Salman Ahmad: Musical Bridges

Salman Ahmad: Musical Bridges

If music be the food of love, play on. - William Shakespeare

Thursday, 17. September 2009

Monday September 21st is the United Nations International Day of Peace, when individuals, communities, nations and governments are invited to highlight efforts to end conflict and promote a culture of peace. Initiatives of Change sees many signs of hope – including, at the recent Caux Forum for Human Security, a gathering of Indians and Pakistanis working to build bridges of trust in their region. Among them was Salman Ahmad, rock star, medical doctor and ambassador extraordinaire for peace, who has touched millions of lives.

Initiatives of Change is pleased to feature a personal interview between Ahmad and Ms Carole Khakula, one of our Caux interns. This took place at the recent Caux Forum on Human Security where at the invitation of Mr. Rajmohan Gandhi, Ahmad had earlier addressed an audience on causes close to his heart.

If music be the food of love, play on.
- William Shakespeare

Interview by Carole Khakula

I sat at the edge of my seat, heart pumping and head dizzy with expectations. I was actually face-to face with Salman Ahmad, international celebrity, founder and lead singer of Junoon, one the most successful Pakistani rock bands in history, and Pakistan’s UN- appointed goodwill Ambassador for HIV/AIDS!

You are widely traveled, have participated in conferences all over the world, dined with international dignitaries, performed at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo and at UNESCO’s Millennium Peace Concert in Paris. Is this your first visit to Caux?

Yes it is.

What is your impression of Caux and the ideas of Initiatives of Change?

Coming here to the centre and hearing of its history, experiencing the unity and friendship that Initiatives of Change stands for, it’s all addictive. It is much required in our troubled planet for people to find a space where they can come and just be. Caux is a great place for introspection.

Junoon is noted for the active role it plays in bringing the people of Muslim Pakistan and predominantly Hindu India together. What triggered your desire for peace between the two?

I was inspired by my mom’s example. She believes in public service and is a very people-oriented person.

You had announced previously that you would be working with Bono and Madonna on a cultural and religious harmony project. Can you tell me more about that?

I wrote a song called Ghoom Tana which is about building bridges between India and Pakistan. When I met Bono’s people we discussed the idea of using T-shirts to reinforce this message.

And so we did a project on co-existence T-shirts made by Bono’s apparel company Edun , see They created T-shirts with strong co-existence messages.

I am also working on an HIV documentary with Madonna.

It is a project to empower women living with AIDS and to promote religious and cultural harmony.

My biggest focus right now is to put together a concert for the Pakistani IDPS (Internally Displaced Persons) who have left their homes as a result of the fighting between the army and the Taliban. It’s a big human catastrophe. The UN Secretary General said that $543 million is needed for their immediate relief. I am working with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to pull off this concert. The aim is to get people to focus on Pakistan right now. Here is an opportunity for us to show compassion and empathy.

What is your dream for Pakistan?

That Pakistan becomes a peaceful, modern, 21st century democratic Muslim state where people of different cultures are respected and where gender equality prevails. There is enormous human potential in Pakistan. Great people have come out Pakistan- musicians, poets, Nobel laureates. People think that Pakistan is country that is about to blow up. No, we actually have the potential to become a valuable member of that region.

What does your work as a UN ambassador for HIV/AIDs involve?

I have been working with the UN since 2001, shining a light on the human faces of people living with HIV. Besides speaking in colleges and using radio and television in this work, I have made a music video based on a story of a woman living with HIV/AIDS. The name if the song is Farewell.

Two teenagers came to me and said that their mother was living with HIV/AIDS. So I met her and she disclosed that her late husband had been diagnosed with the disease. When their neighbours found out, they threatened to burn down her house and send her away.

But she faced them bravely and said, “No, this is my home, I belong here and so do my children”. She became the first woman to start a women’s empowerment NGO in the area.

So women’s empowerment became the theme of my song. It topped the charts on MTV.

How do you combine your training in medicine with your passion for music?

I am still practicing medicine but not in the orthodox way. I am healing through music and poetry. Also in my work with HIV/AIDS, my scientific knowledge comes in handy. (laughing) But I don’t make any money on that. .

What is your advice to young people today?

I have always had a passion for music. So I would say that even if there isn’t a clear path before you, know your passion, follow your passion, and share your passion.

What are you taking away from the Caux Forum on Human Security?

The one thing that has stood out in all the discussions is moral responsibility. You have to look beyond politics and economics and think about moral responsibility. Out of the six billion people on this planet, half live on less than two dollars a day, and if we don’t take care of them, future generations will ask: “Why didn’t you act while you had the time?”So if we choose to ask ourselves what our moral responsibility is and answer that question, this would be a successful forum.