Sound: Junoon was a Pakistani rock band which was the biggest rock band in South Asia at the height of its popularity in the mid to late 1990s. They are most famous for pioneering a subgenre of rock known as "Sufi rock" in South Asia, which blended Zeppelin-esque Western rock and classical Indian beats with the tranquility of the local Sufi (a mystical dimension of Islam) poetry.
Nearly every band has a certain album that comes to define its sound. Parvaaz (meaning flight in Urdu) is that album for Junoon, and it is no exaggeration to say that Junoon's flight is soaring at its highest here. The blending Sufi poetry and classical South Asian beats with rock n' roll is more mature, technically competent and hands-down rocking here than on any of their albums before. It's one of those very rare breeds of albums that has no bad songs at all, and I mean at all. Every song on the album is catchy, memorable and shining with brilliance.
Musically, Parvaaz could be described as Led Zeppelin meets qawwali meets classical Indian and Middle Eastern music. It definitely lacks the heaviness of some of Junoon's previous works and is a very unique rock album that is characteristically ambient, soulful and subtle stylistically, it is an extension of the Sufi rock sound that Junoon experimented with on "Inquilaab" (1996) and established with "Azadi" (1997). Although Junoon have enough tricks in their bag to keep the songs on Parvaaz from sounding alike, the album as a whole does stay in a rather homogenous, culturally-oriented musical groove of its own however, I personally thought that this actually helped with the album's cohesion instead of resulting in lack of variety. Rather than innovating the Sufi rock formula, Junoon perfects it on Parvaaz, and does so extremely well.
The vast majority of the album has a brilliantly exotic sound with significant use of traditional Eastern instruments such as dholaks and tablas. "Sajna is probably the only song on the album that is closer to mainstream rock. However, the traditional sound is made very digestible for foreign listeners by the attractive riffs and basslines courtesy of Salman Ahmad and Brian O'Connell respectively, which are catchy and appealing regardless of where you're from. In fact, Parvaaz's exotic appeal makes it all the more intriguing and enjoyable, rather than making it indigestible or not relatable, and the East-meets-West connection is absolutely superb here. // 10
Lyrics: Unlike many of Junoon's previous works, thematically Parvaaz is completely apolitical, instead focusing on spiritual and cultural themes. Parvaaz has a mellow, introspective and passive Sufi-inspired direction which is very cohesive and appropriate when it comes to how the lyrical themes and music go together. With that said, it's a shame that most people will not have the opportunity to understand the brilliant lyrics of Parvaaz, which are in Urdu and Punjabi and based primarily on the works of renowned Punjabi Sufi poet Bulleh Shah. The lyrics perfectly complement the mellow, introverted music and are deep with meaning.
In a smart move, drums are underused in favour of traditional percussion instruments such as dholak and tablas, which beautifully complement the guitar and bass. Salman's guitar work is very appealing in a gentle, soulful way which permeates the whole album with a soft psychedelic touch. The bass is also subtle yet brilliantly played by Brian O'Connell Sanwal, in particular, features some thrilling bass playing from O'Connell. A huge applause also goes to Aashiq Ali, whose rhythmic dholak and tabla beats give the album a wonderfully exotic character.
Ali Azmat's intoxicating vocals round out Parvaaz's unique sound with thorough justice. Most of the songs do not feature the typical scream-inclined rock vocals and instead Ali sings in a contemporary yet classical style that is reminiscent of South Asian qawwals. Additionally, Ali's voice also has a subtle wailing tone that adds raw emotion to every song in a gentle yet effective way. // 9
Overall Impression: Compared to popular Western music, this album has very unique sound of its own. A rough way to put this album's sound in terms of popular Western artists would be to say that "Parvaaz is something you'd get if you take Santana, change its Latin influence to equal parts Middle East and South Asia, and turn the Tranquility Meter to max". I would easily recommend this album to any fan of contemporary rock or fusion music. On first listen, many foreign listeners may think that this is a Middle Eastern band - however, they are lyrically very much relevant to the mystical-religious shrine and devotion culture of Sufism, a dimension of Islam, that is commonly found in India and Pakistan.
Although the album itself is technically damn near perfect for what it was meant to be (a perfection of the Sufi rock sound), for those who have been following Junoon for a while (like me), it's a rather 'safe' album as a whole - especially for a band that got banned nationwide and persecuted for taking on Pakistan's gritty political underbelly in their music (on their Inquilaab and Azadi albums in 1996 and 1997 respectively). Also, Junoon had already made a full-on Sufi rock album with "Azadi" in 1997 (which propelled them to superstardom in South Asia), and for those who insist on constant innovation with artists, Parvaaz may be a tad bit complacent on Junoon's part.
With that said, however, Parvaaz is interesting in context of the political situation in Pakistan at the time of its release, especially considering Junoon's past reputation in South Asia as a politically outspoken band. Parvaaz was recorded from 1997 to 1998, a time during which Pakistan was gripped in political tension with the corrupt yet democratically-elected Nawaz Sharif government facing a possible military coup. In fact, Parvaaz was released in January 1999, a few months before General Musharraf's military coup over the country, and Pakistanis were anticipating violence looming ahead. Junoon, by now renowned in Pakistan for creating politically-conscious music, responded to that situation in an interestingly uncharacteristic manner with Parvaaz, a completely apolitical album that calls for peace in an unstressed and laid back manner that is passive yet effective.
Although practically every track on the album is worth listening, my personal favourites would have to be Ab Tu Jaag, Sanwal and Ronde Maina. By the time of Parvaaz's release in January 1999, Junoon had been a pioneering rock band in Pakistan for a good 9 years and had gradually moved from a more strictly rock-oriented musical direction to a more traditional one. Parvaaz is the culmination of Junoon's maturity and coming-of-age as a band, and suffice it to say that this is the finest moment of the Junoon's flight (Parvaaz means "flight" in Urdu). // 9