Oslo Spektrum was the scene for an exciting meeting between cultures on 5th of September and attracted a crowd of about 3000 people. The evening included a large variety of musical expression, from Junoon’s expressive Qawwali singing through hard rock. The evening ended with Morten lending his characteristic voice to the exotic sound of eastern rhythms.
The concert started with a short introduction by the young politician Afshan Rafiq. She gave the audience a warm welcome, saying that she saw the evening as an attempt to build a cultural bridge between east and west. The audience was anything but a usual a-ha audience. In the crowd were, among other prominent politicians from the political party Høyre, Kåre Willoch, Norway’s former prime minister and Wenche Foss, Norway’s only real theatre diva, as well as a lot of Junoon fans from Pakistani heritage, who counted for well over half of the crowd.
When Junoon came on stage, singer Ali Azmat immediately captured the audience with a strong stage presence. After a few songs the audience started to make their way to the front of the stage, dancing and cheering. Many people in the audience were clearly familiar with the songs and sang along.
An hour into the show, band leader Salman Ahmad took the microphone and announced “the man you have all been waiting for: Morten Harket.”
When Morten entered the stage, they started with ‘Piya’, a song that Salman and Morten have written together. In the middle of the song, Morten sings in Urdu, which provoked an immediate response of shouting and clapping from the audience.
The second song was ‘Lord’, written by Morten. Here, the rest of the band left the stage and Morten and Salman performed the song together, with Salman on acoustic guitar. The set ended with ‘Holy Ground’, for which the whole band returned on stage. The audience was obviously touched by the result of the cooperation, and offered a big applause. Junoon rounded off the show with one extra song.
Junoon’s and Morten’s comments on the show
The back stage area was buzzing with life after the show, and a lot of different people gathered to give their congratulations. Junoon’s singer Ali Azmat was thrilled.
– This is like a dream come true for me, he said. – I have been an a-ha fan for as long as I can remember, and this night is really very special to me! The first song I ever sang on stage was ‘Take On Me’. I will never forget that performance, I was very nervous, and even if I knew the song and had been singing it day and night, I totally forgot the text when I got on stage. The band had to play the famous opening bars over and over again before I finally remembered!
But tonight was fantastic – to actually be on stage together with Morten was a moment I will cherish forever!
We asked Salman Ahmad about the story behind the cooperation.
– We were playing at Wembley in London in April, and through two friends of mine who contacted Morten, I managed to convince him to come over and hear us play. He basically liked what he heard and joined us at the hotel afterward. We talked a lot and got along well, and then the two of us started jamming and playing guitar. It was then that we actually started to improvise over the melody that later became ‘Piya’, which we performed tonight. Basically, we got immediate contact, and decided there and then to try to work on something together in the future. So I am very pleased that this occasion came along!
– What kind of relation have you had to a-ha previously?
– I have been a fan since the beginning. I actually had a band before Junoon, and the singer was a clone of Morten. We did Led Zeppelin things and a-ha songs as well, like ‘Take On Me’. I have always admired Morten’s work. Actually, I did express a wish to cooperate with Morten when we were in Oslo two years ago. I am very glad to see it finally happen.
Morten has been busy writing autographs and talking to fans, but we manage to get hold of him for a few questions.
– What do you think of this cooperation?
– For me it has been very stimulating! It has been life-giving in several ways, actually, both musically and on a human level, as I find the collaboration with Salman very inspiring.
The only thing that has been slightly frustrating, is that we haven’t had so much time to work together. It all happened very quickly, and it would have been nice to spend some more time on this project.
What plans do you have together for the future? You have recorded this concert, haven’t you?
– Yes, we have recorded it. Now we’ll consider what to do with the material. We are going to keep in touch, that’s for sure …
– You received a great response from the audience when you were performing ‘Piya’. What did you actually sing in Urdu?
– I sang: “Tu kahan hai piya?” Translated from Urdu it means: “Where are you, my love?”
We were able to talk with Junoon’s producer, John Alec, who was present at the concert. We asked him about his opinion of the show.
– I thought it was absolutely amazing. Everything was so professional, and the sound was great. You have to remember that we come from Pakistan, so at home we’re already happy when the electricity doesn’t vanish or the stage falls apart, or when the sound engineers get the mixing table to work. So for us, to experience this was unbelievable! Sven Persson (a-ha’s sound technician) was terrific!
– Why this cooperation with Morten?
– There are many reasons for going into cooperation with somebody; there are business reasons, there are convenience reasons – and then there are artistic reasons. The latter has been our situation, and I think it is quite obvious from tonight’s show that there is a big potential in this setting. The style that Morten represents blended with Junoon’s expression go very well together, I think. We are very happy to have come this far, and now it will be exciting to see if there is any way we can develop a future collaboration.
During this whole exchange, a guy is filming. It turns out that the man behind the camera is making a documentary on Junoon. Richard Murphy, who originally comes from the US, went to Pakistan to study social ten years ago. He then stumbled upon the then newly founded cellar band Junoon, discovered their potential and became a friend. He has been following them with his camera for two years now, and will eventually make his movie available for television.
– It’s amazing, Richard says. Junoon always seem to end up in the middle of where things happen. They have been banned three times due to their courage to state their opinion from the stage. Even though it is not always intended, they end up in the middle of political controversies. They seem almost to attract action. So I’ve got a lot of interesting material, he says.
a-ha’s former manager, Terry Slater, was also present at the concert. – How come you came over from London?
– Oh, I am always there when Morten is doing anything important, he says. – Morten is a dear friend of mine, and it is always very interesting to see what he is up to. I am also looking after Junoon. I am not their manager, but function as a kind of consultant for them in their career outside Asia.
– What did you think of the show?
– The show was very nice, Terry Slater says, – and it had a very good energy. The members of Junoon are very good musicians. And they are very nice people as well, he adds. – We have made sure that the concert got recorded. Now we will listen to the result carefully, and consider what to do with it.
I am also working on having Junoon release an album with English text, or at least half English/Urdu. They definitely deserve a larger audience in the west, Terry Slater concludes.