Azadi - Junoon (1997)

1997 turned out to be quite a memorable one for Pakistan by far. August 14th marked the golden jubilee of Pakistan's Independence. Among other events, Junoon fans got a taste to yet another inquilaab in what will surely go down in musical history.

After what seemed like endless anticipation, Junoon's "Azadi" was released on September 3rd following hectic promotional tours and concerts. Originally scheduled to be released on the auspicious occasion of Jashn-e-Azadi, the production got delayed which only proved to make the contents of this album a well packaged deal as some and many will agree.

This time around, Pakistan's most controversial band has brought another level of music into consideration. Being as diverse and culturally influenced as they have ever been, Junoon has evoked a wide range of mixed feelings from fans and critics alike. Only those who can't seem to pull themselves out of the deep emotional wrath (which the group so easily traps one into) will argue that its as good as it gets. One can choose to call it whatever it is that they prefer, however anyone who will recognize the value of such composition will call it nothing but sheer passion ..... junoon that is.

With 12 tracks, "Azadi" is jam-packed with listening pleasure of a different kind. The lyrics have much to do with this and it is a surprise that Sabir Zafar's lyrics have never been recognized in the past for previous numbers.

"Khudi", which can be easily termed as one of the many highlights of the album, is a poem-turned-song written by none other than the veteran poet Allama Iqbal. Consisting of pulsating vocals, "Khudi" has been rendered in a very contemporary manner accompanied by music which is of the same caliber. It has brought up a stir in the hearts of fans and foes alike. Traditionalists fail to realize that Junoon is bringing the value of Allama Iqbal's poetry into the center of the younger generation's attention; away from Dada Jaan's dusty book shelf. It is a shame though, how such dedication is always unappreciated by those not familiar with such ways of expressing it. Lighten up!

Seeming to have been the pioneers of the new breed of "Sufi-Rock", "Wahda Hoo La Shareek A La Hoo" ranks itself as one of the best musical tributes to Allah after the mystical "Saeein". Lyrics and beat make it clear to understand the real essence of the banda's dedication to the supreme creator of all, which will take any listener to unprecedented heights of spiritual frenzy. Here, Salman manages to compose something so different which is perfectly original and appropriate. Truly awesome, but not to many, comparable to "Saeein".

A personal favorite, one of the many, "Mahiwal" may be considered as another devotional prayer. Here, a very much devoted Sohni is trying to send her message of passion and longing for her destiny across the river. If not before, then it is definitely here that Ali has taken the listeners to "the other side" with the astonishing strength of his voice as the song unfolds with each word.

"Sayonee" sounds like a cry out in frustration through vocals and lyrics which will haunt one's inner well-being, making one who is totally at peace really think about what's up. It stages the band's ability to accomplish composition which again takes one to unreachable heights of spirituality.

"Yaar Bina" reveals a lover's restlessness through heart throbbing lyrics describing the distance between the two souls. Its music, which concsists of one of a kind guitar tune which has brief pauses throughout the song, accompanied by dholak, pushes one closer to the edge while the lyrics unwind the listener to begin the journey through the number as it goes further to describe the world as paraayi without a yaar.

No album would be complete without a patriotic number and Junoon has proved that they are well aware of how to get fellow Pakistanis in josh and on the edge of their wits. To pay tribute, they have "Loshay Loshay", which is composed in a Pushto folk tune. With the first beat it is a fast paced song which is transformed into small parts of slower chanting. An awesome track with incredible music and lyrics that makes you wanna get on your feet.

"Dil Nahee Lag Raha" speaks of Karachi's tragic city life which has become more corrupt in recent years than before. The dukh portrayed in the lyrics can be really felt and is done in the most somber of ways.

Most tracks impress with their exceptional vocals and music, especially the amazing tabla beats by none other than Ustaad Aashiq Ali. The justice done to the ever-popular "Lal Meri Pat" is something no junooni would have expected. The vocals of this song somehow drain out the music although the music is clearly heard and it is hard to believe that it is possible to accomplish a sound that represents the pitch and drop which is so essential for such a malang song. The composition of this song is something more than music to one's ears and personally, almost every track on this album gives a sense of almost losing every sane nerve in a person's body.

"Azadi" portrays not only musical diversity but also the much needed pride in our cultural music. Not everyone can combine four kinds of guitars with the age old tabla and dhol and successfully pull it off but, Junoon has set new standards for themselves. Now the only hope remains that the band will be able to live up to this standard and produce more music of the same quality and hype.

As we go into the new year, lets hope that it brings with it more rich music for us to linger on. It might be hard getting your hands on a copy of the album (especially in the US), but I guarantee, once after you've experienced the experience called "Azadi" you will clearly understand the phrase: "Mujhe Paar Laga" ... and then, live by it.

Huma Khatri