In conversation with
Ahmad, the founder of the
Pakistani rock band Junoon,
discusses 20 years of
breaking boundaries Revolution, AMPLIFIE
eepak Chopra New Age guru, author Junoon founder Salman Ahmad learned to play the guitar as a teenager, living outside New York city
Salman Ahmad remembers this well. Twent
ears ago when Junoon, the band he started, released its first album, Pakistan was coming out of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s military dicta- torship period. During his 11 years in power,
Zia had instituted a Taliban-like sociopolitical system,
where anything related to public display of pleasure,
especially music, was frowned upon.
“At concerts, for instance, you would have these zom-
bie-like faces. Or, there would be fights breaking out,
because there was this pent-up frustration in the youth,”
Ahmad, 47, recalls as he talks about the 20 years period
during which Junoon has had a dramatic influence on
the lives of the youth in Pakistan, India and elsewhere.
It will not be an exaggeration to say
Junoon, along with Indian
Ocean, revolutionized the con-
temporary vernacular music in
the Indian subcontinent.
As Ahmad writes in his 2010
Rock & Roll Jihad: A
Muslim Rock Star’s Revolution
at age 18 he participated in a
campus talent show in Lahore
when a group of extremists broke
in and threatened him and other
musicians. “They said, ‘If you
play your guitar ever again, we
will shoot you’,” adds Ahmad.
“So, as a young teenager there
was a fear associated with enjoy-
ing yourself,” he says. “Anything
that had to do with enjoyment,
and arts and culture. Bear in
mind, this is way before Twitter
and Facebook. There was only
one state-owned television and
Zia controlled arts and culture.
So this is what we were up
against at that time and we were
trying to change despair to hope
for young people.”
Ahmad learned to play guitar
as a teenager living outside New York City. He played in
bands with his childhood buddy Brian O’Connell.
Ahmad later moved to Pakistan to study medicine. That,
he says, was his parents’ wish. But upon graduation
from medical school he decided to pursue his passion:
Music. Naturally, his decision shocked his family.
ab tum gane bajane lag gaye ho
have started playing music?
)?,” Ahmad recalls his parents
saying. “Respect for a pop or a rock artist was equal to
— a low-class musician. It was daunting
first of all to say I am an artist and I am going to make a liv-
ing doing this.”
He played in one of the early Pakistani boy bands, Vital
Signs, best known for their hit single
Dil, Dil Pakistan
then left the group to start Junoon.
With Junoon the sound he had in his mind combined his
passion for rock music, blended with
music and Sufi poetry. He refers to Junoon’s first album,
released September 30, 1991, as a “hodge-podge of all these
The band included Ali Azmat, the other vocalist, and
Nusrat Hussain on the keyboards. Hussain left the group
Salman has done a
great job of being faithful not
just to the Sufi sentiment,
which is universal, but he has
also collaborated with major
western artists for
creating a new expression
of Sufism – both musically
and with his lyrics.
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTES Y: SALMAN AHMAD
after the first album and Ahmad invited his New York
friend O’Connell to join.
“There is a great
) by (
Ahmad says, reciting: “
Dil se jo baat nikalti hai, asar
rakhti hai. Par nahin, taaqat-e-parwaaz magsr rakhti hai
Which means, the whisper in your heart has the strength;
it may not have the wings, but it has the power to fly.
Junoon was really a whisper in the heart for me to follow
music. A lot has happened in 20 years. I can’t say one rock
band can change a culture, a society, but I think it’s left a
pretty sizeable influence.”
Junoon’s spirit of freedom of and passion clicked with
Pakistani audiences. That spirit, Ahmad says, is brought
, the final song on the band’s third
. That song, the band’s first major hit,
became Pakistan’s national song during the 1996 cricket
World Cup matches.
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