passion for kind of everything about that project,” Nawaz said.
Shields said the initiative was looking for participants who demonstrated social awareness outside of their music bubble, and Nawaz fit the bill.
“I’ve been to sweat lodges,” Nawaz said. “And I’ve gone on partnerships with Aboriginal elders and all kinds of stuff that are really, I guess, culturally relevant and fun.”
To Nawaz, one of the most important aspects of the initiative is that being mentored by Indigenous musicians will allow him to lift Indigenous voices.
“I think for me, a big part of it is helping to give a platform for voices that are oppressed or haven’t really been heard,” Nawaz said.