Even after the split of Junoon — the celebrated trio of Ali Azmat, Salman Ahmad and Brian O’ Connell — the magic of their music lives on in the hearts of fans across the world.
After Brian recently made a comeback on a collaborative project with Call’s Junaid Khan, The Express Tribune caught up with the guitarist who rocked the music scene in Pakistan for a good decade. He is settled in New York and his focus has now shifted from public performance to education, which is what he studied at college. More than the classroom setting, Brian says he finds himself more effective as a teacher in a one-on-one lesson, as he teaches guitar, bass and music theory to an array of artistic students ranging from eight to 50 years.
“Although I am indeed less visible than I was when with Junoon, I have certainly not stayed away from the Pakistani music scene. I have worked with and maintain contact with Salman and to a greater degree with Ali, who I tour with when he comes to this side of the world. I also keep in touch with my friends in and out of the music scene in Pakistan,” Brian says, explaining that he is still deeply connected to the art.
He reflects upon his time in Pakistan with fondness. “It was the experience of a lifetime and I consider myself nothing less than blessed,” he says. For Brian “to embrace a new frontier and culture as a farangi, to be welcomed and adopted by a country of such caring and loving souls, to create a new art form and nurture its acceptance and appreciation, then use it as a vehicle to carry a message of peace, love, spirituality and individual soulful empowerment which transcends political, religious and social boundaries” are all experiences that made his journey meaningful.
Having played with what was arguably the greatest band of Pakistan, Brian feels blessed that the trio could maintain and develop the commitment to carry their positive message, amidst opposition from successive governments who thought it a threat “to empower the people to be proud of their heritage and unity and present that to the world.”
Turning to the politically-charged nature of Junoon’s music, which gave voice to the angst of the youth, we ask Brian how he reacted to the threats the band received. “When our message was a reflection of a massive and collective voice of political awareness and dissatisfaction — which was perceived as a coup d’état — those in power sought to squelch our efforts and mere existence through the exercise of physical threat, banning our message from the airwaves, whatever they could do to keep us quiet,” he says.
“I was dangerous at times but we are still standing and our music survived the bans quite nicely. When our message is of a spiritual nature, it has the ability to create bridges, not walls.”
“Traditionally, I often found myself being the mediator between my two hot-blooded Punjabi brothers,” Brian says, talking about the controversial break-up of Junoon. “I guess I eventually lost my energy and ultimately lost my mind, which I’m still hoping to find.”
When asked if there was any chance that the beloved trio would re-unite, Brian says: “Reunite? I guess that would depend on ones definition of ‘reunion’. I’m not sure about that one. But it sure makes good press, doesn’t it?”
Talking about his collaboration with Junaid on “Keh Do” Brian says the number appealed to him because of its “pleasant and understated accessibility”. “What hooked me were the lyrics and that cool octave-scoop which starts the chorus,” he adds.
On that note, Brian says he would like to work with artists in Pakistan. “I would like to continue to give back to a country which has given so much to me. I want to reconnect in a deeper way to the artists who are putting their souls out there and offer my support however I can,” he says.
But does Brian have any plans of returning to Pakistan? To us, it doesn’t seem to be happening in the near future, as he says: “If opportunity presents itself, I would always look forward to getting back to Pakistan. I have so many friends who I have not seen in a long time, I miss Pakistan a lot.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 19th, 2012.
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