April 9, 2008 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 421

Pakistani Rock Bands Push towards Democracy and Modernization

April 9, 2008 | By R. Barducci*
Pakistan | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 421

In recent years, the Pakistani music scene has been exploring and developing new genres of sound. Rock music has become very popular among the younger generation in Pakistan and across the entire South Asia region. Pakistani rock bands manage to fuse Western rock with Eastern melodies and Urdu lyrics. Some such as Junoon, have invented a new genre, called Sufi rock, in which the imagery of Sufism are brought to life through modern melodies. Lyrics deal predominantly with issues of love and daily life even though some artists are also active politically.

Following are descriptions of some of Pakistan's most popular bands, along with links to their music videos:


Junoon (in Urdu, "obsession") is one of Pakistan and South Asia 's most popular Rock bands. It was formed in 1990 by guitarist /songwriter /medical doctor Salman Ahmad in Karachi. Junoon is considered one of the most successful bands in the history of South Asian music, and its genre is defined as "Sufi rock," meaning a fusion of rock with subcontinental Sufi music, imagery, and lyrics. In 2005, the band's drummer Brian O'Connell returned to New York, and the other two band members, Ali Azmat and Salman Ahmad, have released their debut solo album, and have promised to reunite in the near future.

Salman Ahmed, a politically engaged musician who is against music censorship, defines himself as a "Sufi rock prodigy and an ardent advocate of peace." [1] Following the assassination of former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, he wrote on Junoon's website that the assassination was "a stark reminder that Pakistan needs to restore the rule of law, immediately. Otherwise, the law of the jungle will devour the fabric of society." [2] He also added that despite his critical view of Bhutto as a politician, for "the nation's self respect we need to know immediately who was behind her assassination" [3] and that "the government's version of events [of the assassination] are pure fantasy." [4] He stressed that Pakistan has "no system of justice and no credible electoral process," and that "desperate people will remove political candidates through desperate measures," [5] and that "the corrupt system helped create these suicide bombers and assassins" [6].

He also does not spare Bhutto herself from his criticism, writing, "Feudal politicians like Benazir, who presented herself as a 'modern leader,' still continued the essence of the subcontinent's colonial rule during her two times as prime minister." [7] He believes also that "the nexus between the Pakistani feudals and our military are the reason why India has left Pakistan so far behind, while we continue our confused, corrupt, and clumsy spiral to disaster." [8] Salman stated that "what's shocking is that PPP veteran politicians are brushed aside while power stays within the Bhutto clan. [Bhutto's son] Bilawal and [Bhutto's husband] Zardari are a slap in the face of democracy in Pakistan. This is not democracy, it's a monarchy, and the poor people of Pakistan pay for it with their lives." [9]

Official Junoon website:

Watch Junoon on Youtube:

"Nachoon gi":


"Allah hoo":

Photo from official Junoon website

Salman Ahmad. Photo from official website


Aaroh ("ascending" in Eastern classical music) is a one of the most well known Pakistani rock bands, and was founded in Karachi by Farooq Ahmed and Nabeel Nihal (who later left). Aaroh came to fame after winning the Pepsi-sponsored "Battle of the Bands" competition in 2002. Aaroh's music is defined as a fusion of Western rock and Eastern vocal style.

Official Aaroh website:

Photo from official Aaroh website

Image from Aaroh's "Raag Neela" video

Image from Aaroh's "Raag Neela" video

Band members:

Farooq Ahmed, vocalist

Khalid Khan, bass

Hiader Hashimi, lead and rhythm guitars

Jason Anthony, drums

Watch Aaroh on YouTube:

"Raag Neela":


"Na Kaho":

"Pyaar ka Jaal":



Call, a Pakistani alternative rock band, was started in 1994 at the National College of Arts in Lahore, by brothers Danish, Khurram, and Zulfiqar ("Xulfi"); Omer Pervaiz (who later left), and Shahzad Hameed (who also left). [10]

The group disbanded in October 2001 after Danish decided to leave the band. However, the band re-formed in 2002, after Khurram and brother Zulfiqar recruited Junaid Khan to do vocals.

In its previous lineup, Call paid homage to Western bands such as Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Iron Maiden. However, according to Pakistani media, "the reincarnated [band] version is alternative. Let's call it Urdu rock." [11]

Official Call website:

Junaid Khan. Photo from official website

Xulfi. Photo from official website

Mohammad Sultan Raja. Photo from official website

Band members:

Junaid Khan, vocalist

Zulfiqar J. Khan (Xulfi), lead, rhythm, bass, drums

Mohammad Sultan Raja, bass, rhythm guitar

Watch Call on YouTube:




"Sab Bhula Kai":


Jal (in Urdu, "water") is a Pakistani pop-soft rock band from Lahore, founded by Gohar Mumtaz.

Official Jal Website:

Photo from official Jal website

Band members:

Gohar Mumtaz, lead, rhythm guitar

Farhan Saeed, vocalist

Shazi, bass

Watch Jal on YouTube:



"Teri yaad":


*Dr. R. Barducci is a research fellow at MEMRI.

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