It was right after a concert in Lahore, when a girl came up to Junaid Jamshed and requested his autograph on her forearm. When he told her that her pen wasn't writing, she said, "It doesn't matter, just carve it!" Completely taken aback, he said, "Are you crazy? Tum mujhe theen sau do mein andar karao gi?"
With the advent of "Dil Dil Pakistan" this once obscure pop music group, Vital Signs, became a hit. People were crazy about the tall, hazel-eyed, lead singer Junaid Jamshed and wherever he went, he was hoarded with fans. It was not uncommon for him to be receiving obsessive fan mail, or encountering bizarre admirers. In fact, his whole group acted in a television play "Dhundlay Raastay", aired to address the issue of suicidal devotees.
A legendary figure on the Pakistani pop music scene, the crowds still go crazy when he comes on stage. Such was the case in the "World Tour 97" concert in Dallas. As they say, save the best for the last, and after Hadiqa, Fakhar, Ali Haider and Aakash, Junaid Jamshed came on stage to the delight of the Dallas crowd.
Today, as he sits in front of me dressed in a light blue shirt and jeans in the lobby of the Four Points Sheraton Hotel in Dallas, he explains how at the time he was doing the play he "didn't think it was a big deal." Looking back though, his views have changed. "In retrospect when I think uff , you know, if somebody slashes her wrists because of you, it's horrifying! You come across the most bizarre experiences in your life."
But as famous a Pakistani figure as he is, it is not surprising that he is so sought after. Yet even after all the female attention he receives, he still remains devoted to his wife. An attached husband, he says, "My wife is my best friend. I think I'd say this because in spite my life in the fast lane, she stuck to me and she still loves me. Ayesha is definitely my best friend." I remark that she must get lonely with all the traveling he does but he responds, "I'm sure she feels it, but circumstances play a big role in your life. There was a time when we didn't have kids, and now I've got two of them." Hey, that's something we never hear about! "Oh really?" he questions and then tells me he has two boys, a five-year old and a two-year old, Taimur and Babar.
Junaid lives with his family in Karachi, and considers himself a city slicker. Although he loves Karachi, his favorite city is Chitral, (where some music videos from "Geetar 93" were shot). Completely in awe of it, he tells me that "Chitral is one city, with a radius of only three miles and it has barren mountains, pine trees, streams, beautiful fields, we have everything in that one small city. There is less electricity, zero pollution and this is something really unique about Chitral."
But like Fakhr, too, he really enjoys London, and playing in London. In fact, the best concert he says Vital Signs ever had was on the 28th of March, 1996, in Wembley. "For us, the songs we play are the songs we've played over and over again, and its always the energy the crowd radiates, because when they respond, those songs become absolutely new for us. So the Wembley concert was brilliant."
But, as amazing as it might be, Vital Signs was not always this popular. They have had their share of bad concerts. Laughing, Junaid tells me about his most embarrasing moment on stage: "It was in Islamabad, way back, around 88. We announced a concert and only seven people turned up!" Did they do the whole concert? "Yup, we did the whole concert Magar mujh ko to bohot bura laga. I thought ke meri aankhon pe patti bundhi huwi hai. You know, there were people sitting here, and mein woh saamnay dekh raha tha, khali, empty seats, you know." So, I ask, by this time laughing really hard, did the people like it? He says, "I don't know yaar. I just ran out of there as soon as the concert was over!"
Determined, Junaid and his other band members, Shehzad, Rohail, and also Salman Ahmad, worked hard and made it big in Pakistan. Even today, Junaid still believes that success can be achieved if one tries hard enough. Speaking of problems facing Pakistani youth, he says: "Its always there, the lack of opportunities that frustrate you over a period of time, but its not that you don't have a lack of opportunities here. The talented people, the educated people get away with everything, and for them, the sky is the limit. I very strongly feel that if, with the sincerity of purpose, one is trying hard, God is bound to help him. Ye to Allah ka waada hai, rozi daynay ka."
