Pakistani rock band in Kashmir to heal wounds
Junoon, or madness in Arabic, will play in a heavily fortified auditorium on the banks of the Dal lake, but its Sufi music and soaring guitar riffs should resonate far beyond, given that this is where Sufism, a form of Islamic mysticism, struck roots in the subcontinent.
The idea of a Pakistani band playing in the centre of Kashmir, which has been at the heart of 60 years of unremitting hostility between the neighbours, is itself remarkable, a testament to the change that is quietly taking place.
It would have been unimaginable a few years ago, Ïndia’s NDTV quotes a local college professor as saying.
Both nations have faced challenges in recent days; India, the blasts in Jaipur which at another time would have almost reflexively been blamed on the neighbour, and Pakistan renewed bombings and a civilian coalition government that is dangerously drifting apart barely weeks after it was formed.
The neighbours have been tested in Kashmir itself recently with reports of cross-border incursions and gunbattles but they have kept their counsel, and resumed peace talks this week.
So what’s the subtext to Junoon in Kashmir, if at all ? Yusuf Jameel, who has reported extensively on the region, says the political connotations of their presence in the disputed territory are not lost on anyone, and authorities are trying to ensure there is no trouble.
The concert has been organised by the South Asia Foundation, a non-government organisation, and is part of celebrations marking the inauguration of the Kashmir Study Institute at Kashmir University. Indian President Pratibha Patil is expected to attend the show as also other government leaders which obviously complicates the issue.
“After all, Islamabad has not officially given up its claim on Kashmir, though to many both in the neighbouring country (Pakistan) and here in Jammu and Kashmir, it is only dragging its feet from what it would until a few years ago insist is its jugular vein,” writes Jameel. The hardline elements in Kashmiri separatist groups are not going to be very pleased with the Junoon act, he says.
But the band that sometimes has been likened to U2 has been down this kind of road before. Founder Salman Ahmed, who trained to be a medical doctor, says inspired by the music of Led Zeppelin he traded his stethoscope for an electric guitar because he thought that was a better instrument to heal his deeply wounded society.
Blending traditional Sufi music with western instruments and melodies, the band has created a new genre of pop music, Sufi rock. And their songs call for harmony and peace instead of nuclear proliferation and corruption, making them a constant thorn on the side of Pakistan’s ruling authorities.
In the early 1990s a law was passed – aimed directly at the band – banning “jeans and jackets” from appearing on television. The group did a video for a song called Accountability which proved too much for then Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
And they have done their bit on the other side of the border too. They were in India playing the week New Delhi stunned the world conducting nuclear tests in the summer of 1998.
“We want cultural fusion, not nuclear fusion”, young Indians waved a banner in a packed concert. Junoon denounced the arms race, saying India and Pakistan couldn’t afford it and were better-off giving their citizens clean drinking water, jobs and health facilities.
The Indian tests were followed by a similar series by Pakistan that month.