Author Salman Ahmad Fights a “Rock & Roll Jihad”
By Ras H. Siddiqui
Salman Ahmad has worn many hats during his short life. His latest effort leads him to the role of an author, as his book “ Rock & Roll Jihad” (with Robert Schroeder), has just been released in hardcover, revealing a touching and very colorful quest. He is a musician, a follower of the late John Lennon, a strong proponent of India-Pakistan friendship, and a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador. Salman has an ambitious plan along with his wife Samina (The Salman and Samina Global Wellness Initiative (SSGWI)) and is someone who is the religious extremist’s worst nightmare.
Salman has also been a part of not one but two of the most successful musical groups or bands to have originated from Pakistan during its entire history, namely the Vital Signs and Junoon (which he founded and still leads). He writes,” I was born 100 percent Pakistani and 100 percent Muslim, but I’m also the product of an ethnically mixed marriage. My mother, Shahine, is an Urdu-speaking Pashtun, while my father Ejaz, grew up speaking Punjabi.”
But why should non-Pakistanis also read his book? Salman also happens to be a cultural hybrid who spent some really interesting years of his early life in Tappan, New York, learning the ropes of survival in an American high school, becoming a lifelong Yankees fan, hanging out and making friends with Jews and Christians and if one can mention something about odds, dreaming and overcoming many hurdles to become an international “Sufi Rock Star’ who once had the opportunity to escort Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones through one of the oldest red light districts in the world located in Lahore, Pakistan of all places.
Are we really talking about Pakistan here? The answer is “Yes”. Salman (no relative of Rushdie) is better known in Pakistan, parts of India and in the South Asian community in many countries than many famous American music stars. This is the real-life story of someone who loves playing the guitar, is a Muslim, a cross-cultural hybrid who has successfully blended local folk and Sufi qawwali (a South Asian Gospel sound) with Western Rock ala the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, to produce a musical product that has entranced many youth in Pakistan away from rigid dogma. The message here is to love God, life and all human beings, as presented by Punjabi Sufi poet Baba Bulleh Shah whose writing Salman has often used to inspire his musical journey.
The non-Pakistani reader will not be able to relate to everything in this work, but the journey described here is not difficult to grasp and is aided by both his American and Indian friends. The introduction to the book has been written by Melissa Etheridge and one will find some very familiar names like Deepak Chopra in it; people whom Salman has befriended and drawn inspiration from. But most interesting of all, the reader will discover in this book the life of a dreamer who resisted dogma and an artificial and oppressive environment to bring entertainment to the young men and women of his country of birth. As a Pakistani-American hybrid, this reviewer can recommend this book to both cultures. After reading it one realizes that parts of Salman’s life are both a joyful and also grim reminders of growing up in Pakistan and America. The horror of 9/11 that has interrupted our lives is certainly not forgotten in this book.
On a final note, any reader from my generation might still want to know how Mick Jagger spent an evening in the seedy side of the enchanting city of (pre-terrorism hit) Lahore, playing second fiddle to a much better locally known Salman Ahmad whose obsession with music and raising social issues borders on craziness.
Please visit http: http://www.ssgwi.org/ to find out more about the author.
(ISBN 978-1-4165-9767-4 Published by Free Press: A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. January 2010 List Price $24.99)