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Junoon: The Other Face of Pakistan
South Asia's Most Popular Band Embodies East Meets West

Listen to to the piece as heard on Weekend All Things Considered Listen to Lisa Simeone's interview with Junoon songwriter Salman Ahmad on Weekend All Things Considered.

Ali Azmat

Junoon lead singer Ali Azmat
Photo: www.junoon.com

listen Exclusive to NPR.org:
Extended interview with Junoon's Salman Ahmad.

Oct. 27, 2001 -- Since the attacks against Taliban targets in Afghanistan began, there has been a flood of images from neighboring Pakistan. Pro-Taliban riots in the streets. Dazed, hungry refugees fleeing the bombs, chaos and drought in desperately poor Afghanistan. Militant Islamic students burning the American flag.

But those images can be grossly misleading. There is another Pakistan -- a nation of devout Muslims, yes, but ordinary people who long for peace. And what may be most surprising is that one of the biggest voices for peace is an American-style rock Ďní roll band with a distinctively Pakistani twist.

Junoon is South Asiaís most popular band, and its music combines Western-style blues and rock with traditional Sindhi and Punjabi folk tunes. Like the music itself, the three members of the band are an example of the moderate, modern face of Pakistan thatís much more representative of the nationís people.

Brian O'Connell

Junoon bassist Brian O'Connell
Photo: www.junoon.com

With his long hair and dynamic presence, singer Ali Azmat could be right at home fronting a rock band in the United States Ė except he sings primarily in Urdu. Brian OíConnell is something of a wild card -- an American bass player, married to a Pakistani woman but wholeheartedly embraced by his Pakistani fans. And then thereís Salman Ahmad, guitar player and songwriter, who finds inspiration in the Islamic Sufi traditions of transcendent mysticism.

Weekend All Things Considered host Lisa Simeone recently spoke with Ahmad about the U.S.-led effort to oust the Taliban and how the air attacks are changing Pakistanís views of the West. He also talked about something close to his heart: rock Ďní roll.

Ali and Salman

Ali Azmat (L) and Salman Ahmad
Photo: www.junoon.com

"Itís a different kind of rebellion," Ahmad said about his bandís version of rock. Where in the West, the music is seen as a force of rebellion, Ahmad says his music is seen as a force of unity in Pakistan. "The music has really played a role for national reconstruction."

He says that like most Pakistanis, he wonít heed Osama bin Ladenís call for a holy war against the West. "(Radical fundamentalists) would us Islam as a guise, but it was just terror," Ahmad says of the Sept. 11 attacks.

He likes to think that Junoon is giving a face to the "silent majority" of Pakistanis -- people who are very different from the militant Islamic extremists seen on television. The title of their new album is "Parvaaz," which means "flight." Ahmad likes to think it means something deeper Ė the ascendance of the spirit beyond culture and geography.

Other Resources

Junoon official Web site