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Salman Ahmad Interview

Aired February 4, 2010 - 16:49:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His band has been described as the U2 of Asia and Salman Ahmad himself as one of the Muslim world's biggest pop stars.


ANDERSON: Praised in both New York and Lahore, Ahmad challenges the conservative values of Pakistani society with musical lyrics infused with political messages.


ANDERSON: His group, Junoon, has fans around the world, with music that combines traditional sufi style themes with Western pop.

One of their most famous songs, Taonay (ph), reiterates the message of peace and change.


ANDERSON: Ahmad, who is also a medical doctor, is now telling his story in a new book entitled "Rock and Roll Jihad: A Muslim Rock Star's Revolution." Derided by some, worshipped by many -- Salman Ahmad is our Connector of the Day.


ANDERSON: We've got many of you talking and I spoke to Salman earlier today from New York. And I began by asking him a question from one of you.

Saltan Ameya (ph) wanted to know why Pakistani music had stopped moving forward recently.

And this is what he said.


SALMAN AHMAD, MUSICIAN, UNAIDS GOODWILL AMBASSADOR: Talabani and al Qaeda are -- are, you know, creating mayhem, chaos in the region. And they don't like musicians. They don't like, you know, poets. They don't like girls' schools. They don't like anything which creates light.

And so there's a -- there's a war happening right now, which is the forces of al Qaeda and Taliban and -- and then brand (ph) Pakistan.

But if you look at, you know, Pakistani music, despite the -- the violence, you had amazing, amazing music, poetry. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a man who was a mentor of mine, who collaborated with Peter Gabriel, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. And -- and this, again, is way before 9/11 ever happened.

And the -- the problem is that, you know, with the -- with the violence that's taking place, the political violence, at the moment, there's a danger in being a rock musician or any kind of musician...

ANDERSON: Does that worry you...

AHMAD: -- in Pakistan. So I'm hoping...

ANDERSON: Are you concerned about that personally?

AHMAD: Well, yes, absolutely. I mean I'm -- I'm flying to Pakistan on the 9th and we have to play secret gigs. You know, we have to -- it's like being a musical guerrilla. With music, it transcends boundaries, cultural, faith, political and what "Rock and Roll Jihad" is saying is, look, rock and roll is a symbol of freedom, justice, peace. And the "J" word, which is, you know, hijacked by al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, stands, in my words, a struggle -- a positive struggle.

You know, in Muslim culture, when we would go -- that's why I used the -- the word "Rock and Roll Jihad" -- is that they're not incongruent terms. They work together. Jihad is a positive word and I would like, you know, to rescue that word away from al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

ANDERSON: And -- and I want to get to some viewer questions. And one is from Anwar here. And perhaps Anwar will want to read the book, because he says, Islam doesn't allow music like rock and roll. It's prohibited. It's a sin.

Your thoughts?

AHMAD: There -- there's nothing in the Holy Book which says music is prohibited. You know, music gives people freedom. You know, music brings unity. And it's people who want to create fear, divide, who say that, you know, there's no room for music in Islam.

ANDERSON: Mira says, do you think that your music unites or polarizes people?

AHMAD: Well, what music does is -- and what artists try to do is jam. And when you jam with another artist, you connect with them beyond faith, beyond race, you know, beyond ethnic divides and -- and, you know, so I found, as I write in my book, that music is a uniter.

ANDERSON: What do you hope your legacy will be?

AHMAD: Someone who sees with a heart and doesn't put into categories of, you know, God, politics or even, you know, rock and roll, jazz, kavali (ph), because I -- I believe there's a cosmic oneness. I mean, my music reflects that. And I know that many, many artists, musicians who I play with, also see the world through this sort of oneness.

And so if we can go beyond the political cookie cutter, we'll find that there's a lot that unites us and less that divides us.


ANDERSON: Dodgi Happ (ph), a fascinating guy, Salman Ahmad there, your Connector of the Day.