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Collaboration For A Cause
Blogs - Spotlight
By Cee Zee   
Salman Ahmad of Junoon collaborates with Peter Gabriel to Open Your Eyes

Salman Ahmad of JunoonI recently caught up with Salman Ahmad of Junoon. It so happened he was about to release his brand new single for Pakistan, Open Your Eyes – a cause close to heart. Not only that, this song was a collaboration with none other than Peter Gabriel, who was the frontman and founder of one of my favorite British pop-rock bands of the 80s, Genesis! Before he knew what had hit him (and considering we go way back), I had roped him in to do a candid one-on-one exclusive for Our Desi World.

Here is our little tête à tête about Open Your Eyes and other things that are keeping Salman up… and going.

Salman Ahmad with Peter Gabriel

Why “Open Your Eyes”?

I felt that when it comes to Pakistan and its people the whole world has a blind spot which prevents them from seeing it as it really is: a beautiful and vibrant nation made extremely fragile and vulnerable by the biggest natural disaster on the planet and its domestic troubles.

Why Peter Gabriel? What do you have in common with him?

Nusrat, classic rock and cricket were the common denominators.

I met Peter Gabriel in Oxford three years ago where I was performing at the Sheldonian Theatre for the Skoll Forum. Later we sat at dinner together with our wives and we talked about music and cricket! I asked him about his love for diverse musical genres like Qawwali and he told me that Pete Townsend of The Who was the one who first turned him onto Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Peter is a legendary artist and I was blown away by his humility and his expansive knowledge.

Peter Gabriel had collaborated with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and you were a huge fan of the ustad, is this collaboration inspired by that?

As I write in my book Rock & Roll Jihad, it was hearing the natural intersection and overlapping of East and West between Nusrat and Peter’s collaborations on “Passion” which gave me the inspiration to take Junoon’s sound in a totally new direction. It helped me create a new musical genre known as sufi-rock and gave the world songs like “Sayonee,” “Khudi,” “Ghoom” and now “Open Your Eyes.”

Who approached whom?

Salman & Samina Ahmad with Natalie Portman and Jeff SkollJust after the devastating news of the Pakistan floods hit me, I needed to express a flood of emotions through music and poetry. So I wrote the song and then reached out to my friend and Hollywood film producer Jeff Skoll and informed him that the world is completely oblivious to Pakistan’s peril and plight and there is a pathetic response to the flood disaster

Jeff played the role of alchemist because the next morning I received an e-mail from Peter Gabriel asking me how he could help. I was blown away… Peter heard the demo and responded, “You’ve done some very good work on this song!” He then agreed to come on board, as did Alison Sudol of A Fine Frenzy. After all these years, to have Peter Gabriel collaborate for a song for Pakistan was just perfect! Nusrat must be smiling in heaven!

What is the genre of this solo?

It is sufi-rock and it has got everything – sitars and guitars, drums and dhols, English and Urdu lyrics.

I was influenced by qawwali, the opera, the blues, The Beatles, Rumi, Iqbal and U2!

Peter has brought his soul as has Alison Sudol of A Fine Frenzy and special backing vocals by Samina, my much better half and co-founder of Salman and Samina Global Wellness initiative (SSGWI) www.ssgwi.org.

How much money do you hope to raise?

The more official downloads the song gets the more there is a chance of helping the cause for Pakistan as each dollar per download goes to Pakistan relief.

And we are hoping massive desi support so that the song receives wide coverage in the media and beyond, Inshallah.

What is Peter Gabriel like to work with?

Infinitely inspiring! He’s a musical legend and a compassionate artist who really cares for Pakistan and has great respect for artists. It was a once in a lifetime experience to do Open Your Eyes with Peter.

Alison Sudol too has been incredible. She sings the Amir Khusro chorus (om tum tana) along with Samina.

We’re planning to shoot a music video with Alison soon.

What message would like to give to Pakistanis around the world?

Jago aur jiyo, ik doojay say pyaar karo / andheri raat kay musafiro deep jalao / arahee hai subeh nau

What is your message for the West?

Open your eyes, save 20 million lives, open your heart, play your part, download the song and make a difference!

Who else would you like to collaborate with?

My sons Shamyl, Sherjan and Imraan! They’re awesome!

We have noticed a move towards spiritualism and activism, where are you headed personally and professionally?

My book Rock And Roll Jihad tells a story of a wandering spirit. When you see with the heart all the masks fall down, read the book and be inspired to go on your own Junooni journey!

What will you be doing In 10 years?

I’ll always be listening to the whisper in my heart. As Rumi said if you follow the music it will show you the way.

Open Your Eyes Here are some quick links & info:
Open Your Eyes released on November 2, 2010
Peter Gabriel and Salman Ahmad's CBC/Radio-Canada interview podcast
Preview Open Your Eyes on YouTube
Purchase and download Open Your Eyes from iTunes
Each dollar from your downloads will go to flood relief in Pakistan through www.ssgwi.org
So go ahead do your part and download!

 

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