Ali Azmat Rocks the San Francisco Bay Area
By Ras H. Siddiqui


L 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 .
And from 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 with him.

Two groups of the audience   Ali 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.


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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