Thursday Nov 14, 2019
Who would have thought that cricket and Bangladesh would have such a pivotal influence on the musical career of the famous Junooni Salman Ahmed? But they did, and as Junoon the band gets ready to head to Bangladesh for a historic concert, it seems that Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had a hand in all this too.
Decades ago, Salman Ahmed played a friendly match against Imran Khan at the Lahore Gymkhana. He scored a very decent 60-odd runs against the formidable attack of one of the best bowlers of all time.
As he puts it: “That day told me that cricket and I were seriously made for each other. Imran only cemented that feeling when the next week, he came up to me during practice and said he was impressed by my courage and defensive skills.”
To his surprise, he told Salman that he was picking him to go to Bangladesh with an unofficial Pakistan cricket team that included Wasim Akram, Saleem Malik, Rameez Raja and Zakir Khan.
“It was a formidable bunch. These were some of the players who would help Pakistan win its first World Cup title under Imran’s leadership in 1992. As we boarded a PIA flight from Karachi to Dhaka, I embraced what I thought was my destiny in the sporting life,” he further added.
This was the first Pakistani team to visit Bangladesh since the 1971 war, and the team was nervous, not sure of their welcome. But they need not have worried. They were feted like rock stars, invited to many parties and hosted at Dhaka's luxurious Sonargaon Hotel.
But Salman’s musical genius was never too far away, even in the midst of this cricketing frenzy.
"One evening, after the day’s play was over, I wandered into the hotel’s sumptuous lobby to find a Bangladeshi cover band unloading their guitars and drums from a van. It was New Year’s Eve, 1985, and the band was setting up to play at a party being held in our honor."
Salman ran up to the guitar player and requested if he could play it. After all, he was a fanatical musician before he become a committed cricketer.
The guitarist playfully told him to stick to cricket, but Salman persisted, and Salman bantered with him, promising him free tickets to the next days match if he let him play.
He was given the well-worn Gibson SG and Salman jammed into the intro to Black Magic Woman by Santana. In the next half hour he played his heart out. It was, as he put it, “cultural diplomacy in action, with Pakistan and Bangladesh coming together through a Latin American guitar player’s ode to a spell-weaving woman!"
In the evening, the band leader invited Salman to play. He did so, and as he played to applause, he realized that his was a musical destiny.
As he says: “I’d gone to Bangladesh thinking I’d come back even more dedicated to cricket. Now something told me I had to follow my musical dream. The Bangladeshi audience had gone wild for my performance with the band. I knew that Pakistani kids had the same musical passion inside of them. And I was confident I could start the same buzz among them as I had in that hotel in Bangladesh.”
So we can thank Imran Khan and Bangladesh both for Salman Ahmed’s ultimate decision to stay with music and give the world the mystical yet revolutionary music that the bands Vital Signs and Junoon have produced.