Cambridge Rock City
Daur-e-Junoon Peace ConcertBy Atif Z. Qadir
April 28, 6pm
Bridging the seemingly disparate worlds of Western rock and Pakistani folk music, Junoon has received acclaim from Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan ’72 and Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf, as well as rave reviews from Billboard Magazine and The New York Times. This past Sunday, it brought its message of daur-e-junoon, or “peace and passion,” to MIT’s Kresge Auditorium in a sold-out concert sponsored by PaksMIT (Pakistani Students at MIT).
Junoon formed in the mid 1990’s and first appeared on the world scene with the release of their 1997 platinum album, Azadi. Their single “Sayonee” topped Asian charts for nearly two months. Their popularity transcended the typical Western imitations that drew favor from only the Americanized elite of South Asia. By melding in Punjabi qawwali and other classical forms, they were able to appeal to the larger South Asian community. They hold at their core a message of peace, tolerance, and moderation in religious thought.
With the release of Andaz in 2001, Junoon cemented its formative position in the international music scene as surely the most famous Pakistani band of all time. With a recent benefit concert for Afghan refugees and a performance at the United Nations in New York, they continue to spread their message of peace and passion.
The concert at MIT was an overall success despite initial glitches. The show was delayed for nearly two hours because the group’s flight from Canada was late. Almost the entire audience waited it out, which was a testament to the intoxicating effect of Junoon’s music. The concert finally opened with a live dhol player, who made attendees rise to their feet and break into impromptu bhangra, the colorful folk dance from the Pakistani-Indian region called Punjab.
The combined yelps, screams, and whistles that filled Kresge when Junoon finally arrived on stage felt like a standing wave. The unrestrained enthusiasm belied any original logistical problems. Junoon is composed of a drummer; tabla player; bassist Brian O’Connell, lead singer Ali Azmat; and vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Salman Ahmad.. The band that has been likened to U2 and the Beatles delighted the audience with hits from their first two albums.
They belted out a warm, jovial rendition of the Southern Punjabi folk song, “Lal Meri,” which at times had elements of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Abida Parveen, and Dave Matthews Band. They also performed a Jimi Hendrix guitar-driven version of the Pakistani National Anthem, which was a favorite especially amongst the deeply proud Pakistanis and their American diaspora counterparts. A number of other songs performed that night include a rendition of Khan’s “Biba Sada Dil Morr De” and a number of Junoon’s original songs, including “Sayonee,” the dreamy “Beegi Yadein” the dolorous, tabla-based “Muk Gaye Nay,” and the Led Zeppelin-esque “Talaash.”
“Neend Ati Nahin,” as well as several other songs, slid into the zone of 1980s soft rock. The tabla player and his counterparts on the drum and bass laid a strong foundation for Azmat and Ahmad, but at times the singers’ voices seemed to lack depth and low-range facility. These shortcomings, however, were forgotten in their crowd-pleasing favorites “Khwab” and “Allah hu.”
The band ended up playing one of the longest concerts since a 1999 performance in Karachi. Ahmad noted that this was because “at some point in the concert a spirit descended and engulfed the audience and the band-members. From there on, it wasn’t us playing the music, it was the music playing us.”