A slight trembler shook the local music scene recently when it was learnt, through various degrees of rumour-mongering, soothsaying, and other sketchy details, that bassist Brian O'Connell was no longer a part of Junoon. Now for those who have been following the Pakistani music scene closely (all three-and-a-half of you) this was major news. It was the first real evidence of the fissures that were said to be forming at the base of the Junoon machine.
When contacted for an earlier piece, Brian admitted that he had been "fired", so we decided to pursue the issue further and tried to glean more information from the horse's, or in this case the bassist's mouth. However, when he was interviewed, one found a meeker Brian, not quite recanting his earlier affirmation, but rather rephrasing it in ambiguous, murky prose. What gave? Was he under duress? Had the Junoon machinery gotten to him before we did? Or had he simply changed his mind? This writer was as confused as you probably are right now.
"I'm on temporary leave from the band right now due to a number of reasons. The most major is because I was in a car accident and I have some nerve damage in my arm, which affects my fingers. Since I can't play, the band is touring with Mekaal Hassan on bass. I'm enjoying the time off with my girls. I've just been hanging out, enjoying the summer vacation," said Brian.
That was all dandy, but when this writer had earlier talked to him, Brian was quite adamant that he had been "fired." Why, now, was he so mellowed down about the whole affair?
"The problem is, I missed a show in the Middle East. It was extremely unprofessional of me, but at the time I was going through some emotional turmoil and I was even considering leaving the touring aspect of music. It was taking its toll on my kids, and I'm a family man. It was kind of a mutual thing. I don't really regret it. It wasn't that I welcomed the situation, but I certainly wasn't unhappy with it. After all these years here, I'm considering a career change. Getting fired - I'm not really feeling bad about it."
So is there any bad blood between Brian and Junoon?
"No, no bad blood. Very little blood actually. Ali's so busy working in India; Salman lives in my hometown, New York. We hardly get a chance to interact. I really miss that. It used to be like the Junoon family. I'm also considering relocating to the States for the kids' benefit. I like the education my kids are getting here, but I'm a paranoid American. I worry about violence, anti-American sentiment, which I think is quite justified," he says.
Brian O'Connell claims that the nose-diving situation with the band and changes in his personal life sent him into the throes of depression, and there was a time he wouldn't leave his apartment or answer his phone.
"I would like to consider this a major hiccup in the band. If it doesn't work out, we're still going to remain in contact in some professional way, and certainly on a friendship level. I've known Salman since junior high school. Something like that can't just go away over a professional misunderstanding. I remain faithful. Whatever God has in store for the band, whether it be with or without me, ... Junoon will survive."
He does note that a post-Junoon scenario is emerging for him as he has begun getting job offers, but he is still reluctant to sever ties with the band - ties that have stood firm (relatively) for 12 years.
Were any creative differences within the band responsible for the current situation?
"There were creative differences, in a positive sense of the word. We were hearing more of Ali's compositions. As a band which really wants to evolve, what really got us down was when we were boxed in as a 'Sufi-Rock' band. That limits your creativity. Salman is ever-growing as a creative writer. He has historically written the bulk of the songs. I've remained on the technical side because being a westerner, I feel uncomfortable that my stuff may be perceived as too western," he safely covers his bases. "The fame and fortune don't mean much to me. In fact, I'd rather stay out of the limelight."
Keeping journalistic ethos in mind, we repeatedly tried to contact Salman Ahmed of Junoon. A representative told us that Salman would return to Karachi after wrapping up their tour and issue a press release very soon regarding the matter. Till our going to press, no such document was received, nor did Salman return our calls."My position in Junoon is temporarily non-existent, so I'm presently not a Junooni, not a full-time member."
Say what? Perhaps once Salman Ahmed is back in town, the dim miasma might clear up as far as Junoon's future is concerned. But something tells me this is the beginning of the end for this pioneering Pakistani group.Qasim Abdallah Moini