Salman’s Solo Junooni
By Ras H. Siddiqui
one has the opportunity to listen to new music from Junoon
and now from solo “Junooni” Salman Ahmad, expectations
should remain high. Known on occasions as “The U2 of
Pakistan” and “The Biggest Band in Asia”
or “Sufi Rockers,” Ali Azmat, Brian O’Connell
and Salman have ruled the hearts and charts of Pop/Rock in
Pakistan for quite a long time, even before the phasing out
of the other famous band that Salman started with - the Vital
Signs. And now since Junoon are the veterans of Pakistani
popular music it was only natural that Ali Azmat would launch
his solo effort called “Social Circus” and Salman
would not remain far behind with this “Infiniti”
CD (under the Junooni label) being reviewed here.
One had to have mixed feelings while pushing “Infiniti”
into the CD player. The thought of Salman Ahmad singing was
not exactly without its reservations. He is generally known
as a serious guitarist/musician and one who espouses social
causes not pursued by run of the mill Pakistanis (such as
AIDS awareness). He is also a peacenik as Junoon members were
years ahead of their time in supporting India-Pakistan peace.
But what about Salman as a singer? We just have to approach
Infiniti with an open mind.
The first track “Nachoon gi” (I want to dance)
appears to be a tribute to Punjabi poet Baba Bulleh Shah and
Saints Baba Farid plus Shah Hussain. It is quite listen-able
but does not strike one as a unique Sufi Rock effort. The
music is haunting but aside from the chants is too Western
for its Eastern theme. It is more of a leading mood creator
here in Infiniti that encourages one to continue listening.
Second Track “Al-Vida” (Good Bye) is what separates
Salman and Junoon from the rest of Pakistani entertainers.
Written after his meeting with a brave HIV positive woman
in Pakistan who lost her husband to AIDS, the song is all
about an early goodbye in life due to this dreaded disease.
It spreads awareness about AIDS without diminishing the integrity
of the people involved. Here, Salman is as always different
from us the generally insensitive oafs that Pakistani males
are known as (by Pakistani females? I am kidding here right?).
But seriously credit has to be given where it is due and it
is certainly due here. Al-Vida is a nice ballad that touches
a very crucial subject that we often tend to ignore. No wonder
Salman has been appointed as AIDS ambassador by the United
Nations recently and not just for Pakistan!
Track three or “Ghoom Tana” is possibly about
visions of India-Pakistan peace which still need to cross
many hurdles. Inspired by his visit to Patiala in India, an
area that he has developed quite an attraction to since his
family moved from there, Salman is assisted by Indian actor
Naseer-ud-din Shah, actress Nandita Dass and singer Shubha
Mugdal (I saw the video version on the Junoon website). The
song alludes to the painful memories which could benefit from
healing today. “Baree dur hai abhi jaana, mayoos na
kabhi hona, andheray mein bhi, veeranay mein bhi, khilay gi
koi… kali” (Translation “We still have far
to go, but do not be dejected, in the darkness and the wilderness,
a flower bud will still blossom”). In the India-Pakistan
context all one can say is a hopeful “Amen”.
Track 4 “Nazar” (the gaze) is a song about relationships
which aspires to explain breakups and trying to get back together.
Track 5 “Mein tum sey door hoon” (So far from
you) continues the theme of relationships and longing. It
is well put together and will certainly win some more fans
within Pakistani girl power. It has some great guitar work
to back up its sentiments.
And that brings us to Track 6 or “Tu Lung Ja”
(You go ahead?), which in my humble and biased opinion is
the best in “Infiniti.” Tu lung ja saddee khair
ai, sajna tu lung ja” (Go ahead, I will be fine love,
you go on ahead?). Punjabis across the world and across the
India-Pakistan border will surely love this song because it
incorporates the best of Bhangra and fuses it with some Western
influences. I have to admit that I was already impressed with
the beat and the dancing potential of Tu Lung Ja long before
understanding what it meant. For translation, I had to turn
to Mrs. Siddiqui who is a Lahori and does understand Punjabi
as opposed to the many Karachi origin fans of Junoon like
Track 7 “Terey Liyey” (For you) is vintage Led
Zeppelin. For those not familiar with Salman Ahmad’s
music, he is a long-time Zeppelin fan and does not hide it.
He spent a number of his formative years in New York and has
returned now to this city that he considers his second home.
Zeppelin inspired Heavy Metal Rock played along with and Urdu
lyrics is certainly a usual experience but it does work here.
Track 8 “Do Dil” (Two Hearts) is somewhat melancholic
and the next number Track 9 “Tanha” (Alone) incorporates
heavy metal quite well and can generate some dance enthusiasm.
Zeppelin, Jimmy Hendrix and possibly even U2 come to mind
after listening to this tune.
And this brings us to “Sagar” (Ocean) on Track
10, the best combination of East and West that Salman has
generated in this CD. “Sagar” starts off with
a reference to Pathanay Khan. This song has it all and becomes
my personal favorite in Infiniti. Both the music and lyrics
produce quite a pleasing feeling here.
Track 11, “Mun gum sum Maula” (Lost in You God)
is another combination experiment that works, while its spiritual
seriousness is not lost to the listener. Sufi Rock is well
The Punjabi words of Baba Bulleh Shah alone in “Masjid
Mandir” (Mosque, Temple) in Track 12 provided much food
for thought. The only objection that I have with this track
is with its short length because it had the potential to surpass
both Tu Lung Ja and Sagar as the best that this collection
has to offer. Translated (I will not attempt to quote the
Punjabi here) it says: “Take down the Mosque. Take down
the Temple. Take down anything that will fall. But please
don’t demolish a single human heart, because that is
where God really resides.” Beautiful music here Salman!
And after this Track 13 or a Ghoom tana (remix) seemed too
tame an ending but it still generates notice.
In conclusion “Infiniti” does lack powerful vocals
but Salman still pulls off quite a victory by putting a solid
musical foot forward. It has a little bit of everything for
the fans of Junoon and more. This CD was a pleasant surprise.
The rest one will leave up to the younger generation of music
listeners. Tu Lung Ja!
(This CD is only available online at the moment at http://www.junoon.com/
or by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org .
Junoon will headline the Pakistan Day entertainment segment
on Saturday, August 6, 2005 in Los Angeles at the L.A. Coliseum
along with Habib and Nadeem Wali Muhammad and Juggy D.)