Junoon - An Experience Like No Other

In a land as rich in cultural history and as unique as Pakistan, the choices and tastes of people differ drastically, particularly with music; what might sound like beautiful music to one's ears, might be a worthless piece of crap to another's. I, myself, could name a few that I feel this way about but I won't waste your time.

There are bands that everyone have heard of and at one point of their music listening careers have loved. Ofcourse, you've heard of Collage, Arid Zone, Aakash, and all these other bands composed of three or four guys trying to portray the much loved image of a rock band. As sad as it is though, they sometimes even succeed to gain the title of a "pop-rock band".

They and their music are all pretty much the same ... a lead singer, one, maybe two, guitar players, and oh, the so popular keyboard guy! They usually sing songs about sitam, doorian, some chick's ada-ein, haseena's, gori's, and chand sa mukhra waali's, and sometimes even manage to throw a song about their sarzameen! Their videos ... well, what can I say ... sometimes the same old images of the band playing their song which mostly revolves around this girl who pops up on the screen every minute or so; wearing way too much makeup I might add! Well ... it all gets sort of boring for those picky music freaks who are in search of more culture, more quality, and more reality.

An ideal match would be something like pure hard rock from the West uniquely blended with the traditional music from the East like folk, Punjabi, Qawwali, etc.. OK, so by now the very few clever ones among you probably have an idea of what I'm talking about, and for those of you who still have no clue ... where have you been for the past five years ?!

In 1992, three young men came together to form a music group that would later become one of the most professional, most powerful, and now controversial bands in all of Pakistan to dominate the Paki musice scene.

Junoon ... Salman Ahmad (electric/acoustic guitars), Ali Azmat (lead vocals), and Brian O'Connell (bass guitar), along with Ashiq Ali (tabla), and Malcolm Goveas (drums) together are Pakistan's only Rock'N'Roll band; who's melodies are as spiritual as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's and as realistic as the late Led Zeppelin.

On Saturday, May 3rd 1997, Junoon performed their their first ever concert in Southern California in the city of Anaheim (of Disneyland fame), at the Cook Auditorium of Anaheim High School.

Scheduled to begin at 8 pm that evening, the concert attracted Junooni's from as far as San Diego to witness the memorable performance! From the time the doors were opened until the concert actually began at 9 pm, a video was shown on a large projector screen containing an interview with the trio (Ali, Salman, and Brian) and clips from their various music videos which all gave a more sense of understanding and awareness to the music of Junoon, a brief description of the previous albums and their most recent release, "kashmakash", and most of all why they sing what they sing.

Before, during, and after the performance, there were certain Junoon memorabilia items that were being sold by none other than Dr. Samina Ahmad, Salman's wife. Stuff like cd's, cassettes, posters, a Junoon scrap book with tons of awesome pics, and the best of them all, a Junoon T-shirt that had the image of the "Inquilaab" cd cover on the front and the words to their hit single "Jazba-e-Junoon" in its entirety written out in Urdu, with a Pakistani flag vertically running through down the middle, on the backside.

After what seemed like endless waiting, MC Rabia Khan appeared on stage and asked if LA was ready for Junoon. Hmmm ... what do you think? And with that, the curtains were opened to mark the beginning of what would be a very powerful experience.

The stage consisted of 3-4 mics, a drum set (yes, a real drum set!), and tablay . One by one, each performer walked on the stage. Ali, who did so in a very energetic way (head banging to be precise), was dressed in a pair of leather pants, a black velvet shirt, and Harley boots. His hair looked better than ever and more than ever too. Salman, on the other hand, was dressed in a traditional yet modern (to match with their music) clothes: A white sherwani style coat with a navy blue kameeez, white pants and traditional sandals. Brian in black pants, olive green kameez and traditional sandals.

The first song performed was the major hit "Dosti". Unlike other Pakistani concerts where it takes the performers at least four or five songs to get the audience hyped enough to get up and dance ... Junoon did so with the minute they started singing! And unlike other concerts, surprisingly, they sounded better live than on cd. With every "yaaro yehi dosti hai," the audience would have a chance to chant along "kismat se jo mili hai". By this time, it was easy to see that the crowd and Ali got along pretty well.

The pit was packed by the second song, "Mera Mahi". It was during this time that Junoon insisted that the audience seated in the balcony come downstairs and join in on the fun ... being cheap should'nt make them suffer so bad, right? Even so, a couple of losers decided to stay up there despite the generosity of the organizers.

During these performances and the ones that followed, which included "Heeray", "Neend Ati Nahi", "Khwab", "Maine Tujhko", "Iltija", "Husan Walo", "Khoeey Aankhen", and the two new singles, "Ehtesab" and "Mujhe Insaf Do", Junoon played nonstop; the only time they stopped was at the end of each song to briefly talk to the crowd before the start of the next ... which they surprisingly did'nt mind at all.

Each song was more than awesome, but it was probably the performance of their songs "Talaash", "Saeein", "Heer", the finale of "Jazba-e-Junoon", and "Chori Chori"; which included little parts of "Jadoo ka Chiragh", "Chief Saab", "Gori", and "Billo", that totally blew the audience away. At this point the hard core junooni fans were out of their mind ... just dancing and jumping the night away. Not only is the music influencing, but the lyrics to some people mean more than what they do to others. And it was the lyrics to the songs like "Talaash", "Saeein", and "Jazba-e-Junoon" that set off a certain fire in their hearts.

If the excitement from their own magnificent songs was'nt enough, then it was probably their versions of "Allah Hu", and "Shahbaz Qalandar" that made it all worth it. It was through this experience that anyone there, including myself will gladly testify that Junoon is an experience like no other, and certainly the best live performers in all Pakistan! The volume and impact of Ali's voice is mind boggling to the junooni ear, and when its combined with the sound of Salman's guitar ... well, that's just probably one of the best things in life so far!

Second to the last, the Pakistani national anthem was played by Salman. As the crowd in front watched in awe, the audience seated, rose out of their seats to show their honor and respect to their country, their homeland ... Pakistan.

Last, but certainly not least, "Jazba-e-Junoon" was played again, and as the song ended ... what had been a long performance, but not long enough to some, was part of their lives, their hearts, and their souls.

That was a real concert ... probably the best of its kind Southern California has ever seen, or ever will see for that matter ... that was Junoon.

Huma Khatri
May, 1997