Performance at Stanford
By A.H. Cemendtaur
In the late 80s and early 90s
the students that came out of the Pakistani Islamic schools,
or madrassahs, made up the main force of the Taliban who,
on gaining power in Afghanistan, became the benefactors of
Osama Bin Laden and his network. The land of madrassahs now
sends us another shockwave -- this one to counteract the first
one; it is rock music with eastern tunes and traditional South
Asian poetry. At the forefront of this shockwave is Pakistan's
most popular rock band, appropriately called Junoon ('insanity'
seems to be a close-enough English translation). The storm
is gaining momentum and Junoonis, as the fans of Junoon are
called, are swelling in numbers all over the world.
of the Junoon Concert at Stanford
Tonight Junoon is performing
to a sold-out Kresge Auditorium (capacity: six hundred), on
invitation by a group called the 'Pakistanis at Stanford.'
The college crowd is Junoon's faithful constituency: young,
educated people seeking to set apart a clear identity in a
tense world where fence sitters are looked down upon.
How should one describe Junoon's music? Junoon is the magna
cum laude graduate of the ethereal music institution that
late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan founded: the tunes played on sitar,
saringi, iktara, etc. (eastern stringed equipment) are being
played on guitar; tabla, dhol, duff, chimta, ghara (eastern
percussion instruments) are all replaced by the drum set --
throw in a harmonium and the mix gets very exotic. Nusrat
sang qawwalis and Sufi songs to music played on western instruments.
Junoon composes its music along Nusrat's lines, shifted a
bit more towards rock, and puts its own poetry on it. Junoon's
music resonates with the hearts and minds of the South Asian
crowd, and being different from the staple rock, is both intriguing
and entertaining for the rest of the world.
When this scribe enters the auditorium he finds it full and
brimming with energy. The crowd is mostly young and South
Asian, in all the various forms that you see men and women
from that region — yes, men in beards and women in hijab
are present too. The Junoon fans are waiting anxiously for
the appearance of the band on the stage. The organizers make
a few announcements and then the band makes its appearance.
The crowd bursts into cheers and applause.
The night starts with 'Must Qalander' and right from the first
song the audience is fired up. And the insanity in the hall
keeps increasing with each number: 'Mattee', 'Khudi', 'Jazba
Junoon', 'Nai Heeray' and other hits. This is the first chance
for this reporter to witness Junoonis' loyalty to the band,
and to say the least, he is impressed. The band members would
ask the audience to sing with them and they would all sing
with the band; the band would suggest fans clap their hands
over their heads and they would oblige without exception or
hesitation. This scribe is certain if guitarist Salman would
say, "Sajdah", everybody in the hall -- well, all
except one -- would drop down to bang their head on the floor.
Commanding such unconditional obedience from its fans, Junoon
appears more to be a religious cult than a rock band.
Onstage, in the visual part of the show, Ali Azmat, the shaven-headed
lead singer of the band, is the main entertainer. He shakes,
he swirls, he moves his pelvis, and struts from one end of
the stage to the other. This reporter had a brief chat with
Ali Azmat before the concert and found his casual style of
conversation refreshingly uninhibited. But Ali's performance
on the stage indicated that his carefree ways have a tendency
to naively enter the realm of irresponsible behavior--he introduced
the bass guitarist of the band with a gesture that appeared
pretty close to a Nazi salute!
Back to the music review.
Junoon is playing one hit after another and the temperature
in the hall seems to be rising with each song. It is time
for the number that introduced Junoon to this writer. Fingers
start to dance on guitar strings and even before the first
beat of the drum is heard the audience knows it is going to
be 'Sayonee'. The surge in the crowd is hard to control. People
are pouring out into the main alley that runs from the stage
to the exit. All hands are up in the air, hips swaying, feet
dancing. At the start of the program, the organizers had announced
the Fire Marshall's warning that the aisles should be kept
clear at all times. Well, move out of the way Mr. Fire Marshall,
tonight the crowd doesn't want you to come between it and
its religious pursuit of happiness.
With his ears plugged with cotton-balls, this reporter is
absorbed in the show, wondering how could he possibly convey
in words the energy that is present there. Overwhelmed by
the music Junoonis want to stand by the stage and touch the
hands of the band members. You wonder what has gotten into
them. Mr. Writer, pick up your thesaurus and find the right
word to describe what you see in the hall: electrifying, magical,
sensational, exhilarating, thrilling, entrancing, scintillating,
no, none of those words would do justice, just call it 'Junoon'
and pray the reader can imagine what you are talking about.
Time flies when you are having fun. It is 10:30 p.m.; the
band plays the Pakistani anthem to mark the end of the program
and leaves the stage. But the Junoonis don't want to go home;
in unison they beseech, "We want more, we want more."
The band comes back and sings one last song. The pilgrimage
has come to an end.
You question the phenomenon you just saw. What is this all
about? Why these young men and women are so crazy about Junoon
and its fusion music? Contrary to the aforementioned first
shockwave prescribing a bygone lifestyle the latest one is
not about a code to live life by; this storm seems to portray
the notion that the way life is presently lived in the west
can be lived in the Muslim lands, with the native cultural
stamp affixed and a light coat of Islam painted on it.
No one should doubt that Pakistan in particular, but the greater
Muslim world in general, is on a collision course -- with
itself. If there is such a thing as a clash of civilization,
it is all happening within the Islamic sphere.