Ali Azmat Rocks the San
Francisco Bay Area
By Ras H. Siddiqui
to R: Ali Azmat, Anisha Bakshi, Omran Shafique and a
member of Ali Azmat’s group
Ali Azmat, the mercurial
Junoon Group Member and now solo entertainer who is amongst
the biggest acts in Pakistani Rock music today, brought his
phenomenal vocals to the Chabot College Performing Arts Center
in Hayward , California, on Sunday, May 20, 2007.
This event was brought to us by CNY DESI (www.cnydesi.com),
a top notch area entertainment company which continues to
bring great music and entertainment to the South Asian diaspora
in the United States .
the perspective of this old fan of the group Junoon (Passion)
which once brought together three talented musicians (Ali
Azmat, Salman Ahmad and Brian O'Connell) to our delight for
approximately 15 years, one can add here that the lights,
sound and unique attempt to cater to young fans commonly known
as Junoonis at this event was head and shoulders above what
has previously been seen in this area. Congratulations are
certainly in order to CNY DESI for incorporating rare American
showbiz professionalism into a Desi show here.
Local nightingale Anisha Bakshi opened the event assisted
by Noor, Asim, Maneshwar and new member (whatever happened
to Legend and Sawaaz?). Anisha started off with a tribute
to the late Nazia Hassan along with her take on a popular
Fuzon song along with a high energy Punjabi number. Anisha
deserves a great deal of credit for not only promoting inter-community
harmony in Northern California but also for taking the time
to learn Pakistani songs of the masters, including Noor Jehan
and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. This writer also hopes that she
will soon include Mohtarma Iqbal Bano’s “Hum Dekhain
Gey” to her bouquet of Urdu songs.
Ali Azmat brings a great
deal to the stage wherever he performs. This evening was no
exception as Ali showed his mastery of vocals, guitar playing
and crowd motivation (“Don’t be boring ……”).
He shared the stage with his group which this time included
Omran Shafique, a regular member of the band “Mauj”.
Omran’s resemblance to Salman Ahmad was not overlooked,
but alas Junoon is no more (isn’t it?).
Ali’s has always been a fringe-experimental act. His
last album “Social Circus” cleaved Pakistani society
in various unique ways and exposed troublesome thoughts. But
controversy and Ali Azmat are no strangers. The “bad
boy” of Pakistani Rock music has matured and polished
his act but he still remains unpredictable. The long hair
is gone and “no hair’ is in, but when Ali the
entertainer takes over the stage, the crowd certainly moves
groups of the audience
Azmat with the organizers
Starting off with “Deewana”,
Ali journeyed through a limited amount of Junoon’s old
material (which many of us still came to hear). Junoon’s
“Mera Mahi” was delightful as the sunken dance
floor up front quickly filled up with youngsters. We older
folks were very happy about this sunken front floor idea,
because historically our main problem with young “Junooni”
fans had been that they usually mobbed the stage and blocked
our view early during each of Junoon’s performances.
Ali said that his new album will be coming out soon and it
will not be called Kalashnikov (the Russian assault rifle)
but Clash & Folk (or some variation of this name). And
with that he sang an English song titled “Tell Me…”
Ali Azmat Omran on Stage
Ali Azmat is no ordinary
Lahori (if there is such a thing as and ordinary Lahori!).
English, Urdu or Punjabi, he is right at home singing in any
of these languages. When he stepped back into Junoon’s
Urdu “Dosti” (Friendship) from his English song
we were not disappointed, but his transition appeared to be
effortless, especially when he included a tribute to Bob Marley
into the song. Another number from his “Social Circus”
followed along with an old Junoon ballad and an English song.
“Sajna” really moved the crowd into a Junooni
frenzy followed by a slow “Tu Bata”(You tell Me),
“Meray Khuda” (My God), along with a new Punjabi
number and a nice English song (“Take it Away”?).
The crowd response was at its peak during Junoon’s “Sayonee”
and “Garaj Baras” but it appears that Ali Azmat
made it a point to end with “Na Re Na,” a huge
hit from his “Social Circus” CD and not the customary
Jazba Junoon which is a favorite.
Ali and the Band in Action.
It would not be fair to
Ali Azmat and Salman Ahmad if we fans continued to force them
into the Junoon mold, but it is certainly difficult for us
fans to ignore what was South Asia’s biggest Rock Band.
But musicians need room to grow on their own and groups do
split up to solo acts or other formations. Both Ali and Salman
have made it a point to try and re-invent themselves. Salman
is probably the only Pakistani origin entertainer today who
has had some success in marketing his Sufi-Rock combo in the
United States. His support of humanitarian causes has not
gone unnoticed either. And Ali is growing as a solo act too
and may yet become an international star. It just may be possible
that these talented two just had to look beyond the Pakistani/Desi
music market because what more was there left to accomplish?
As we close this report here commending both Ali Azmat and
CNY DESI for a great show that many should feel sorry that
they missed, this sentimental old fan would like to add that
even though Omran Shafique is fantastic, had Salman Ahmad
been in his place at this particular event, our evening would
have been perfect. Sorry Ali, but this is once again coming
from a sentimental old Junooni.