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Will Junoon’s comeback strike the right note?

Updated Aug 16, 2018 10:12am
What can fans expect from Pakistan's first 'Sufi Rock' band?

The radio was playing an old Junoon song the other day, perhaps in celebration of their (one off) reunion. Thoughts turned to their early days and the excitement they generated with their live performances. One also began to think about the impact that an artist has – both as an originator of novel forms and as an inspiration to others.

Up to a point, most commercial popular music in Pakistan was either a film song or a ghazal. A few attempts at ‘pop’ met with limited success and many Pakistani singers and musicians plied their trade without a viable marketplace. For those too young to know, there was just Radio Pakistan and PTV in a stifling environment of martial law and conservatism. The success of the brother-sister duo – Nazia and Zohaib Hassan – gave hope to many other aspirants to get on with it.

Later, after Vital Signs burst on the scene, many more bands came out of the woodwork and the floodgates opened. Most launch videos of the bands had obligatory ‘patriotic songs’ a la Dil Dil Pakistan with flag-bearing citizens in abundance.

The cultural environment in the late eighties and early nineties was one of expectant hope coupled with political uncertainty. Pakistan had just come out of a decade of martial law and a woman was the prime minister. Cultural activity began to bloom and music found a new expression in concerts across country. From this cauldron of creativity, Junoon was born.

From the very outset, Junoon positioned themselves as ‘rockers’, heavy on guitar riffs and soaring vocals. They adopted Sufi poetry and classic rocker-looks (long hair and flashy clothes) creating a genre completely their own. The line-up of the band went through the usual iterations until they settled as the trio of Salman Ahmad, Ali Azmat, and Brian O’Connell.


The cultural environment in the late eighties and early nineties was one of expectant hope coupled with political uncertainty. Pakistan had just come out of a decade of martial law and a woman was the prime minister. Cultural activity began to bloom and music found a new expression in concerts across country. From this cauldron of creativity, Junoon was born.


The “impact factor” referred to earlier is evident in the body of work they produced, and the accolades they received. Junoon’s music sought to be cutting edge or even revolutionary, with album titles such as Talaash, Inquilaab, and Azadi. They were certainly the biggest band in South Asia and with 19 albums to their credit, have left a tremendous legacy to inspire other musicians to dream big.

To be sure, Junoon were not the first to mix Eastern and Western musical instruments; what they did was create a niche for ‘Sufi rock’ and owned it completely. Their stage persona was a mix of posturing, frenetic energy, and impeccable musicianship. They set the trend and opened the doors for so many other acts, some of them still going strong.

We are now in the age of Coke Studio and Pepsi Battle of the Bands, and Junoon can be considered the ‘grand daddies’ of the music scene. Music is distributed differently and commercial entities are still the biggest supporters (hence 'Sooper Hai Pakistan'). How will Junoon adapt to this new environment? What will be their unique selling proposition? Are they riding the ‘Naya Pakistan’ wave? Will the fans be rushing back to absorb more Sufism? Ahmed and Azmat have had successful solo careers in different directions, while we do not know what O’Connell was up to; how will they blend? And long hair for one of them has given way to a shiny top…

Die-hard fans are eagerly expectant; younger listeners may be in for a learning experience. Meanwhile, we may be in for some 'Naya Music'!