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Junoon Rocks The West
Report and photos by Ras H. Siddiqui

July 2003 -  The premiere Pakistani-American Rock band JUNOON (or “Passion” in the Urdu language) recently completed a concert series covering major cities in the western part of the United States during the month of June, 2003. We caught up with them at San Jose State University in California’s Hi-Tech Silicon Valley as they were hosted by the Pakistan Students Association at this Campus (a refreshingly active group of Pakistani youth) at the Morris Dailey Auditorium on June 8. This particular concert was   promoted by Humad Asghar.

   The opening act at this venue was none other than Sacramento’s very own TJ Kool

(Ahmad Jilani) who is himself slowly developing quite a following in Northern California. His new CD is about to be released at the end of July (which I hope to review).  TJ already had quite a number of friends and well wishers in the audience because most of the crowd this evening appeared to be from the Lodi-Stockton-Sacramento area. And it seems that Junoon too is reaching out strongly to California’s Central Valley, far beyond their traditional Los Angeles or San Francisco fan base.

  Attending a Junoon concert can be quite an experience. Their young fans, mostly of South Asian origins are no less enthusiastic (maybe more) about them than the followers of many popular Rock bands in the West. And it is due to this enthusiasm that this reporter has learnt to get near the stage before the first minute of Junoon’s opening number and get in as many photographs as possible. There is no point in trying to 

compete with people half my age for floor space, and that too just to take photographs.

And it is not just the young men that are being alluded to hear because some of Junoon’s

female fan following can be quite aggressive too.

  As predicted, things were quite calm when TJ and PSA representatives were on the stage but the appearance of Junoon was a different story. Opening up with their ever popular “Sayonee” number, Ali Azmat, Brian O’Connell and Salman Ahmad made quite an impact. And at the same time, so did the young “Junooni” fans who rushed the stage

from then on and never left till the very end (they were a lot tamer than last year and only got on top of the chairs past the half way point of the show).

  The second song was “Dosti” followed by “Mitti mein Mil Jayain Ge” through which I decided to leave the stage area to the youngsters, even though I should have stayed for one of my own favorites “Saeen” which was performed soon after. Pakistani flags started appearing when “Mera Mahi” was being performed and they too stayed till the very end.

  At this point it should be okay to break and comment on Junoon members, especially the transformation of Ali Azmat from “Long Hair” to “No Hair”. Ali is an extraordinary entertainer and often vocal about a number of issues. He was in great form this evening, sporting a new (for us) “Michael Jordan” look. He offered much hope to those of us whom nature is impacting via the receding hairline route (as we age), because no matter how different he looked Ali has only improved since his last long haired appearance in San Jose.
Salman Ahmad is still the serious musician intellectual who was also the co-founder of the “other” big band from Pakistan the “Vital Signs”. Since 9/11 Junoon in general and Salman in particular have been extremely vocal that the peaceful message of Islam not be equated with terrorism. Junoon’s first English song “No More’ was an effort in this regard. Junoon’s special on VH-1 called “Islamabad: Rock City” was their effort at

offering a view of Pakistan seldom seen in this country. And Salman’s appearances on “Politically Incorrect” were quite commendable. He has recently taken a more reclusive posture in private, and if he does change his mind, he knows who to contact.  

  Brian O’Connell is the American-Born member of Junoon. And from what I have found over the years, he has been a gem of a guy. Married to a Pakistani, Brian is connected to both worlds (actually three if you count the Junoonis who often appear to be from another planet). Pakistani-Americans are very appreciative for his statements in the TV Special and in the Seattle times. It has not always been easy for Junoon to get its message of  “Junoon for Peace” across, but Brian is certainly the man to do it.

  People of Pakistani origin are Junoon’s strongest fan base. The band is somewhat of a controversy at times but as we heard the cries of “Pakistan Zindabad” on several occasions at this concert, it made my wife and I proud. And since the band is popular in many households including ours, it is for that reason that we had to make it to San Jose

for the third time to see them since 1997. But now back to the concert.

  After seeing Ali getting literally carried away during a slower number and watching the crowd from a now safe distance during “Mast Qalandar” followed by another favorite “Sajna” followed by “Yaadain Teri” and the song we all return to hear “Jazba-e-Junoon”

plus a new song that that I’d not heard before (possibly from the upcoming Junoon Album Deewaar), things were really getting interesting. “Yaar Bina” followed by a nice ballad by Ali was shaken up by “Heeray” and “Husn Walon” and Allama Iqbal’s “Khudi”. Baba Bulleh Shah’s Kalam and “Ghoom” and “Zamanay Kay Andaaz” closed the regular show. The encore presentation was an appropriate “Kyoon Pareshan hai Tu” and a fast number.

  In conclusion, it was wonderful to see people connected to Pakistan and their friends appreciate one of the biggest acts to come from that part of the world since the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. And I must admit that at times during this concert my eardrums were telling me that maybe I’m too old for this kind of thing and would much rather listen to a Junoon CD in comfort of my car or home. But Farah and I were

inspired by a lady of about 60 years of age in Pakistani attire who was standing up and swaying to the music till the very end of the concert. Maybe, just maybe we are not too old for Junoon yet?

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