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How Junaid Jamshed used ‘Us Rah Par’ to foreshadow his transformation

Published: January 4, 2017
Junaid Jamshed on fusion music, Pakistan’s elite and singing naat. PHOTO: AMEER HAMZA

Junaid Jamshed on fusion music, Pakistan’s elite and singing naat. PHOTO: AMEER HAMZA

KARACHI    : For him, the song was never about a beloved. It was always about the Beloved. But he could not have said it then.

The stubble Junaid Jamshed sported in the video was perhaps one of the first times the strikingly handsome singer was seen with some form of a beard. But it was seen as part of the costume for the character of the taxi driver he played in the video, chewing on a match stick while looking intently at a female gypsy singer.

PHOTO COURTESY: PAK FILES

PHOTO COURTESY: PAK FILES

As the nation reeled from the shock of his abrupt death in the airplane crash that took away 47 lives almost a month ago, both his songs and his naat renditions started going viral on social media. It could not have been either/or. It had to be both. Some chose the former part of his singing career – mushy, poignantly phrased and softly rendered ballads and patriotic songs that helped each one of us emote at some phase of our life. Others chose his latter offerings –Islamically inspired renditions in which he sung praises of Allah and the Prophet (pbuh). Then there were those, few in number, who celebrated both phases of the icon’s life – his voice had been with them in moments of both majaazi (of the beloved) and haqeeqi (of the Beloved) Ishq.

Recap: Some of the pop icons we lost to 2016

That was Junaid – a nexus between the two extremes. The song that was shared most by his fans on both ends of the spectrum was the ballad from his solo album in 1999, Us Rah Par. This is deeply ironic; that song represents the transformational phase of this complex, layered and loved icon of Pakistan. It would be unfair to his audiences that what he revealed about this song is not shared with them.

“That song was much deeper than romantic love for me, unlike what the video portrayed,” he had said, while talking to The Express Tribune in 2013. “By 1999, the transition in me had started. Others may not know but I know that for me, that song was about my journey. But at that time, it could not have been shown.”

Against the backdrop of his statement, the lyrics begin to make more sense:

Hum kyun chalein

Uss raah par
Jis raah par
Sab hee chalein
Kyun na chunein
Woh raasta
Jis par nahin
Koi gaya….

Time was to prove that whether people agreed with his choices or not, he did go on to choose a path that few from the entertainment industry would dare to step on. “The song had been conceived metaphorically,” Junaid had shared. While the lyrics were penned by Shoaib Mansoor, Junaid’s interpretation was very different. “I confess that I had no plans of leaving music at that time. But the love of Allah had hit me. I could feel I was changing. I couldn’t run away from it.”

Thousands bid last farewell to JJ

In many interviews and talks he gave later, as part of his work as a muballigh (evangelist), he shared that despite having fame, money and popularity, something in him would not let him rest, as if something was amiss. Investing himself in a material world had begun to seem like a waste of time. “It started with me going to religious people and the mosque for my own spiritual healing. I had everything – fame, money. But something was lacking. I felt incomplete. And being in a masjid made me feel calm. Masjid still has the same effect on me. Masjid, to me, is the place where we discover humanity.”

Junaid found his direction and that led him to discover the peace in himself we all aspire for to be complete within. PHOTO: JUNAID JAMSHED FACEBOOK PAGE Junaid found his direction and that led him to discover the peace in himself we all aspire for to be complete within. PHOTO: JUNAID JAMSHED FACEBOOK PAGE

Dil udaas nazrein udaas

Dilbar nahin gar aas paas
Din raat aah bharna
Aur beqaraar rehna
Yeh khail hee bekaar hai
Kuch bhi nahin angaar hai
Is aag main jalein kyun
Pal pal jiyein marein kyun

Many temptations tugged at his heart all through his life. He never stopped loving music, but eventually he made the choice that felt right to him. “The life of this world and the Hereafter… if you please one, the other will be upset. It’s a choice you have to make,” he had said.