Big on education, Junaid himself is a graduate from the University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore. It was during his university days that he got into music. Actually, Humayun, his younger brother, used to sing and Junaid would play the guitars but in 1984, in a concert, he sang some of the songs with his brother. But what really perked his interest in music was meeting Rohail and Shehzad. "They were music freaks" he says: "The best thing that happened to me was that I met Rohail and Shehzad. They were not into anything wrong, and every time we would meet, the only thing we would do was play music together." Salman Ahmad, at that time a guitarist for Eastern Winds, a popular band in Lahore, was Junaid's good friend at King Edward Medical College. Explaining Salman's entry into Vital Signs, Junaid says, "When we decided to do our album, we really needed a good guitarist. That's when I talked to Salman and I said, "Listen, what are you going to do in this medicine, you'll be just another doctor, just the way I'll be another engineer, so you might aswell come join us." Salman agreed, "And he had always been an extremely dedicated person, very very serious about music, dekhlo na aaj usay Allah ne kitni izzat di hai. " So why did Salman Ahmed leave, I ask. "After a while, we realized that musically we weren't agreeing with each other. This was the only problem," he explains: "We're the best of friends even now."
Besides music, his other, older interest has been sports. As a teenager he captained the table tennis team in his college in Peshawar, and he was a serious cricket player. "That's why, you see me, I'm so lean right now" he explains, "because I've been a sportsman all my life." Any favorites? "Tennis was one of my favorite sports" he says, "I always wanted to be a top tennis player, and I started playing tennis at the age of eight, and I have played tennis under the age of 20 seriously. But then I left it because then I went to the university."
Contrary to what we may think, he says, "I was not into girls at all. Sports was my life. In fact, the first time I actually had talked to somebody, I was 23. I still remember." Today, though, Junaid Jamshed is a romantic at heart. Much of this, he explains, is the influence of his lyricist Shoaib Mansoor. "Over the years, by working with him, my whole self has been moulded into the way he thinks. He is an extremely sensitive and extremely romantic person." Because Shoaib is such a shaairee enthusiast, Junaid also listens to a lot of poetry through him. He tells me one of his favorite shairs, by Mir: Aag thay ibteda-e-ishq mein hum, ho gaiay khaak inteha yeh hai. Another one he really likes is by Hasan Akbar Kamal, and he plans to use it in an upcoming album. It goes like this, Kya hota khizaan bahaar ke aanay se, sub mausum hain dil khilnay aur dil murjhanay se. Explaining, he says, "It doesn't matter, whether it's spring time, autumn, winter, or summer, it's the state of the heart which determines ke ye mausum acha hai ke bura hai."
Reading is another favorite pastime for Junaid. Recently, he reveals, "I read Quran, and I read the translation, it was a wonderful experience for me." Like any other avid reader, it's hard for him to point out one favorite book. "I've really enjoyed action thrillers to love stories to books on history," he says. Though a book he read recently entitled "Saifullah", written by Major Ikramullah about Khalid bin Waleed really intrigued him. "It was a beautiful book in English, about 500 pages, and I read it over and over again about three or four times," he enthuses: "Those were the times that slowly and gradually I found out what the Muslims of that time were, and how they accomplished such great achievements and where they got their strengths from."
Well, I know I had been reading rumours that Junaid was spotted a couple of times at the mosque, so are they true, I ask. "Yes, I went there," he replies: "I thought it was a very beautiful feeling. A friend of mine, mere bachpan ka dost, he came up to me and took me there. I was really upset about something and I wasn't feeling well, and he just took me there and it felt so nice. I just slept there, mujhe aisi neend aagayi. I wish I could go there again and listen to those people. They were talking about the bounties of Allah, how great our Prophet is and it was so unfortunate that I actually did not know all this!" Was this the first time he felt a real attachment to Islam, I question. "Attachment to kya, I feel that every Muslim has it in him. You know, Musalman ko Allah ne banaya hi hai aisay. A Muslim is very unique. Because of Rasool Allah, humara jo link hai Allah se, its always there, its just that you have to try to find it out," he explains. Unfortunately, as busy as he is, he regrets that he is not able to go to the mosque as often as he would like to.
