The only uncomplicated thing about Junaid Jamshed was his voice

The only uncomplicated thing about Junaid Jamshed was his voice

JJ's voice carried infinite hope and sunshine but his life, career and legacy were not uncomplicated.
Updated 07 Dec, 2019

It might seem strange to use this word for a man who meant such different things to different people, but when you heard Junaid Jamshed’s voice, the one thing it always felt was uncomplicated.

At the heart of the appeal of his various avatars was a voice that carried infinite hope and sunshine.

Junaid Jamshed’s life, career and legacy however, were not uncomplicated.

His journey represented a journey that Pakistani society seemed to have taken with him, and it represented the many contradictions that define our society.

But whether it was in his music videos or in his television appearances as an evangelist, there was always a considered appearance that he put out. It was almost like he always had an eager sincerity to play a construct.

At the time of his death, one of my first reactions was the realisation that a certain idea of Pakistan — of youthful exuberance in golden light amongst green hills — had died with him.

It meant that his legacy upon his death was inherently complicated. After his death, one segment of his fans put up his pop songs, making defiant proclamations of choosing to remember him for them.

Another group exhorted the media not to bring up his musical past, arguing that he had forsaken it. There was the memory of his misogynist statements, including one which led to a blasphemy charge, which his privilege allowed him to escape the usual punishment for. There were pictures and videos and tweets which were all used to make a claim on what he represented.

This article is not meant to address all those issues.

What prompted me to write it instead was the cascade of emotions that Junaid Jamshed’s voice in various pop songs evoked in me. At the time of his death, one of my first reactions was the realisation that a certain idea of Pakistan — of youthful exuberance in golden light amongst green hills — had died with him.

That was the setting he first emerged in, the setting that some of us only remember him as.

Stripped of its context, 'Dil Dil Pakistan' is a saccharine pop song that replaces the beloved with patriotism. But when you consider its appearance in the final days of Zia’s era, its radical impact gets clearer.

An appeal to modernity, to youth, to fun all embodied in the frail, attractive persona of Junaid Jamshed and his bandmates. The impact of the video was inherently complicated, yet Junaid’s uncomplicated voice singing about an uncomplicated love carried the song through all the tricky terrain.

Pakistani pop music had been little more than a concept before Junaid and the Vital Signs, and it became an entire phenomenon because of them. At the heart of its initial appeal was JJ himself, and his endless charisma as the frontman. He seemed to enjoy his reputation as a heartthrob, and yet also represented a very halal sexuality that wasn’t provocative.

But what Junaid’s voice achieved added far more heft to the pop scene. His ability to express emotions matched that of the most popular traditional singers, even when he had none of their training.

For an audience bred on ghazal and geet, it was his uncomplicated voice that allowed them to make the complicated transition to pop music. He set the template for the modern pop singer in Pakistan, comfortably at ease with corny, romantic numbers like 'Sanwali Saloni' as well as with deceptively melancholic tracks like 'Hum Tum'.

Indeed, the music that emerged in the 1990s largely followed the path set by the Signs, with almost all frontmen taking their cues from his uncomplicated voice and his complicated appeal. But while there were a few who could match his mastery over songs of love and heartbreak, there was no one who could match what he brought to patriotic songs.

It was only Junaid’s voice which could bring sincerity to this most overwrought of genres, and it was the reason that the Signs managed to produce several ‘national anthems’. The patriotic song is still an obligatory release for most musicians and bands, but none of them can bring the uncomplicated wholeheartedness that JJ brought to them.

Junaid’s uncomplicated voice also served as the bridge for the talents of two of Pakistan’s greatest creative polymaths.

On one end was the ideology of Shoaib Mansoor, whose songs both spoke of the urgent need to build a bright future and lamented of the loss of an idyllic (imagined) past. On the other end was the musical versatility of Rohail Hyatt, who kept searching for creative excellence even as the nascent industry demanded that the band produce easily digestible pop. Resolving all these contradictions and complications was Junaid’s uncomplicated voice, which was just at ease at emoting the intricacies of Shoaib’s verses as it was dealing with the challenging demands of Rohail’s compositions.

The music that emerged from all of this remains some of the most timeless produced in Pakistani pop. Even as the people that made it, particularly Junaid Jamshed himself, fell into contradictions and complications, the music continues to endure. The music continues to invoke an idea of this country created by the rhymes and dreams of a generation. That generation today is no longer young, and its dreams no longer true. But its music lives on forever, sung in that beautiful, uncomplicated voice.

Ahmer Naqvi is a freelance journalist, and Director of Content at @patarimusic.