An enduring memory: A conversation with Junaid Jamshed

I remember asking him if he missed his past as a singer. “Naheen yaar. No withdrawal symptoms of my past life. I am not proud but happy that as a singer, I contributed to the spirit of patriotism and my country in a positive way. I lived that part of my life to the fullest. I cherish my time with the Vital Signs,” he had said, adding that he recognised that his voice was a gift from God. “Shoaib’s poetry and my voice touched people’s hearts. They could relate to it. Rohail, Shehzad, Salman, Nusrat, Rizwan, Asad Ahmed, Amir Zaki…they are much better musicians than I ever was. But somehow, I have a voice that people connect to.”

Taimur Junaid recalls the relationship he shared with his father. PHOTO: FACEBOOK @TAIMUR JUNAID

Taimur Junaid recalls the relationship he shared with his father. PHOTO: FACEBOOK @TAIMUR JUNAID

He knew he was a people’s person. “Mein awaami aadmi hoon. The work I am doing now has much more human interaction, compared to the showbiz days. Back then, the stage was in between,” Junaid had said.

Chalo ishq ka kaha maan kar

Apna sanam pehchaan kar

Kisi ese rang rang jaayein

Sab se juda nazar aayein…

Much to the frustration of his fans, who perhaps never forgave him for giving up music, Junaid went ahead and did what he had to. H,e indeed, did become coloured in a colour that made him stand out amongst all. He saw that as the colour of the Divine.

Watch the song here:

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The Junaid Jamshed not many knew

Sitting here, writing a blog that is an obituary for Junaid Jamshed. This is surreal. It is unbelievable. And is an unpleasant and painful task, but one that I must carry out as someone who knew him well. Because he would have liked me to write this. For two reasons: Firstly, Junaid, or JJ, or Jay as close friends called him, was a people’s person. He did not mind the attention. He was used to it from a very early age. I remember asking him, during one of the three interviews of his I did spanning over two decades, whether he was so used to attention as a celebrity that even when he came towards religion, he enjoyed the adulation. He laughed and did not deny it. So he would be ok with this. But secondly, and more importantly, he would appreciate that the correct, and the factual, and the good is written about him. Junaid was not as guarded with the media as I initially thought…not guarded enough. His utterances often got him into trouble – he did not weigh words as one would expect from someone who had spent most of his life under the spotlight. So he ended up saying things that ruffled so many feathers at both ends of the spectrum. More than three years ago, after I met him and Shahi Hasan at Shahi’s studio for a feature story, he had later requested me to write about the other side of him. “People just see me as the person who stops women from driving cars and wants to deny women independence. I’m not like that! And there is more to me. Can you write something positive about me?” he had said. I had told him that journalism is something I do with honesty, and I will not write positive stuff unless I find positive stuff about him worth penning. He agreed. I did end up writing some positive stuff after all. That is what I am doing once again right now. He would have wanted this.

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So there is stuff about Junaid we all know but then there is stuff that we all don’t know.

Like the fact that he was big on not just charity but in particular about mother and child health, and had raised money and set up many medical care centres for maternal health. “The year was 2003. I remember reading somewhere that a woman travelling from Jhang to Faisalabad on a tonga in full-term labour died because no maternal health facility was close by. That story shook me. Pakistan’s women should not have to go through this,” he had said in that interview. During the interview, I had shared with him about the good work being done at the Koohi Goth Fistula Hospital. He started working on gathering both funds and support for the cause, and then raised enough money to support and cover the cost of some major projects the hospital needed funds for. Those getting treatment don’t even know that the person who helped give them a new lease of life is Junaid. The many unnamed individuals and families he was helping through his charity work will be hard hit at the loss.

Like the fact that he always, always struggled with his inner self after having chosen the path that he chose. I recall another pointed question I had asked, jestingly. “So the beard is your choice. But why not trim it?” “Yeh mat bolo (Don’t say that). It’s not easy,” he replied, and I felt guilty I ever asked that. An excerpt of the interview went like this:

“Sitting in Shahi Hasan’s studio, his fingers, a couple of times, delicately traced the contours of the guitar strings. But an inner commitment is stronger than the temptation. He hummed a few lines, but stopped. The darling of the Pakistani masses is no longer a balladeer. The passion has been channelised towards a higher love. His songs formerly talked about how to woo a beloved… his nasheeds and naats still do. But the Beloved has changed. JJ has evolved.”

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Trying to practice religion is an uphill task. There is always discrimination, and criticism, and of course he had to bear all that. Misogynist. Chauvinist. Mullah. The titles were many. So were the attacks on his selfies with female friends. Ironically, these were often hurled by the very people who supposedly believe that one should live and let live. The very people who will forever rely on his songs when they feel patriotic or heart-broken or in love or happy or sad.

For me, his voice has been with me through me own transitions. From a music buff to one who developed the heart and the taste for the naat and nasheed genre, his voice was a part and parcel of the journey. Even at the age of 52, his voice sounded young and untainted.

Junaid, like all of us, had his shortcomings. I strongly disagreed with so many of his stances, and agreed with others, like many of us. But he was a good soul, a loving son, husband and father. He made efforts to help others. He did help thousands, both through his charity and through his role in reviving the faith of so many. Like all of us, he may have fallen and gotten up many times on the path he chose. But he chose to stay on that path anyways. Not many take that path after a taste of such fame and adulation. Reminds one of his song:

Hum kyun chalain uss raah par jis raah par sub hee chalain

Kyun na chunain who raasta jis par naheen koi gaya…

He is just one story and this is just one obituary out of the 47 who lost their lives today. Each story unique. Each life unparalleled. Lives full of promise. Lives cut short.

Life is short. And unpredictable. If we take home one thing from Junaid’s passing, which I pray will be accepted by Allah as shahadat (martyrdom), it is to stop judging others.

Rest in peace JJ. And thank you for all the goodness you spread and the service you offered to humanity. May you be rewarded multi-fold in the Hereafter.

Published also at http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/43759/the-junaid-not-many-knew/

Junaid Jamshed and the ‘maternal instinct’

By Farahnaz Zahidi / Photo: Ameer Hamza

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A side to this man shrouded from public eye has to do with his work as philanthropist whose focus is maternal health. PHOTO: AMEER HAMZA

A side to this man shrouded from public eye has to do with his work as philanthropist whose focus is maternal health. PHOTO: AMEER HAMZAA side to this man shrouded from public eye has to do with his work as philanthropist whose focus is maternal health. PHOTO: AMEER HAMZA

Who would have thought that the pop-icon turned televangelist who irked women with the statement “it is better if women are not taught to drive” has invested the last ten years trying to save the lives of underprivileged women of Pakistan

Junaid Jamshed — the name brings to one’s mind an image of two juxtaposed pictures: one of a drop-dead handsome young Junaid, the other of a seasoned man with a long beard and a mellower face, beckoning people to come towards Islam.

Yet, there is a side to this man shrouded from the public eye. And that has to do with his work as a philanthropist whose focus is maternal health. Once known as the darling of female fans, Junaid is still very connected to women — he is helping save the lives of thousands of them in Pakistan. The man continues to surprise us and challenge stereotypes.

At the Muslim Charity fund-raising dinners in Manchester, Birmingham and London May 31 to June 2, 2013. PHOTO: MOHAMMED RAYAZ

Yet, he does not reveal this side to his life readily. The first of a series of interviews, as he agreed to talk to The Express Tribune, revolved around Vital Signs and his metamorphosis into the world of preaching. Sitting in Shahi Hasan’s studio, his fingers, a couple of times, delicately traced the contours of the guitar strings. But an inner commitment is stronger than the temptation. He hummed a few lines, but stopped. The darling of the Pakistani masses is no longer a balladeer. The passion has been channelised towards a higher love. His songs formerly talked about how to woo a beloved… his nasheeds and naats still do. But the Beloved has changed. JJ has evolved.

The second interview was hard to schedule. His travelling is incessant, more for philanthropic work and less for proselytising, contrary to popular belief. “I think I am ready to talk in detail. It is time people hear my side of the story. I may come across as someone who has something against women. I’m NOT!” he said on the phone while he was at the site of a model village of 200 houses near Rahimyar Khan built with his support for flood-hit people.

Meray oopar bohat zimmedari hai. As a human, a Muslim, a Pakistani, a person whom people know. I cannot turn away from these responsibilities; that would be [ingratitude]. Being grateful increases blessings and being ungrateful sucks them away,” he said at the second interview, sitting in his comfortable home in DHA, Karachi. He had just returned from a trip to the UK to raise funds for charity.

A suitcase is forever ready for the globe-trotter. It is pertinent to wonder how he balances family life and his added responsibilities. “I try my best to balance. Whatever time I give to my family is quality time. Ayesha and the kids will vouch for it,” he said. Any conversation with him is incomplete without periodic mention of his wife Ayesha. But he does agree that there is a price to his philanthropy. “The life of this world and the Hereafter are like two wives of one man. If you please one, the other will be upset. It’s a choice you have to make. Fact of the matter is that when we struggle for the Hereafter, Allah is pleased. And when Allah is pleased the life of this world improves automatically. Theek hai na?” he said, smartly interspersing an element of preaching in the interview. He never lets go of that opportunity.

 Muslim Charity has established five hospitals in Pakistan in Jhang, Faisalabad, Mangani,  Rawalakot and in Lahore. PHOTO: MUSLIM CHARITY

“Pakistan’s women should not have to go through this.”

“The year was 2003. I remember reading somewhere that a woman travelling from Jhang to Faisalabad on a tonga in full-term labour died because no maternal health facility was close by. That story shook me,” said Junaid.

At the Muslim Charity fund-raising dinners in Manchester, Birmingham and London May 31 to June 2, 2013. PHOTO: MOHAMMED RAYAZ

Comparing it with the comfort and facilities which are available to women in the cities, like his wife at the birth of their four children, he felt deeply disturbed at why so many women in Pakistan had to go through this. “It was during that time that I came to know that this organisation called ‘Muslim Charity’ was working to improve the state of maternal health. I contacted them to ask how I could help in my small way. I have been affiliated with them since then.” Junaid now works as the vice president of Muslim Charity, and uses his public influence, talks and naats to raise funds for the causes.

Till now, with his support, the charity has managed to make five hospitals in Pakistan mainly focusing on maternal health. As a global initiative, the charity works on improving maternal health the world over.

The masjid schools

A fascinating project Junaid has been working on is an interesting attempt at consensus-building between the clergy in Pakistan’s rural areas and those who believe in literacy as the answer to Pakistan’s problems. “How we do this is simple. We identify impoverished rural areas and broken-down mosques. We then reconstruct mosques and construct small houses for the village imams. In return, we request them to allow use of the mosque from 8 am to 12 am,” he said.

Part of this project is to sensitise locals and persuade them to send their children to these schools. These are regular schools where the children have the option of also learning the Quran. “The idea is to get these kids off the streets. We make them realise that they have a responsibility towards themselves. With mentorship, they realise that education is their path to a better life. Our aim is to produce peaceful and responsible citizens.”

In Sindh alone, up till now, they are responsible for putting 3,500 children back in school, both boys and girls. “One of them recently sat his CSS exam. I had tears when I heard this,” he said.

On men, women and balance

“It is sad how women are objectified. Rights to women have been given by the Creator. There is no problem with women working. Didn’t Hazrat Khadija (RA) work?” he said almost defiantly when asked about his views on women and their rights, adding that limits have been defined by God for both men and women. “Women should not be coerced in any way. A man needs to be more sensitive towards his wife. A woman’s biggest insecurity is loss of control.”

A Muslim Charity tent city in Dadu in 2011. PHOTO: MUSLIM CHARITY

He admitted candidly that Pakistani society was, according to one view, chauvinistic and male-driven. It is a place where men often oppress women. “For the sake of family honour, Pakistani women continue to suffer. Divorce may have been considered an unsavoury thing in the time of the Prophet (PBUH) but [it] was not a taboo, unlike [in] today’s Pakistani society!” he said. “In a society where [the] male-child preference still exists and women are blamed for producing too many daughters, will men not stand up for them? I have always felt strongly about the rights of women.”

When asked why families seem to be falling apart, he has a simple formulaic solution. “Damage control lies in this: men should control their tempers and women [should] think before they speak.”

Junaid Jamshed and Ali Haider performing at the Spiritual Chords Nasheed concert held in South Africa in August 2011. PHOTO: MUSLIM CHARITY SOUTH AFRICA

So is Ayesha allowed to drive?

“I knew you’d ask this!” he said with a chuckle. “Before I got married, I was visiting my father-in-law with a friend. My father-in-law mentioned that my wife-to-be was learning how to drive, and I was happy to hear that. But my friend, a senior, advised me, as experienced friends do: ‘Don’t teach your wife how to drive’. That was what I mentioned light-heartedly in that show.”

Junaid Jamshed helped raise funds for the charity that was involved with the building of Doha village in Sanjarpur, Rahimyar Khan. PHOTO: MUSLIM CHARITY

After he got married, he tried to teach her to drive but couldn’t because of a paucity of time. “She never insisted and never learnt,” he added. “It never really was an issue for us.” Wary of calling himself a scholar, he is clear that he is in no position to pass a verdict about women who drive. “But my personal opinions, likes and dislikes are my own. I have a right to them.”

The crossroad and the road less traveled

It was around 1999 when his solo album Uss raah par was released. The main track of the same title was conceived metaphorically by Shoaib Mansoor. “He knew that something had changed in me,” said Junaid, recalling the lyrics: hum kyun chalain uss raah par jis raah par sub hee chalain. Kyun na chunain wo raasta jis par naheen koi gaya. In a very Robert Frost fashion, the song talked about the road less traveled, which, in JJ’s life, did make all the difference.

“The transition in me had started. That song was about my journey. But at that time we couldn’t have showed it in the video. People were not ready for it.” He had not gone public with his change then. But he had started visiting religious scholars for his own inner healing. “I had everything — fame, money. But I did not feel complete. Being in a masjid made me feel at peace. Masjids still have the same effect on me. It is the place where we discover humanity. I confess that I had no plans of leaving music at that time. But I could feel I was changing. I couldn’t run away from it.”

And does he miss his past life? “Naheen yaar. No withdrawal symptoms of my past life. I own and cherish my time with Vital Signs. I am happy that as a singer I contributed to my country in a positive way. I lived that part of my life to the fullest. But now that is the past,” he said, with a direct look, again defying the pre-conceived notion that he no longer talks to women directly or makes eye contact with the opposite sex.

Ramzan offering

This Ramzan he will be seen again on TV every day, all through the holy month, sharing what he knows. “It will be different,” he said, alluding to an approach that relies on more outreach as opposed to sermons. He agrees that people should be sensitised about civic responsibilities through religious shows. “Breaking a red signal, parking a car behind someone’s, evading taxes: I consider all of these major sins. Religion IS about being a better, more considerate human.”

While Junaid is armed with Islamic study and training, he stops people from calling him amaulana. “It is a compliment when people call me that but I don’t think I am worthy of that.” His pet peeve is “When people use the word mullah or maulvi in a derogatory way.” For now, it appears that he is neither and defies being pegged as one thing or another.

Making a difference

We highlight three other people who are acting much in the same way as Junaid Jamshed to help those around them

Sarfaraz Rehman

The CEO of Dawood Foundation smiles a guarded smile, instantly commands respect, has a command over literature and poetry, and completely owns the floor when he begins public speaking. He is best known for being associated with CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). “Religion is more than just spiritual and ritualistic attainment. It is a code of life intertwined with a belief in Allah, which then helps one live in a fair, calm, equitable manner and makes the plank of value addition to the community a major goal,” says the man who uses religion to support his mentoring and academic activities. The Dawood Foundation just finished a city campus for the Karachi School for Business & Leadership, a graduate management school, established in strategic collaboration with the University of Cambridge, Judge Business School.

Hina Shamsi Nauman

With infectious energy, this mother of three wants to contribute to society. You can find her planting mangroves with her students to fight delta flooding, or selling hand-crafted environment-friendly stationery made by physically challenged people. She teaches Quranictafseer to groups of women, and teaches business ethics and what Islam says about that at university. From a traditionally religious family, she studied Islam in-depth by choice at a more mature stage, and feels that “a leap of faith is what it takes to discover oneself. But it was not easy coming out of the closet about it”. A teacher for the past seven years, this business grad decided to bring religion to her university students, breaking the taboo that religious discussions are only for the madrassas.

Aly Balgamwala

They call him “disco maulvi” and he fits the bill, happy with the description. He tweets incessantly, has his hand in a lot of social causes, and blogs. An entrepreneur by profession, the tech-savvy Aly’s niche is activism for social causes through social media, be it the cause of a better Karachi or raising civic awareness. As a founding trustee of Ihsaas Trust, a not-for-profit set up to provide Islamic Microfinance along with other charitable work, he and his team “use this platform to advocate husn-e-khuluq (good behaviour/ethics) as taught by Islam within the context of business and personal life.” Aly has been a volunteer teacher at “Active Saturdays”, a Saturday class for young men aged 10 to 15 years.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, July 21st, 2013.

Naya Pakistan: Revitalised

 

Published: March 8, 2013

Years have passed since their iconic debut album rocked staid and straight-laced Pakistan. Now the Vital Signs are back with an offering for our times.

On the 14th of August 1987, from among a people exhausted by an oppressive and stifling dictatorship, rose four young men with one simple song that revitalised the dwindling hopes of a nation. Hailed as the ‘second national anthem’, Dil Dil Pakistan (DDP) gave the nation a new lease of life. While it was that very dictatorship that gave DDP unprecedented airtime, a year later the long-awaited spring of democracy followed. Pakistan’s vital signs were stabilised. Or so it seemed.

Twenty-five years later, those vital signs have virtually flat-lined. Democratically ruled yet lacking peace, security and justice, the nation has been pushed well past the brink of despair.

At this juncture, when we collectively stare into the abyss, Naya Pakistan, it seems, was destined to happen. It began as a casual reunion of old friends at Shahi Hasan’s studio, a bit of jamming over Salman Ahmed’s idea for this song, a common cause, a shared vision, and voila! The four prodigal members of the legendary pop musical band Vital Signs decided some Vital Junoon was required to give the nation hope through the medium they knew best — music. Thus was born Naya Pakistan — Inshallah.

Within 2 hours of its release on February 2013, it had clocked sixty thousand unique hit on the music sharing website Soundcloud. In twenty-four hours it had been googled 2.5 million times, with thousands sharing it on Facebook and Twitter. Despite having no Bollywood movie, TV channel or corporate sponsorship to support it, Naya Pakistan went viral in the true sense of the word.

Enthusiastic fans may call it the new national anthem, but Naya Pakistan is no Pak Sar Zameen, and it’s no DDP either. The latter is almost a part of Pakistani folklore, a timeless message to be handed down generation after generation.

Naya Pakistan is a metaphor for unity. In this polarised country, acceptance and tolerance for viewpoints other than one’s own is rare. At this point, these men have, while respecting each other’s values but maintaining their own, become part of a joint venture for a common cause. If they could peacefully set aside their ideological differences and work around them to unite for a common cause, why can’t the nation do the same? This underlying message is more powerful and important than the medium used to convey it.

The four men are no longer the young and the restless. Much has happened and much has changed. They have evolved. Their once youthful faces are now marked by laugh lines and crow’s feet. Their impulsiveness has been replaced by thoughtfulness. They have come of age.

But a few things have, luckily, remained the same. Like their idealism. Like their hope for better days for Pakistan. Like their sincerity and candidness.

Most importantly, their bond of friendship has not changed. As they sit together and share jokes about the days gone by, it’s clear that they are not mere celebrities or former band mates, but friends.

Here they talk about then and now, about the purana and naya Pakistan. And how they still believe that Aitebaar bhi aa hi jayega, chalo to sahee.

Salman Ahmed : In First Person

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Photo: Chris Ramirez

“It was the spring of 1988. I was a medical student whose only dream was playing cricket for Pakistan. Our cricket team’s success was the only happiness I felt during General Zia’s oppressive military dictatorship. People back then mainly listened to pirated western songs or Bollywood music, and thought Pakistani music was uncool. I was made fun of for following my junoon of music and giving up a serious and noble profession like medicine.

Then Dil Dil happened. The success of Vital Signs coincided with a spectacular cultural and political revolution in the country. Democracy returned as a young 35 year old woman, Benazir Bhutto, became prime minister while Dil Dil Pakistan became the soundtrack to change.

If I compare Pakistan yesterday and today, this is what I see: The Pakistan of today has a robust, noisy press and a vibrant social media; back then, we only had a bureaucratic PTV and Radio Pakistan. Today, we have an Oscar winning woman; back then our women only dreamt of winning. Back then we had a corrupt, incompetent dictatorship, while today we have a corrupt, incompetent democracy. Back then, Nawaz Sharif was a chief minister who aspired to become a cricketer. Today a cricketer, Imran Khan, has the chance of becoming a prime minister. The Pakistan of today is attacked by killer US drones and dengue fever; back then there were Soviet Kalashnikovs & Vital-mania.

A lot has happened since then. My wife Samina and I are building model villages in Pakistan. I’ve been a UN goodwill ambassador for 10 years. I have had the good fortune to have recorded with international artists such as Peter Gabriel and Melissa Etheridge and have performed at the Nobel peace prize ceremony. I am also a music professor at Queens College in NY.

The world has not been able to rob me of my idealism. I am motivated to help bring change to Pakistan in the fields of culture, education, health and diplomacy. Pakistan’s wealth is its youth and women. I have had the support of three very strong women in my life: my grandmother Aziza, my mother Shahine and my wife Samina.

It is an amazing feeling recording this song with my four friends, almost as if the Divine power of “Kun Fa Ya Kun” brought us together. God is Great. He has shown me that no amount of money, fame or power can equal the blessing of having great friends.

It’s always darkest just before dawn. Hope is a game changer and this song provides hope for a revolutionary change. The new generation is starving for peace, love and happiness. I have deep faith that with sincere, honest leadership, Pakistan will develop into a first world nation in my life time and our children will see a Naya Pakistan, Inshallah!”

Junaid Jamshed : The more things change

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Photo: Aania Shah

A conversation with Junaid Jamshed may be many things, but it’s never boring. The formerVital Signs frontman remains a charmer despite the obvious changes he has gone through. JJ, as he is popularly known, is easy to talk to and seems to be at peace despite an inner struggle.

Yet, beneath the casual demeanour, Junaid is guarded around the media. Hawk-like, we wait for him to slip or err, and scrutinize everything right from his family life and business to his inner dilemmas. Of all the former band mates his transformation has been the most sweeping, and the one most people still can’t seem to come to grips with. “He was ours! Such a good-looking man! Such a soulful voice! Why can’t he be the person he was?” This is a common refrain from many of his long-time fans, but Junaid feels he is still the same person, as are Shahi, Salman or Nusrat. But he admits his focus and lifestyle have changed. “Meri zindigi abb woh naheen rahi,” he says.

While he is a part of this venture, he just sung a couple of lines at the beginning of the song without any musical accompaniments. That’s a point he would not compromise on, and made his feeling clear politely but firmly. As Salman said in a recent interview, “Junaid did not break his vow [to not get back into music]”. Yet, as critics of the song also agree, his vocals set the pace and are, perhaps, the best part of Naya Pakistan, in addition to Salman’s electrifying guitar solo.

“Why do I get the feeling that people want me to start singing again?” is Junaid’s question, one that has an obvious answer. However, his decision of renouncing music is almost a decade old and still remains strong.

He chuckles with Shahi the way only old friends can, and Junaid, in that moment, seems to have turned the clock back two decades. “We were all yaars. We still are”

“Junaid is the most level headed out of all of us,” says Shahi. But Junaid interjects, saying, “Shahi is the coolest. He’s the anchor of the band. I am not as moody but I am impulsive.”

He goes on to say, “I miss the thumbs up from Rohail and Shahi when I record now. I crave their feedback. We were friends first and band mates later. That’s why, even when we stopped making music together, the friendship never ended.” He expresses his wish that Rohail could have been part of the project too. He and Shahi both confirm that this song was an unplanned venture, and Coke Studio keeps Rohail very busy.

When it comes to Pakistan, his optimism is tempered by realism. “Things will get better for Pakistan. But if each one us doesn’t do our bit, it’s not just the country that will suffer … the ‘I’, the individual, will suffer. We have to go beyond the psyche of selfishness and narcissism and must think of collective benefit. We have gotten so much from this country. It is time to give back.”

Shahzad Hasan : People use Inshallah for all the wrong purposes. This song uses it for the right ones.

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Photo: Aania Shah

The startling green eyes, the signature cap perched on his head, the soft voice. Shahzad Hasan aka Shahi takes time to warm up. But once he does, he talks passionately, and makes perfect sense.

“We didn’t do this song for personal fame. We did this because as educated Pakistanis it’s our responsibility to spread positivity,” he says. “My, Rohail and Junaid’s fathers are from the armed forces. Love for this country is instilled in us. My father fought two wars and was injured in them. But it’s sad that as a nation, we no longer feel that Pakistanis are a family and there is a sense of disconnect. We do not know our own neighbours. It’s time to stop criticising each other. Each Pakistani is part of a larger machine … each one of us is important.”

Shahi always stays in the background. “Because I love what I do. Junaid was always the front man. And I loved his being the front man because he was best suited for it. There was no jealousy because when you love somebody, you are only happy when that person is in the front,” says the diehard friend.

”We, the Vital Signs, never wanted to be in the limelight without each other. I think Allah gave us that success because we were not selfish,” says Shahi and goes on to praise Junaid in that same unselfish spirit. “They say a singer is at his best as he ages. Junaid’s voice has a lot more body now. He sang in an era when voices could not be technically altered in a studio, and he was still very good,” comments Shahi.

A patriot to the core, Shahi feels that, “Pakistan ka wohi ho ga jo hum is ka karain gay. It’s time to give back to the country. This country has given me an identity. Sadly, an entire generation of children growing up in affluent backgrounds and elite schools are growing up with an inferiority complex, thinking that our country is less than others. The country is a mess? Clean it up!”

Nusrat Hussain : Flight to a better Pakistan

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Photo: Aania Shah

For high-flying Nusrat Hussain, music isn’t just a medium, it’s a lifelong passion. “Music is not a passing phase for me. I can never be detached from it.”

This airline pilot has to juggle his two loves: music and flying, while also working on his second album. His first album, ‘Amrit’, was released in early 1990s.

“I have been working on my album ‘Kaho’ all this time. I had gone to Shahi to get some final work done on it, and ended up doing Naya Pakistan!” says Nusrat who has worked as a pilot for more than 20 years and is currently based in the Middle East.

“It felt as if we were never away for this long after all; such has been our bond that it felt like coming home,” he says.

An idealist like his friends, Nusrat echoes Salman’s sentiments as he compares the Pakistan of yesterday and today: “Pakistan was under a morbid dictatorship with little freedom of expression. Now we are free but facing a multitude of other problems like terrorism, corruption, sectarianism, the energy crisis, and inflation,” he says. “And last but not the least, brain drain,” he adds, commenting on the ongoing exodus that is the direct result of the chaos prevailing in Pakistan.

“I have always been politically aware and had the desire to bring about a change in society through my music,” says the ex-Vital Signs key board player-cum-guitarist-cum vocalist.

“I dream of a better world … a better Pakistan. Sadly, at times, like everyone else, I feel I am losing hope. With time, I have grown more practical and pragmatic, but the response that this song has generated shows how desperately we need a change in Pakistan,”  ” But that has not taken away his desire to give back to Pakistan. “I am even more geared up to do something for my country.”

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, March 10th, 2013.

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