It was on a sunny Karachi Saturday afternoon in 1992 that I bought a double pack of close up tooth paste just because it came with a free Junoon audio tape. That was the time when Ne Heeray became the wildest song to come out of Pakistan, Bheegi Yaadein became my favorite ballad and Talash was the ultimate leftist political statement made in public. That was the power of Junoon, the second band to make it to the masses of my generation, the first being the one and only Vital Signs.
Junoon was different, Junoon was what some called raw and some stereotypically termed "the angry young men" of our time. But the thing that made Junoon more of a success was their approachability. I could relate to them, my friends could too. I couldn't relate to the signs, I enjoyed their music sure but I couldn't relate to them. The signs were the big stars, Junoon; the boys from the 'hood.
They also broke a huge stereotype that rockers were college drop outs. These guys had professional qualification and yet choose the path of music to make a buck. That added to their approachability. That added to their support. Junooni, literally meaning passionate, was the termed use for Junoon groupies and there were a plenty who proudly claimed to be the biggest Junooni alive.
Junoon concerts were the best there could ever be. From the 1993 concert that I attended in the Karachi Arts Council, and 1994 concert in FTC to the Hippodrome inauguration in 2000 and the Karachi yacht Club Concert 2002, there honestly was no feeling better than going to a Junoon concert. This in a country that was put under the creative siege of a conservative dictator till the late 80s, was a huge cultural change.
In 1996, Inquillab happened, and I can bet my life on this one that its been the most anticipated music album in Pakistan to date. And did it ever live up to all the expectations. The 3rd from Junoon and their second big hit, broke various musical records in terms of sales. I distinctly remember waiting for this album after hearing them perform Mahi at one of there concerts. Personally speaking, I am yet to hear a better album from the band, a pack of hits, an album 4 years in the making, and every song was pure pleasure. Stuff you'd put on repeat play and go out for a drive or party with your friends. Stuff that made you think, that made you laugh, that made you sing along with the band. I recall many instances traveling to and from my university and the passenger in the shuttle bus breaking into a chorus on some Junoon song or the other. Inquillab did exactly what its name suggested. It revolutionized the local music scene and allowed Junoon to stake the claim as the leading band in the nation.
Their live act kept improving too. Ali with his on stage antics, Salman and his passionate finger play on the fret boards, and Brian's complacent smile as he added the grooves on the bass just made Junoon an delight to watch. I have seen many Pakistan bands perform, both old and new, but none manages to command the attention that Junoon could. Such was the power of this trio!
In 1996 the band became the voice of the nation with the second most popular patriotic pop ditty (first one is Dil Dil Pakistan without a doubt), Jazba-e-Junoon released during the time of the World Cup Cricket. In 1997, Junoon faced its first major controversy, when there political song Ehtesaab (Accountability) aimed at a certain group of politicians was banned from being aired. Meri Awaz Suno (Listen To Me) another song with political underpinnings made it to an album but wasn't allowed air time for at least a year.
In the midst of all this Junoon had slowly entered the international music scene. Their fans were being spotted where ever there was a Pakistani and that's pretty much everywhere. Countries around Pakistan were joining the ranks of Junoonis and some Junoonis existed in far of places like Japan, Norway and South Africa.
Then came Azaadi, the album that changed Junoon from being Pakistan's biggest band to what VH1 called, Asia's U2. India witnessed a trio from the western neighbor conquer hearts, minds and ears. Accords, Accolades and Awards virtually flocked in from all corners of Asia. Their fan base went on to include Bollywood superstars to Eddie Vedder of pearl Jam and Bono of U2. They too were Junoonis.
Albums, Videos, Tours kept happening, the band stepped into the globalization cycle, destination to destination, point to point, the fans could be spotted at quite a few places across the globe. From becoming that band whose lead singer we'd chat with after a gig to a band that acquired the role of diplomats of sort. They played in the UN general assembly, a privilege that not many bands have. The best part is I saw it happening. I saw them evolve, I saw them grow.
Come to think of it, it was like we were all growing up together. They grew bigger as did we. Its amazing to realize that something that started in front of our own eyes has become so magnanimous.
The fate of Junoon is at this point, uncertain. The bands American bassist, Brian, has left for the US, possibly for good. The vocalist Ali is working on a solo album, the axe grinder Salman is testing the waters with vocals and is heavily involved with work for betterment of humanity in liaison with the UN. But one thing is for sure, they have given us some unmatched tunes, from the nostalgic Khwab in their first Album to the Spunky Papoo Yaar in their last one - the band continues to make a solid mark.
I hope, for the sake of all the Junoonis, that the band blesses us with an occasional concert or two. Just for old times sake. Many people have sweet memories associated with their concerts, one of my second cousin met her future husband at their concert in Central Park in NYC. I am sure the couple would enjoy taking their kids to a concert that helped their parents meet up.
After all this, need I say more why I miss Junoon !!