The year was 1999 and the location New Delhi, where the Channel V Music Awards were being held. The nominations for Best International Group were announced and Junoon (English translation: “Passion”) emerged as the winner beating popular bands such as Aqua, Backstreet Boys, and Boyzone. Jon Pareles, the chief popular-music critic for The New York Times, has compared the Pakistani band’s music to that of the Irish rock band U2.
Junoon is arguably one of South Asia’s biggest rock bands active from 1990 to 2005, with critically and commercially successful albums, international tours, awards and documentaries. The trio’s lead vocalist Ali Azmat, lead guitarist Salman Ahmed and bassist Brian O’Connell recently released a music video of one of their popular songs, marking the band’s return after 13 years.
Junoon’s history and success
Junoon was formed in 1990 and originally consisted of Ali Azmat, Salman Ahmed and keyboardist Nusrat Hussain. After their self-titled debut album was a failure, Hussain parted ways with the band for a solo career. American multi-instrumentalist Brian O’Connell joined the band in 1992 as a bassist.
The same year, the band appeared in a television show titled Talaash (“Search”) that aired on state-owned Pakistan Television (PTV) starring as fictionalized versions of themselves. They were also working on an album of the same name. The band’s album Talaash, released in 1993, was a moderate success in Pakistan and the single of the same name did well on the local music charts.
The band’s third album and first compilation album Kashmakash (“Dilemma”) was released in 1995, and one of the hit singles from the album titled “Ehtesaab” (English “Accountability”) landed them in controversy as many elites of Pakistan, especially government officials, believed the music video was criticizing them. It resulted in the song and music video being banned in the country.
The song was also featured in a 1996 British Broadcasting Corporation documentary titled The Princess and the Playboy based on the deceased politician and former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband and former president Asif Ali Zardari.
Despite government restrictions, the group were able to release their third studio album Inquilab (“Revolution”) in 1996, and it became their most successful album in Pakistan, particularly thanks to the song “Jazba-E-Junoon” (English: “The Spirit of Passion”), which was a tribute to Pakistan’s national cricket team and was released during the same time as the 1996 Cricket World Cup hosted by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
With Inquilab, Junoon received more attention and became more popular in Pakistan. However, it was their fourth studio album Azadi (“Freedom”) that brought the band international acclaim. It had a Sufi rock sound that the band is believed to have pioneered.
Azadi contributed to Junoon touring neighboring India. However, it landed the band in controversy as well when member Salman Ahmed criticized the 1998 Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests by suggesting that the two countries should focus more on education and health.
This led to the government of Pakistan banning the band once again. However, it had no impact on their success, because they went on to win a Channel V Award for Best International Group and performed at many international venues throughout the world, such as New York’s Central Park.
The band’s fifth studio album Parvaaz (“Flight”) led to more success as the group performed at many notable events such as the Millennium Peace Concert in Paris, being invited by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and performing at the music festival Roskilde in Denmark.
Junoon released their sixth studio album, Andaaz (“Style”), in March 2001. The band traveled to the United States around the time of the September 11 terror attacks. Junoon also became the first rock band to perform at the United Nations General Assembly that year. They were also the subject of a VH1 documentary titled Islamabad: Rock City presented by Susan Sarandon.
The group released their seventh studio album, Deewar (“Wall”), in 2003. Although singles like “Pappu Yaar” (English: “Dude Please”), “Ghoom Taana” (“Move Around”) and “Garaj Baras” (“Thunder and Rain”) were hits from the album and “Garaj Baras” was also featured on the soundtrack of the Bollywood film Paap (“Sin”), things started to fall apart as bassist Brian O’Connell parted ways with the band and moved to his homeland, the United States, after the release of the album.
In 2005, lead vocalist Ali Azmat left the band too in order to pursue a solo career, whereas Salman Ahmed decided to keep the “Junoon” brand name and performed under it. While Ahmed was able to release many revised and compilation albums under the Junoon label, fans and critics both knew that the “real” Junoon was no more.
Both Ali Azmat and Salman Ahmed had success with their careers. While Azmat became a popular solo artist in South Asia, Salman Ahmed contributed to both music and activism.
Regarding Junoon’s breakup, both Azmat and Ahmed had conflicting opinions on the matter. But the conflicting opinions actually showed that Junoon broke up because of several differences and not just creative ones.
Ever since the band broke up, a reunion has often been talked about, but these turned out to be false rumors. This June, rumors spread that the band would reunite in this year’s edition of Pepsi Battle of the Bands, but lead vocalist Ali Azmat denied that Junoon was reuniting.
But this month the band finally did reunite, releasing a new music video of one of their tracks, “Khudi” (English: “Selfhood”) from their popular album Azadi, which was originally written by poet and philosopher Allama Muhammad Iqbal, who is considered the spiritual father of Pakistan.
The music video is a tribute to the people who have contributed for the betterment of Pakistan and have displayed a positive image of the country, including philanthropist Ronak Lakhani, Shaheer Niazi, Pakistan’s youngest scientist, Laraib Atta, Pakistan’s youngest visual-effects artist, cricket player Fakhar Zaman, the first batsman to score a double century in a one-day international (ODI), Captain Maryam Masood, Pakistan’s first female airline pilot to land a flight in the mountainous region of Gilgit, and the band Junoon themselves.
The band reunited close to the 20th anniversary of their album Azadi. The reunion was done in collaboration with a popular local biscuit brand Peek Freans Sooper under the initiative “Sooper Hai Pakistan Ka Junoon” (“Sooper Is Pakistan’s Passion”). The reunion has garnered a positive response.
— Zahra Masood (@KhajistaM) August 14, 2018
This come back by Junoon is seriously taking internet by storm #SooperHaiPakistanKaJunoon
— Syed Babar Shah (@SyedbabarshahPK) August 14, 2018
But the real question here is: Was this a one-time project or is the band back for good? In an interview, lead guitarist Salman Ahmed stated that the initiative consisted of 12 months of fun activities and events that Pakistan would witness, hinting at a proper comeback. However, nothing much can be said, as this is just speculation, although people are hoping for the band to reunite and release new music soon.