Last month Ali Azmat, on his official Facebook page, hinted towards a possible Junoon reunion. The singer-songwriter basically asked people if they would like to see South Asia’s biggest band reunite this year. Fellow band-member Salman Ahmad is also reported to have implied that such an event would take place once the country rids itself of polio.
While there is still no final word on when ,or even if, such a reunion would take place, one thing is for sure that the band is still relevant. Just the mere mention of a reunion by Pakistan’s own Mick Jagger and Keith Richards saw people from not only Pakistan but also India expressing great excitement. So before these guys hopefully once again take it to the stage, just to refresh your memory – here’s how a Pindi boy, a doctor and a ‘gora’ became the biggest band of South Asia.
What in the hell were they all doing before?
The band was the brainchild of Salman Ahmad who got into rock music in the 70’s after going to Led Zepplin concert. During the 80’s he moved back to Pakistan with his family and pursued a medicinal degree at King Edward Medical College Lahore. A few years later Vital Signs which had just shot to fame after releasing Dil Dil Pakistan, invited Salman to join the band after guitarist Nusrat Hussain decided to part ways.
Although Vital Signs was a commercial success, it didn’t fulfill Salman’s artistic ambitions that were more towards rock n roll sound as opposed to Vital Signs Pop sound. So he decided to leave the band and contacted one of his musician friends from America Brian o Connell to play bass on an upcoming project. However, the band still needed a singer that can complement the heavier sound.
Enter Ali Azmat, the missing piece of the puzzle. Ali Azmat at the time was part of another upcoming pop group called Jupiters. While the band was just known as a party band one of its songs ‘Dosti‘ managed to top the charts during the 90s. Interesting fact: Coke Studio producer Sahir Ali Bagga used to play drums for this band. So, Ali left Jupiters and joined forces with Salman Ahmad and Brian.
In 1991 the band released its first album titled Junoon that bombed with audiences
It was the second album Talaash that managed to gain modest traction with audiences. During this time the band was featured in a dram of the same name that was directed by Atiqa Odho and written by Anwer Maqsood. Interestingly in the drama, the members played themselves. The album itself was socially relevant at the time since its songs commented on the political scenario of the 90’s.
Commercial success and run in with the government
In 1995 the band released a single titled ‘Ehtesab‘ the video of which was immediately banned on television since it criticized the ruling government at the time. Following that year Junoon released Inquilaab it’s third studio album that very much went on to define its signature Sufi rock sound. The album itself you could say was basically Sufi poetry being sung on Led-Zepplin inspired guitar riffs, the two of which were glued together by traditional tabla. Jazba – Junoon was the new Dil Dil Pakistan now and instantly became the anthem of everything that is patriotic.
From there on the rest was history
After the success of Inquilaab, the band began a host of international tours. In 1997 the band played at the famous House of Blues. Additionally, they also played in the UK, Canada, and UAE. Later that year Azadi was released that was also the band’s debut album in India. The album managed to sell a total of million copies in India reaching platinum status in a record four weeks. Among other things the band also became actively involved with Social Awareness campaigns partnering up with United Nations.
Dewar and subsequent break-up
During the mid-2000’s the band releases its final album to date Dewar. It was a departure from their signature Sufi rock sound and was more oriented towards modern rock with elements of funk. Although the album alienated some fans a few songs did manage to do well on the charts. The song ‘Papu Yar‘ which is basically a desi version of Jimi Hendrix’s famous ‘Who knows’, was received well by audiences. Following the release, Brian O Conell went back to the States with Meekal Hassan filling his shoes on live shows. In 2005 the band had its last concert in Dubai following which both Ali Azmat and Salman Ahmad went on to pursue solo careers.
There have been sporadic reunions in the past but non of them included Ali Azmat. For the most part, he has always shut down the possibility of any complete reunion. The Junoon that once was at the precipice of breaking into mainstream Western rock music scene broke up after the band members pursued their personal interests but the iconic songs still keep their legacy alive.