LAHORE-Being a Pakistani it’s impossible not to be the fan of the band ‘Junoon’ which took the world by storm in the 90s. When we speak of the historic band you might just visualize the rock star guitarist with his flowing hairs and passionate tunes, the founder and soul of Junoon group, Salman Ahmad. The Led-Zappelin fan turned first sufi-metallic rock artiste of Pakistan is a MBBS doctor, author, social activist and songwriter On the occasion of completion of 25 years of Junoon, Salman Ahamd spoke to The Nation about his musical journey through the years. Following are excerpts of the interview:

Salman we congratulate you on Junooon band’s 25 years. Pakistan knows it was not an average band; you started more of a movement. Not very many people understood Sufism meets metallic rock back then. How was the journey? Any memories you would like to share on the occasion?

As I write in my book, RRJ, when you have faith in God , All things are possible. The journey of Junoon has been a roller coaster ride across the globe, from East to West and North to South.

BUT It is Pakistanis’ Ishq & Jazba which inspired Junoon to become the biggest rock band from South Asia.

For the past 25 years, on all Pakistani national days, in sports stadiums, across radio stations, at concert halls, in movie theaters, wedding celebrations, political rallies & on iPods, Junoon’s music has continued to provide the soundtrack to the lives of millions of Pakistanis across generations at home & abroad. Even in India, they will be celebrating Junoon25 in the coming months.

At our concert in February, an Indian mother brought her teenage daughter to the show. She had named her Sayonee after our song, because the mother had grown up on Junoon’s music during the 90’s.

When I met the girl, Sayonee told me that she’s learning to play the guitar just like me. That is the power of Junoon’s music across generations and borders.

What inspired your obsession ‘Junoon’?

When I’m asked to explain the reason for Junoon’s success in one line, I always quote from one of my favourite books, “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coehlo.

“When you follow your heart, the entire Universe conspires to make you succeed”. As a student from King Edward Medical College, I felt that Pakistani youth had no positive outlets for their passion. When I was in college, Pakistanis mostly listened to Indian film songs or Western artists & bands.

No one then thought that Pakistani bands could provide original & authentic music or be of any quality.

With the success of my 1st pop band, Vital Signs & our anthem Dil Dil Pakistan, I felt inspired to expand on the themes of love, unity & write songs about social justice but with a heavier guitar driven rock sensibility. That is when I formed Junoon with Ali Azmat in 1991.

I was also heavily influenced by Qawwali music, Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & his collaborations with western artists like Peter Gabriel. Like Nusrat, I wanted Junoon to become an international icon.

Junoon performed at many great international places including Noble peace prize concert. How did it felt to represent Pakistan in front of such celebrated audience?

Felt deeply honored to be the 1st Pakistani artist / band to be invited to Norway’s Nobel peace prize ceremony & concert. I also realize how important arts, music & soft power is for the cultural identity of Pakistan. Music, poetry and literature is a window into the soul of the nation. Its acted as a bridge between generations, between tradition & modernity & across cultures & nations. Arts & education is also the most powerful weapon against extremism in all its forms.

There is a fierce individualism & a fire for freedom that burns within the hearts of Pakistani artists & it requires support from the government & those who want arts & culture to thrive in Pakistan.

Your biography tells us of your struggle as a rock artist. What message would you like to give to aspiring rock stars out there?

Hai Jazba Junoon to himmat na haar / justajoo jo kurey woh chuey aasmaan. Never give up on your dreams & never be afraid of adversity & failure. Adversity is a friend disguised as a foe. Learn from it.

It can teach you how to rise up & succeed. In Lahore, since my school days at Aitchison, I have never forgotten our motto: “Perseverance commands success”.

You have collaborated with a number of international artistes. Any new collaboration plan that you have in mind…

The songs of the forthcoming album, “Junoon 25”, have been recorded and produced both in the US and Pakistan. The songs include duets with Ali Zafar, Peter Gabriel, Shubha Mudgal, Vital Signs & others. Junoon fans will be in for a pleasant surprise.

How was your experience of the Bollywood movie ‘Rhythm’ which was released earlier this year?

Ever since the Jinnah movie in 2000 I have really enjoyed composing music for films. Both “Rhythm” & the forthcoming HBO film “Open Your Eyes” allowed me to experiment with orchestration, new singers, new instruments & cinematic arrangements.

Will we be hearing anything new anytime soon? Would you like to elaborate on your projects that are in pipeline?

I am excited to work on a new film project with Director & writer Shoaib Mansoor.

Salman you have always been involved in social awareness activities around the world. What motivates you to bring a difference in the world?

Ever since I was a child growing up in Anarkali in Lahore, I saw my mother involved in charitable causes & social service, helping the needy & the elderly. She had a big influence in my life & pushed me to be a doctor.

As a medical student, I was deeply distressed at the lack of health care for the common people in Pakistan. My mother always says “If you Love God, serve Humanity.”

What are the current projects of Salman & Samina Global Wellness Initiative?

Since 2014, I’m working as a Polio Goodwill Ambassador with Rotary international to help eradicate Polio from Pakistan. I’m happy to say that after great hardship & overcoming many challenges, Pakistan is ready to create history in 2016 by reaching zero cases of Polio.

My wife Dr Samina & I have also adopted a village in Sajawal, Pakistan & we help promote Girls’ education in Mansehra.

You declared your political allegiance to PTI (Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf). Do you really believe Imran Khan is the best thing Pakistanis could hope for? Do you have any plans for joining the politics yourself?

As an artist & a social activist, I’ve always been an independent thinker & I don’t need to join a political party to express my political views.

Over the last 25 years, I’ve openly expressed my world view through my poetry, music, films & writing. In 1996, at the height of Junoon’s fame, I recorded “Ehtesaab” & asked Shoaib Mansoor to produce a music video for it. The satirical video which raised the issue of corruption of our elite was banned by Pakistani govt. Junoon was also punished for singing about “Ehtesaab” & banned for three years.

This Ramzan, I’m going into colleges & urging students to join me in “Fasting for Accountability”. If we don’t eradicate the cancer of corruption now, Pakistan’s future generations will never forgive us.

Pakistan is 117th most corrupt nation on our planet. We require emergency across the board accountability. I have played cricket with Imran Khan & have known him for over 30 years. He is incorruptible. I find common ground with him when he talks about “Accountability” & support his vision for a corruption free Pakistan.

You are a professor at the Queen’s College of the City University of NY. How is the experience of teaching? What do you like about it and will you be teaching music in Pakistan?

Since 2007, I have taught music & poetry from Muslim culture covering the last 1,400 years. From Maulana Rumi to Hazrat Amir Khusro to contemporary expressions of arts & culture my class at Queens College is a mini planet earth of students & they are eager to learn about the rich diversity of Islamic tradition. I would be honored to also teach in Pakistan.

Bernie Sanders, Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump? Who in your opinion will be residing at White House after upcoming elections and how will it affect Pakistan?

I’m a Bernie Sanders fan but Hillary Clinton is a very experienced politician & she can become the first woman President of the United States, IF she can successfully expose the lies & hypocrisy of Donald Trump. A Donald Trump presidency would be a disaster & have catastrophic consequences on our planet.

Which living person is your inspiration?

My mother, Shahine & my wife Dr Samina.

You have put on weight. Do you exercise to keep yourself fit? What is the routine day like for you?

My wife Samina is one of the best cooks on this planet & I have to work extra hard in the gym to stay fit:)