Salman Ahmad: Rock and Roll Refugee Relief

CPD Conversations in Public Diplomacy

The USC Center on Public Diplomacy was pleased to welcome Salman Ahmad for a conversation on the public diplomacy power of rock and roll. A medical doctor by training, Ahmad formed Junoon, South Asia's biggest and longest-lasting rock band, in 1990. Ahmad discussed the success of Junoon, as well as his role as a UN Goodwill Ambassador for HIV/AIDS and his efforts for peace between Pakistan and India.

The talk began with Salman saying that he sees a Haiti every day with millions of refugees coming to Pakistan often with no food and shelter. Salman moved to the United States at the age of eleven and was very influenced by artists such as Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, and John Lennon. He believes that playing music has got to say something and mean something. “The world is so much more connected today than ever before”, he mentioned. “Just use YouTube to look and see what happens.” That is how he used his music to make networks both culturally and politically.

Salman also shared some of his personal experience as a medical student in Pakistan. He described that day by day he became less selfish through the social work he and his wife, Samina provided to the community. However, after receiving a disturbing cell phone video in his e-mail of a girl in a burka being flogged by two men while many other men circled and watched, Salman decided to raise awareness for such issues. “If we could bring arts, culture, humanitarian leaders, and cross-cultural dialogue, we could raise awareness,” he described. Thus, last April musicians from around the world performed a “mini-Woodstock” at the United Nations General Assembly, which was also recorded for television.

Through music, Salman explained that he tried to bring awareness and discussion to otherwise taboo topics. He showed the audience music videos that made references to HIV/AIDS, the India-Pakistan nuclear arms race, and a documentary of his band’s journey, Junoon, for the United Nations.

He ended the afternoon by saying that everyone should follow their own path and be a global citizen. He also concluded by announcing his book launch Rock & Roll Jihad at Doheny Library at 7:00 PM.

About Salman Ahmad
Salman Ahmad is a Pakistani guitarist and composer of the popular musical group Junoon. The band has become a phenomenon throughout South Asia and has been gaining popularity around the world. Junoon performed at BBC's Mega Mela, the MTV music awards in India, and at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Ahmad, and the band have been increasingly involved in humanitarian efforts, including playing at events such as the Building Human Rights Culture Gala, the Empower Peace program with students in Pakistan, and fundraising for Hurricane Katrina victims. Most recently, in coordination with the UN, Ahmad has joined relief operations for the October 2005 earthquake victims in northern Pakistan.

Ahmad has produced two documentary films with BBC. "The Rock Star and the Mullahs" tracks Ahmad's visit to the northern Pakistani, where he directly challenges the local Muslim clergy who have banned all forms of music. His most recent film, "Muslims in America: It's My Country Too", uncovers the authentic spirit of American Muslims and their experience wrestling with the personal and social consequences of the 9/11 attacks.


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