Occupied with Vital Signs' new album due to be released by October, and also working on his solo album, which will be out on the 15th of July, he is also venturing into unfamiliar territory with plans of doing a movie starting September. Shoaib Mansoor will be directing it, and has told him to "Keep quiet. You just keep it in mind that you're doing a role, leave the rest up to me." So we don't know the rest of the cast? "Nope, right now I know I'm in it." About acting he says, "It'll be a new field, I'm not getting any younger, you know. Its not a bad idea. If all goes well, I just hope I don't do a bad job."
He is not getting any younger, but age has brought him to realize and analyze the past. His biggest regret is, he tells me, "That Vital Signs' music did not had a platform from where it could interest more people than only the Pakistanis around the world." And why is this? "Because of less media support and almost no International support. We could not reach to the people who I think would have been big fans of ours," he says. Elaborating on the situation across the border, he says, "Now India has also come out with its pop stuff. Its in its very embryonic state, but most of their music, most of the people I see, they're just clones of Vital Signs, in one form or another. If not close to Vital Signs', their music is very similar to some other artist's in Pakistan. Woh rap hai tho Fakhar ki tarha, music banraha hai tho Vital Signs ki tarha, Ali Haider, Junoon ki tarha, aur humaray gaanon ki copies horahi hain dhara dhar. Ubb Indian artist hai, chotay se chota artist, ussko aik International exposure mil jaata hai. People think, ke he/she is the best but, they don't know what's happening in Pakistan. Unfortunately, Vital Signs' songs are not being played by the "satellites and the MTVs." And what is the remedy for that? "I can't give the remedy for that. Its the media boss' responsiblity, you see. Like MTV will not play a Pakistani song unless somebody is sponsoring it", he explains: "Who would sponsor it? Its for the media men to convince their clients to put their products in the International markets so that Pakistan gets the International image. Also, the recording companies should support you, but our recording companies are not strong enough to support us. Only if they do, that's when it happens." In light of many of their songs which have been copied by India, he says, "We can't take any action against them because there is no copyright agreement between the two countries." But yes, it does grieve him to see this happen. This is his biggest regret, but he really does not have much time to dwell on it.
Currently busy with his solo album, which is his next big deadline, he tells me that it will have all new material, including some eastern classical work done with raags. The same team, Shoaib and Junaid, will be working on that.
As a singer, Junaid's favorite singer is Rafi. "I like Rafi Sahab because he was very versatile, number one, and number two, I myself have a very high pitched voice and its easier for me to sing his songs rather than Mehdi Hassan's or Kishore Kumar's, and he's very difficult and technically very sound, so every time I try to sing the way he does, it helps me."
Always trying to improve himself, Junaid believes that all Pakistanis should do the same. Speaking of the young generation as well as the old, he emphasizes, "Hum aik second nahin lagatay bahur ke logon se impress honay mein. The reason for this is that we lack self-confidence. Aap ko apnay aap ko behtar khud bhi karna parta hai, kuch thori si sacrifices insaan ko life mein deni parhtee hain. I think Pakistanis are the best people. I was coming from U.S. immigration and someone asked me where are you from and I said Pakistan. He said, Oh, so you're from the country of doctors and engineers? and I was amazed to hear this. That's the kind of impression he had about our country." He pauses, and then says, "Agar hur aadmi, yeh sochay ke mein Pakistan ko represent kur raha hoon, it will make a world of a difference."
Before he leaves, the final message he has for Vital Signs fans on the net out there, that Vital Signs will be on the web pretty soon. Junaid informs me that the official Vital Signs web site will be very easily accessible so that we get all the information, and are updated continuously. So keep an eye out, everyone!Asma Ahmad