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Human Rights Group and South Asian Rockers <i>Junoon</i> Make Music for Peace - 2002-12-24


Last year, the Pakistani band Junoon became the first rock group to play at the United Nations. It was a reflection of the group’s devotion to using its music to spread a message of peace and tolerance in South Asia and around the world. Most recently, Junoon teamed up with a unique human rights organization called Breakthrough, to produce a DVD of a “Concert for Peace.” Mallika Dutt founded Breakthrough in 2000 to enlist artists and producers in the creation of popular culture that will promote human rights.

Last fall, human rights activist Mallika Dutt received an award from the New York Asian Women’s Center, at an event co-chaired by artist Yoko Ono. The award recognized the Indian-born Ms. Dutt’s work with Breakthrough, an organization she founded to promote human rights, by creating music and popular culture. Breakthrough’s latest project is with Junoon, a Pakistani band popular throughout South Asia, that blends western rock with the religious ecstasy of traditional Sufi Muslim music.

“We got involved with Junoon after September 11 happened,” Mallika Dutt said. “It was a really important moment for us, particularly as South Asians in the United States, to start putting out progressive Muslim voices and finding ways to express both our anguish and our enormous sense of loss over what happened, but also to counter some of the stereotypes that were developing as a result.”

“They came and they said, 'There’s no voice, people are criticizing that, ‘Muslims aren’t speaking out loud enough,’” said Junoon bandleader Salman Ahmad. “So, we had amplifiers, and we figured we could crank up the message and say, ‘We’re all in this together, it’s not this civilizational conflict between Islam and the West.’”

Last September in New York, Breakthrough and Junoon, who also include Ashiq Ali and Brian O’Connell, an American who lives in Pakistan, premiered the band’s first song in English, a plea for peace in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, inspired by a poem by New York writer Polar Levine.

“We shared the other Ground Zero’s perspective,” said Mr. Ahmad. “And in this, there is hope for humanity, if we reach out. The grief, paranoia, that everybody feels, and they want to hide, you can’t hide any longer. You really have to reach out, find out what that person who looks a little different from you, has different-colored skin, what he’s thinking about.”

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