Book Review: Summertime Blues

Gonna raise a fuss, gonna raise a holler: rock & roll books

Summertime Blues

Rock & Roll Jihad: A Muslim Rock Star's Revolution

by Salman Ahmad
Free Press, 230 pp., $24.99

Part spiritual memoir, part clunky autobiography, Rock & Roll Jihad tells a life story that is nothing short of jaw-dropping. Pakistan-born Ahmad, who pioneered "Sufi rock" by marrying his teenage love of Led Zeppelin's sinuously behemoth riffs to the ecstatic vocal acrobatics of the millennia-old qawwali style of singing common to Pakistan, fronts Junoon ("passion"), the most revered rock band in all of South Asia for the past two decades. Unsurprisingly, this particular highway to hell, as viewed by Junoon's myriad and often violent detractors throughout the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Middle East, wasn't without its abyssal potholes. After spending his high school years rocking out in Tappan, N.Y., Ahmad trained as a physician before cranking up his beloved Marshall amp and inadvertently devoting his life to peace, love, and power chords as the first true Muslim rock star. "Mine was a sort of Sex Pistols situation in reverse," he writes. "I wanted to unite and heal the divisions in the Third World," not "punch conservative British nationalism and the First World Order in the gut." It didn't hurt that the process included random encounters with Mick Jagger, Bono, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who later named Ahmad UNAIDS Goodwill ambassador. His fluid, improbable rise lacks the doomy, RPG grit of, for example, Iraqi metalheads Acrassicauda's similar tale, but his music and message – hope, not terror – are tailor-made for today and as evocative as Zep's "Kashmir."

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Salman Ahmad, Junoon

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