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The Passionate Troubadour

Salman Ahmad of Junoon has his hands more than full

Neha Sharma Jun 10, 2008
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“I can’t believe it’s April already!” Ahmad exclaims sitting over the phone from New York. The man tailors his time seamlessly through anything that vents his junoon for music. He has just wrapped up his college tour through the States – San Diego, Chicago, Massachusetts – before which he was playing Spain, and finished recording a song with Melissa Etheridge – ‘Ring the Bells’ – for his upcoming English album. The song was recorded in Burbank, California in March 2008, and is, in Ahmad’s words, a beautiful anthem of love.

Ahmad met Etheridge for the first time at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo in December 2007. At the ceremony he brushed shoulders with the likes of Al Gore, Alicia Keys, Uma Thurman, Kevin Spacey and KT Tunstall but it was his meeting with Etheridge that got him his biggest collaboration yet. After both of them wrapped up their performances at the ceremony, Etheridge called Ahmad to her dressing room for a brief chat. “We spoke about this frequency of love we shared with the audience and of global and humanitarian issues both of us were deeply involved in.” Ahmad believes the two shared a lot in common; perhaps only geography played shallow divide. “Hum log pagdandiyon pe chalnewale log aur ye log highway pe chalna chahte hain,” he laughs. The friendship they share today is priceless for Ahmad. Etheridge invited him to her California home, where he spent a few days and the two formed a much cherished bond. “Growing up in Kansas being a lesbian, one needs to be very brave. I too faced the same problem on a different level perhaps – as growing up in a conservative Muslim family where I could either be a doctor or an engineer, to take up music, I needed to muster up courage.”

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In 2002, when Ahmad came back to his second home – New York – after what felt like a lifetime, his goodwill and well-wishers didn’t keep him a stranger to the city for long. The Hollywood spirituality guru Deepak Chopra, for one, slid him into his list of glamorous friends/clients. Introducing Ahmad’s brand of eclectic rock to Madonna, Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox (Eurythmics), Chopra opened doors to artistic grapevine of NY for Ahmad. “Deepak played ‘Ghoom Tanna’ for Dave, he got in touch with me after and asked if I would be interested in singing on a track he wrote,” says Ahmad. In March 2007, Ahmad joined Annie Lennox, Natalie Imbruglia and Sarah McLaughlin on Dave’s composition ‘Go Green’ for the green campaign.

The writer in Ahmad is a surprise to most. His involvement in humanitarian issues and need to voice his concern and opinion earned him a column at WashingtonPost.com. He writes for the On Faith column started off by Sally Quinn (of Washington Post) and NewsWeek Editor Jon Meacham. Sally Quinn, a good friend of Ahmad’s, also suggested he write an autobiographical book about his music, culture, Islam – spanning his journey from Pakistan through New York. “It’s not exactly an autobiography, though mostly yes, I would also write about the partition and what my parents went through during that time,” says Ahmad. He landed himself a deal with Simon and Schuster and is currently working on the book. Ahmad’s English album and book will be released in late 2008.

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Salman’s Fans

  • Ahmad has a fan mail from U2’s front man Bono which is also up on Junoon’s official website – www.junoon.com.
  • Ahmad (vocals and guitars) and PJ Olsson rehashed the Elvis Costello classic ‘(What’s so Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding’ last year for CBS. The song also features on the popular comedy sitcom Aliens in America.
  • Madonna wanted to collaborate with Ahmad after listening to a track (‘Mein to Nachoongee’) of his.
  • Ahmad did a track on Deepak Chopra’s album Gift of Love, which also features Madonna, Martin Sheen and Goldie Hawn.
  • Ahmad is guest faculty at Queens College, NY where he teaches poetry and music once every week.
  • Chris Tarry, the Junoon bassist, won the Juno award (the Canadian Grammy) in the category of best contemporary jazz album this year.
  • Ahmad is also a UN ambassador for AIDS.

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