Mumtaz Shah Dec 09, 2016 12:44pm
Religious hypocracy the worst thing which can happen to a society. JJ was genuine whatever he did in his life and he made his name in all these shades. RIP
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Lubna Dec 09, 2016 01:02pm
Very well said. His voice was his true gift from God.
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AsifButt Dec 09, 2016 01:42pm
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Maestro Dec 09, 2016 02:55pm
Brilliant write-up.
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Fez Dec 09, 2016 03:42pm
@Lubna No doubt a gift from God. In the process, Junaid broke a million hearts. Indeed the green hilled Pakistan died with him, that picturesque scenery. So long Junaid, not possible to forget you though. Not possible at all yaar. You were the definition of a Great Man, a great legend of your country. PIA shame on you and I doubt you will get over the guilt of your actions.
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FAISAL Dec 09, 2016 04:14pm
Junaid died while on a mission to spread the message of Islam,,, he gave up bad things and took a180 turn. Not many have the courage to do so.
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harris Dec 09, 2016 04:47pm
There is only a journey to one's life... we all go through different shades and in the end most often we get what we want either in the form of realisation or the actual desire.. JJ was a good human being and isA the Almighty will give him the best...
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online grocery store Karachi Dec 09, 2016 06:36pm Very sad on this occasion he was truly and pure Patriot and very kind person, Pakistan lost its one of the best icons.
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Modasar Dec 09, 2016 07:17pm
JJ i can't believe you died.
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Naeem Dec 09, 2016 10:31pm
Yes, it's a lost cause, a goal which would not be achieved. Yes, us 80's and 90's kids who are now in mid 40's are convinced that Pakistan has lost two-three decades. And yes, you are right Dil Dil Pakistan was introduced at the cusp of free-er 90's after the Zia Times... it did have a liberating effect at that time ............ more than patriotism it was a song about fast music, jeans, dancing and such ..
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Saima Dec 09, 2016 10:55pm
What a beautiful beautiful article!
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Ali S Dec 09, 2016 11:16pm
@FAISAL I'm glad that Junaid found peace in his religion, good for him. He deserves respect for leaving a life of glamour for what he believed to be right, but how 'bad' exactly was his past life? He didn't kill anyone, preach hatred against anyone or take over anyone's money or property as a musician, he sang songs about love and his country. Even if you do consider music to be un-Islamic, considering the kind of things people (including religious people) are doing in this country, I'd say that singing would be very far down the list of anyone's priorities of things to stay away from.
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Ahsan Dec 10, 2016 03:01am
People come and go but memories remain. May be this is the best choice for God to take him back before any secterian group dishonoured him. May his soul rest in peace
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Saima Dec 10, 2016 03:43am
Not sure about dreams not being true. He himself seems to have found peace and closure. Watched some of his recent videos singing DIL DIL. He seems to have come to the realization that his two lives need not have been mutually exclusive. So the dreams live on....
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HabiB Dec 10, 2016 07:35am
I found him to be very sensitive person RIP
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Ex PAT Dec 10, 2016 09:51am
I live in the USA, and my three children were born and raised here, they barely speak Urdu. Within hours of JJ death, they all mournfully texted me about the accident. This shows the impact Junaid has On Pakistani youth across the world. You are right, he was unique. May Allah bless his soul and all who died in the accident
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Asma Dec 10, 2016 09:53am
@FAISAL true
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Rizwan Dec 10, 2016 01:31pm
I used to copy you for songs. When you started hamd o naat I started copying you for that. I met you only once and will cherish that short meeting all my life. May Allah bestow his rehmat on your soul. Miss you
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Jawad Dec 10, 2016 02:14pm
Very uncomplicated commentary
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Zulfi Dec 10, 2016 08:34pm
As much as I admire Vital Signs and Junaid Jamshed, it was Nazia and Zoheb Hassan who first introduced and popularised pop music in Pakistan . Alamgir and Shehki sang a few good songs here and there too.
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Masood Dec 10, 2016 08:44pm
The FIRST positive and hopeful scenario that comes to mind when you talk about Pakistan is Junaid Jamshed and Nusrat Fateh Ali.
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JS Dec 12, 2016 06:20pm
Will miss the lure of JJ's uncomplicated voice, his songs and his music, and the dreams of the golden era that he he lovingly represented for an enlightened generation that is going to live through their years without him. Thank you JJ and God bless you. Ameen.
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TOTA Dec 12, 2016 09:59pm
@harris what a thoughtful comment.
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Mansoor Dec 08, 2019 10:22am
What a well written article. Yes Junaid's voice and music composition of rohail hayat, were phenomenal. To this day, if you listen closely the music created and songs sung by JJ were outstanding. May Allah bless this soul and give more talent like him are born again
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Majid Dec 08, 2019 10:40am
We all should respect his decision and be proud of all his achievements. His Funeral was attended by close to a million people from all walks of life. Thats says something about is legacy . RIP and always love you JJ
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Hassan Dec 10, 2019 02:20am
Rest in peace Sir, you will be missed.....
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