We’ve heard it before: the classic college kid-turned-musician story; from lecture halls to music halls. The story of Naveed Ahmed and his quest for that “big break” sounds something like that with a twist; Ahmed and his band are doing this all on their own and making sacrifices along the way, one being the relationship Ahmed has with his family.
“I do think a lot, why can I share this success with my friends, why not with my own parents?” Ahmed said.
Ahmed is a junior at Stony Brook University majoring in engineering science. As if his demanding major wasn’t enough, Ahmed is also the lead singer of an up-and-coming pop-punk band named In Loving Memory. The band formed only a year ago but is making headway on YouTube with over 5,000 subscribers. The band even opened for this year’s Back to the Brook concert at SBU, which was rumored to have had about 5,000 students in attendance.
Their latest EP, much like an album but shorter, has had about 100 downloads, according to the band, a major success in their book. Of course, no success comes easy. Ahmed said, “I tell people that being in a band is like taking a 10 credit course.”
This is one course that could potentially reap huge benefits. Just this past summer Ahmed and his band played at the popular Manhattan concert venue Webster Hall as the opener for another band called Sylar, to a crowd of about 100 people. This was one of many concerts his parents did not attend. Ahmed explained that his parents don’t come to concerts because they don’t want to encourage his involvement in music.
“What sucks is that I can’t even really blame them. At the end of the day, they want what they think is best for me,” he said.
Being a first-generation American teen, Ahmed is caught between two worlds: the safer “professional” path, which his parents insist, and his very own rock ’n’ roll American dream.
The Ahmed family began in Bangladesh with Mohaimin and Mini Ahmed, Ahmed’s parents. The couple left their home in Bangladesh with a wave of Bengali immigrants seeking opportunity in the 1980s, a time of economic turmoil for Bangladesh. Once they settled in Queens, New York, the couple opened a restaurant in Manhattan, Bombay Masala, which is still running today, and raised their two children, Maureen and Ahmed. They hoped this new start would give their children an easier life than they had.
Ahmed looked back on his childhood and said, “Being the son of two immigrant Bengali parents who worked their asses off just to keep a roof over my head, I grew up being taught the importance of education.” Having seen struggle firsthand, Mohaimin and Mini wanted a stable and secure life for their children.
Coming from two different worlds, Ahmed and his parents clash more than they’d like to, his growing involvement in music and pursuit of it as a career has created tension in the house. As a self-proclaimed mama’s boy Ahmed explained regretfully how the relationship has become strained.
“I have to hide a lot from them now because there’s a lot they don’t understand.” Amiyo Rahman, Ahmed’s childhood friend, explained how he watched Ahmed struggle and how often they had discussed the tension between Ahmed and his parents.
Being a Bengali-American himself, Rahman could more clearly understand Ahmeds situation, he said, “His parents are good, wholesome Bengali parents, wanting what’s best for their child.” Rahman went on to explain that like many immigrant Bengali parents, the Ahmed’s had to work long hours day and night to provide for their family, but this led to their absence at home and a disconnect in their relationship with Ahmed. Ahmed claims that if his parents had grown up here in the U.S. like he did, the conversations would be very different.
With that in mind, Ahmed said he’s “not closing any doors” on his budding music career; in fact, he’s using it as fuel for the fire. In the band’s latest EP, the first song “With or Without You” is a message from Ahmed to his parents. The first verse speaks of their struggle: “Maybe I’m just a kid whose head is in the clouds. But you taught me not to fear. You taught me how to stand my ground. So try and take me down!”
As hard as not having the support of his family is, Ahmed said that he would rather use it to drive himself and his career forward, and according to his band mates, it shows.
Drummer Thomas Diognardi explained, “I think the fact that he’s a little unsettled at home pushes him that much harder to get out of his current situation.” The band’s guitarist Vito Racanelli said he is going through a similar family situation as Ahmed, “Each day when we don’t ‘make it’ or get signed it makes him more stressed but a little more driven than the last day, as with all of us.”
The music business is known for its exclusivity and plenty of musicians have wasted lifetimes on trying to catch that ‘big break’. Ahmed is fully aware of this and the pressure that this puts him under, on top of the pressure his family is putting on him.
“The way I see it, I’m on a time limit,” Ahmed explains. “If I don’t see an actual future in music within the next few years, that may be it.” But with the perseverance only a twenty-year-old musician can have, Ahmed refuses to see that as a barrier. While his bandmates have the support of their families, Ahmed uses his lack thereof to give himself a sense of urgency.
For now, Ahmed continues his one-man circus act of juggling a budding music career and being a full-time engineering student. Ahmed said he thinks a lot about having to choose at some point between the two, music or engineering.
Ultimately, he said, “School is always gonna be there. With music, you have to take it while you’re young.” Until he sees his time limit is up, there is sure to be more late nights studying in the back of cars for engineering midterms while on the way to a show.