Junoon’s Scintillating 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.


Glimpses 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.


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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