Junoon Anniversary: Twenty years gone by

KARACHI: Junoon’s journey, embarked by the launch of their first self-titled album Junoon in 1991, can be compared to a whirling dervish.

US-based Junoonis Salman Ahmad and Brian O’Connell discuss their journey as iconic contemporary Sufi musician

Their first-ever PTV appearance was with their song “Neend Aati Nahi”, which featured ex-vocalist Ali Azmat, Ahmad on leads guitars and Nusrat Hussain on keyboards. But within a short span of time, Hussain parted ways and went solo, releasing his own album in 1992. Ahmad then contacted his friend Brian O’Connell, who was based in New York at that time, to come and play as a bassist for the band. For more than a decade, the trio rocked the nation with wild tunes that held promises of freedom and hope. The last album Junoon released, before they split with vocalist Ali Azmat, was Dewaar in 2003. For the last few years it has been Ahmad who has been making music under the name ‘Junoon’, without Azmat, occasionally meeting up with O’Connell for concerts and now collaborating on Junoon’s 20th Anniversary Album.

Junoon – the journey

Ahmad: Iqbal once wrote, ‘The whisper in your heart has strength, it may not have wings, but it has the power to fly’. Twenty years ago, Junoon was only a whisper in my heart which has now grown into a mystical and powerful bond between our music and our fans. The band has evolved over the years but we still continue to whirl around the axis of love.

O’ Connell: It has been and continues to be an exciting and meaningful journey. I thank God for giving me this opportunity to reach so many people through our music. Our travels have introduced me to varying cultures, politics and lifestyles, with the underlying observation that music and art transcend differences and unite people.

Close to the heart

Ahmad: “Chand Sitara” at the moment

O’ Connell: “Mitti” and its timeless message

What does the future hold

Ahmad: Shoaib Mansoor and I share the pain that most Pakistanis feel about their country, but we refuse to just keep complaining. After being a part of Vital Signs “Dil Dil Pakistan”, Mansoor is now collaborating with Junoon to produce a patriotic song “Chand Sitara”. The concept is that Pakistan will only change when its people change from within. We’re also hoping to spend the next year touring the world. I’ve just signed my first Bollywood film Rhythm, which is slated to release in 2012.

O’ Connell:  I have recorded the bassline for the new song “Chand Sitara” recently at John-Alec’s studio. Besides guest artists’ musical contributions on this 20th Anniversary Album, the material is Junoon’s original songs which we recorded over the last 20 years. It’s different because Ali is not with us today in the studio.

Azmat’s afterglow

Ahmad:  I want to wish Ali Azmat, Nusrat Hussain, Sabir Zafar, Ashiq Ali Mir, Malcolm Goveas, Jay Dittamo and other Junoonis a very happy Junoon 2011. Junoon the band, however, has just two members for now.

O’ Connell: I have joined Azmat on stage for his tours here in the US and it continues to be a fun, fulfilling and adventurous experience. He and I are in touch regularly. Strong friendships are permanent and the bond that the three of us have created is deep. My journey with Junoon has shaped my style and playing tremendously.

Will there be a reunion?

O’ Connell: For me, Junoon’s true identity was established and matured over the many years that we were all together. Although our individual messages and passions are consistent in many ways, the cohesive power of the union created a platform which is much greater than the sum of its parts. I cannot predict the future.  All I can do is keep my soul healthy enough to be present, willing and open to the myriad of possibilities God has in store for each and all of us. I will always look forward to that special magic created by the three of us on the same stage. For me, it’s all about love and service.

Defining moments


Ahmad, dreams that a Maulana Rumi look alike says to him ‘Tumhey mousiqui ka junoon hai’. Junoon is formed with Azmat of Jupiters and Hussain of Vital Signs.


Junoon the self-titled debut album released by the band by EMI Studio in Karachi gets a lukewarm response. Hussain parts ways and goes solo.


O’Connell becomes a part of the band. Ahmad and Shoaib Mansoor team up to make a documentary Leading From The Front, on the life of Imran Khan.


Talaash, the second album comes out in the market. The Song “Talaash” which is a political commentary gets censored by PTVunder the regime of Nawaz Sharif.


“Talaash” a PTV drama serial directed by Atiqa Odho and written by Anwar Maqsood on the life of the trio is aired.


The band releases their first compilation album Kashmakash


The trio’s third album Inquilaab gains success and one of the song in the album titled “Jazba-e-Junoon” becomes the signature song of the cricket World Cup. The band also releases a controversial video directed by Mansoor called “Ehtesaab” which is banned on PTV.


Junoon releases Azadi that hits the platinum sales status within four weeks. Additionally, their song “Sayonee” stays at number one onChannel V and MTV Asia for over two months.


Junoon wins the ‘Best International Group’ at the Channel V Music Awards. They perform at Zee Cine Awards in Mumbai, at New York’s Central Park and at the BBC Mega Mela in London.


Former Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpee invites the band to perform in India. Junoon also perform at the Millennium Peace Concert in Paris and is awarded Unesco’s ‘Outstanding Achievement in Music and Peace.’


Junoon becomes the first-ever Asian band to perform at Roskilde Festival in Denmark. The band appears in Anand Pathwardhan’s film on India and Pakistan titled War and Peace.


Ahmad is appointed UN ‘Goodwill Ambassador’. After 9/11 the band extensively tours the American university and colleges, promoting messages of peace and harmony. VH-1 airs a documentary on Junoon: Islamabad Rockcity presented by Hollywood actor Susan Sarandon.


The band releases “No More”, a song in English which is their first anti-terrorism song. Also, their 30-minute interview gets aired onCNN in the show called “Talk Asia”.


Junoon disbands; O’Connell leaves for the US and Azmat goes solo.


Ahmad sings a duet with Shubha Mudgal on “Ghoom Tana”, which is screened on respective Independence Day in Karachi and New Delhi.


Azmat releases Social Circus and Ahmad releases Infinity. Ahmad appears in a controversial BBC documentary on Muslim-Americans titled It’s My Country Too.


Former US president Bill Clinton invites Ahmad to speak at the Clinton Global initiative in New York attended by Queen Rania, Barbra Streisand, Bill Gates and Desmond Tutu.


Ahmad performs at Nobel Peace Prize Concert and ceremony held in Oslo.


Azmat’s solo career gets a boost with his second album Klasinfolk. Ahmad co-writes and records “Ring the Bells” with American Academy and Grammy award winning singer Melissa Etheridge.


Ahmad performs at the SSGWI concert for Pakistan at the UN general assembly with Sting, Outlandish and Gavin Rossdale for Pakistani IDP’s.


Ahmad’s memoir called Rock and Roll Jihad: A Muslim Rock Stars Revolution is published by Simon and Shuster. The artist also releases “Open Your Eyes” with Peter Gabriel.


Ahmad collaborates with Gabriel and also records “If I Could Change” with Ziggy Marley and Sweet Rush for UN World Humanitarian Day.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 30th,  2011.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *