Water. Restless, moody, flowing. Ustad Ashiq Ali Mir says “Salman jo kehta hai woh kar ke dikhata hai.” While growing up, this ex-cricketer, ex-doc was all over London, Virginia, Kuwait, NY. Good he gave up medicine. Imagine him doing to patients what he does to the guitar!
A song you’d like everyone to know: “Imagine”. It speaks a universal message: Imagine there’s no country… You may say I’m a dreamer… I think we’re all dreamers, deep down. I am. I dream of one world, without countries, boundaries, passports, religions.
A song that symbolises you: “Mein Kaun Hoon.” Hamara hi hai. In order to find out who you are, you have to search your own conscience, right?
About cricket: I played in an exhibition match against the South African team when they were touring Pakistan scored 42 not out. Jonty Rhodes, who was fielding at point, goes “Hey man, drop the guitar, you gotta pick up the bat.” If there was another junoon in my life, besides music, it was cricket.
On evolution as a musician/ songwriter: As an artiste, you feel like a child every time you pick up your instrument or write a song though I’ve written 40 to 50. For me, soulfulness is a top priority and virtuosity doesn’t interest me that much. You can get the most happening sound out of playing very simply, so I try to push myself in directions where I don’t worry about how technically proficient I am but how I am able to express myself on the guitar.
Teenage idol: Imran Khan.
Most valuable possession: My music.
On Pakistan: I like the warmth and hospitality of the people. What I don’t like about it is the lack of tolerance.
Your guitar: A really beaten-up ebony rosewood Ibanez, six strings, electric. I have another favourite one: a double-necked Gibson la Jimmy Page.
Influences: Hindi film music, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix.
In songwriting: John Lennon, R. D. Burman.
Brian O’ Connell
Earth. Solid, stable, you know, all there! Brian met Salman in NY when they were both 13, went to the same high school, and played in their band, Eclipse. He studied music and worked with developmentally disabled people. In ‘92 Salman invited him to join Junoon.
Your guitar: The one I play with Junoon is a Washburn, five strings, it has a low B string (most bass guitars have four), so it goes lower. On Azadi I used a lot of the lower notes; the deeper you go the better it sounds.
On music education: Music is an art and you don’t need the education to put out good music. If a person can speak the language, they can write poetry; but if you know the language, you can write better poetry. By having education in music, you understand music, the technicalities and how it all fits together much more.
On being a session guitarist: That does really require a music education background. Because you go to a session studio, somebody hands you a piece of music you’ve never heard or played before. That was a challenge.
On teaching music: I taught in high school, college and junior high school (an absolute nightmare!). The last thing you want to do in your teens is pay attention to studies. Hormones get in the way, life in general gets in the way. You spend your whole time trying to discipline the class. I like teaching, but I found it was robbing me of my musical creativity.
A song you’d like everyone to know: “Amazing Grace”. How sweet the sound/that saved a wretch like me/I once was lost but now I’m found/was blind but now I see… It’s a very hopeful song, it’s about faith and the guiding light.
A song that symbolizes you: I am always discovering who I am as time passes. I’ll write a song about it!
Teenage idol: My only idol is Jesus Christ and He is a tough act to follow. You need a connection with God and realize that there is one God.
On the move to Pakistan: I’ve a sense of adventure and at that point, aside of my job, I had very little responsibility. I was single, and still young enough to take a crazy adventure. So I did.
On Pakistan: My favourite things in Pakistan are my wife Ayeshah, my daughters, my band Junoon, and the common man. And not just in Pakistan. In India, I find so much similarity between the cultures. You’ve shared a culture for thousands and thousands of years. It has only been 50 years of separation. I think if there’s any separation, that’s taken place on a political level. What I’d like to see with both countries is to break down the walls. Those walls were put up by people who really do not have a vision of peace, love and hope.
Most valuable possession: My wife Ayeshah (‘Gift of God’ and she is!) How crazy is it to think of someone with a steady job and the securities of the US to uproot and come here. I’ve had many relationships but I truly believe it was God’s will that I come here and meet her.
Influences: As a child, mostly guitarists Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix. Later, Steven Morris, Larry Coryell. Nowadays, Salman… I’m a very big fan of Salman!
Fire. Bright, hot, ballistic. Salman calls him tota, the original mimic, for his unusual Lahore meets Australia meets Texas accent. He worked in a bank for a week, has acted in TV serials, writes poetry and music, but his deepest unfulfilled ambition is to play guitar – he makes do with the air guitar! Unbelievably, Ali has had no training in singing. The guy who said he would teach him guitar just handed him the mike!
On evolution as a singer: There are so many different kinds of music you listen to that you end up taking with you. You venture out this way or that way and there always will be ways. You do things that you haven’t done before. You just go up there and do it, and try to reach that level. More than anything, you don’t worry about doing this garari (you know, the a-a-a-a-a!); you just emote. It’s all emotions. It’s like acting. Every song is like a script and you just read that script accordingly and that is the more important thing. In “Sayonee”, I don’t think I’m singing perfectly. I’m always like, I should have done that note, taken it there. You look at your work critically, but the emotion is there. That’s what reaches the people more.
A song you’d like everyone to know: Any song from Dave Mathews. The music is so so positive. It’s happy and sad at the same time. Musically it’s so much there. Lyrics, composition, voice, guitars, drum, bass.
On singing a capella in any place in the world: The bathroom. Great echo! I go to a friend’s place it has a staircase that has the greatest echo in the world and I go there and try to sing as loud as I can. It’s great.
A song that symbolises you: I said my head is a closet/ I am stuck inside/ Can’t see the light/ I and my head is in a nice house in the sky/ Got central heating/ And I’m around/We’ve been standing here for a long long time/I find sometimes it’s easy to be myself/And sometimes easy to be somebody else. It’s one of my favourite songs. I think it explains a lot of things.
Teenage idol: Pearl Jam, Freddie Mercury, Steven Tyler, A-ha, Robert Plant.
Guitarists: Jimmy Page, Joe Satriani.
On Pakistan: The thing I both love and hate about Pakistan is the people. The reason I am there is that I love the simplicity of the people, the kind of people who live there. At the same time, I am a very non-conformist person and I hate that the people their fake values and their lousy traditions.