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(DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. It's important to remember this is all totally fabricated, embellished, and exaggerated for entertainment purposes.)


Will you lay yourself down and dig your grave

Or will you rail against your dying day?

Sleep On The Floor - The Lumineers

Everything I'd overcome, beginning long before Simon Cowell called my name in 2010, seemed to position me to conquer music on my own. Lots of strife to scream into the mic about. Lots of angst to inform my lyricism. Lots of ambivalence to keep me questioning...keep me curious. I was always a solo artist, Jawaad used to say. When I entered the X-Factor at 17, it was entirely on my own, and I had been prepared to sing my style of music. Cover the artists I'd grown up listening to and knew by heart. Shit that I could identify with. Turns out, the years with the band had been nothing more than a glorified derailment, and according to J., I was now back on track. Primed to take over the world.

For a time he was consumed with the idea of redemption. He'd read the biography of a Muslim revert from the eighteenth century who had essentially sold his soul to the devil and traveled the world transfixed with hedonism and avarice, but in the end returned home a redeemed man. I was not one for heroic comparisons, but he insisted it was allegorical to my experiences in the white man's band, and that I was well on my way home when I left them in 2015. Never to step foot on that musty tour bus again, stale with the odor of unchanged socks and unwashed feet. Never to hear the roar of the rubber against the road. Never to watch the sunrise soar over a Norwegian cityscape again. Never to revist Peru. Never to run late to soundcheck in South Africa or the UAE, because I hadn't made it that far. 

I don't know if I quite saw things the way J. did, although anyone who succeeded in music is generally thought by the public to have undertaken some Faustian Bargain behind closed doors. It was weird to think that's how he saw me. Regardless of what anyone speculated about how I got my start, or how I acquired all this wealth and stardom, I can rest assured my soul was intact. From Day One I maintained who I was at my core, never sold out, never bent, and instead of robbery, I liked to consider the band a growing experience and an opportunity to dip my toe into what awaited beyond paths of convention. One for which I was eternally grateful.

I couldn't deny I was born a maverick, despite how laughable and overused the notion had become in pop culture. I was an island. I was one called out from among many. An outsider intended to walk alone. Most of the time I couldn't shake the notion I was trespassing as I moved from continent to continent with the other boys, leaving my footprints all over the globe. Culture shock was an understatement. Homesickness seemed like a mild agitation compared to what I experienced whenever I awoke in a strange country, miles removed from anything and anyone familiar. No Bradford to be found. No people who looked or sounded like me. Going months without seeing my dogs. Days without sleeping. Longing for the shadowy rooms of my parents' first house. The one I had been technically too young to remember. 

To cope, I sat on my own writing hundreds of tunes I feared would never see the light of day. That is, until 2014 after I met the right people. We started to establish a sound unique to me that would incorporate both my Eastern and Western musical influences; and as a result ease my conscience. For a while those were the only two warring parts of myself. A struggle to not let the East overshadow the West, and similarly not allow the West to erase the East. My roots were of value to me, even if I'd never stepped foot in South Asia. I was fortunate to develop a working relationship with a London-based Pakistani producer before I ever left 1D. He presented himself trustworthy and understood the internal cultural struggle well; helping me to navigate it with the music we created. 

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