Sound — 9
Released in 1997, "Azadi" is Junoon's breakthrough album, which made them one of the most internationally popular bands from Pakistan at the peak of their popularity in the mid-to-late 1990s. On "Azadi," Junoon establish the "Sufi rock" sound which they pioneered on their last album (1996's "Inquilaab").
Sufism is a mystical sect of Islam - practiced in the Indian subcontinent and some parts of Middle East - whose practitioners try to get closer to God through song and dance. As such, the album has a decidedly spiritual feel to it, which is evident in both the sound and particularly the lyrics.
The overall sound could be described as exotic yet catchy - it's a potent concoction of Indian tabla-driven acoustic grooves, raag-like eastern folk melodies and some crunchy guitar riffs thrown in for firepower.
Lyrics — 9
The lyrics, which are penned by poet Sabir Zafar along with guitarist Salman Ahmed, are mostly in the Urdu language, along with a folk song in Punjabi ("Mukh Gaye Nae"). One song ("Khudi") is an adaptation of a famous poem by the legendary Pakistani poet Iqbal, and much of the lyrics take inspiration from his work.
The subject matter mostly deals with simple but universal themes of unconditional love and longing - for God and/or a soulmate - and striving through hardships; some of the songs also have a slightly political slant (Junoon were one of the few music acts in Pakistan who were well-known for their outspoken political views).
The punchy, groove-heavy music perfectly complements the spiritual, uplifting vibe of the lyrics, which are brought to life by the earthy, passionate vocals of Ali Azmat, which have the energy of a rock singer but are informed by the rawness of traditional folk singers and Qawwals of South Asia. Although he may lack the technical finesse of qawwals, his sheer vocal energy and gut instinct for the subject matter (which is what matters most in this kind of music) more than makes up for it.
Overall Impression — 9
Although the record's crisp, organic production and focused "Sufi rock" sound keeps its exotic fusion highly accessible and stylistically coherent, its 15 tracks run just over 65 minutes, which can at times feel like the formula is being stretched a little too tight.
Regardless, there are plenty of memorable hooks and brilliant musicianship here to win over even the most esoterically unconcerned listener, and despite their exotic flavour, the tracks are hooky and economically structured like pretty much any good pop/rock song (most songs run 4-6 minutes) with plenty of expressive guitar solos to boot - it could be roughly described like Led Zeppelin or Santana riffs interwoven with Indian tabla/dholak beats and raag-based eastern folk melodies.
It's hard to pick out highlights since at least half of the songs here are A-grade material that warrant repeat listens and will dance their way inside your memory. However, my personal favourites (to name a few) would be "Sayonee" (their biggest hit to date), "Muk Gaye Nae," "Mahiwal," "Yaar Bina" and "Kis Ney Suna."