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Times of the Signs

Published Mar 28, 2013 06:24pm


August 2012 marked the 25th anniversary of the arrival of one of the most popular seminal Pakistani pop bands, the Vital Signs.

Apart from Nazia Hassan, the only other Pakistani pop act that has retained such intense interest and popularity after its demise has been the Vital Signs.

But whereas, Nazia’s classic status and popularity were duly propelled by her working relationship with famous British disco producer, Biddu, the Signs had more of a struggle, trying to play and sell the kind of pop that was still a risky anomaly in the Pakistan of the mid and late 1980s.

Today, more than two decades after their formation in 1986 and 17 years after their last album, even the vaguest rumour about a possible Signs reformation generates widespread interest – even among a whole new generation of local pop fans, most of whom were only toddlers when the Signs were first formed.

From the urban underbelly of melody …

The Vital Signs were launched in early 1986 in Rawalpindi by two teens, Rohail Hayatt (keyboards, synthesisers), and Shahzad Hassan (bass).

They were soon joined by Nusrat Hussain (guitar, keyboards). Interestingly, they were not yet called the Vital Signs.

Not even when lead singer Junaid Jamshed, a young engineering student from Lahore, joined.

This was a time when the wily General Ziaul-Haq was reigning supreme as dictator masquerading as a “democratically elected” President with a puppet parliament sanctioning his every move reeking of a Machiavellian brand of so-called “Islamisation.”

Even though the country, at the time was covered by a thick, smoggy façade of strict conservatism and awkward moralistic pretence, its urban underbelly was clogged with raising ethnic tensions, gang violence, corruption and state-sponsored terror partaken by Zia’s various intelligence agencies to suppress dissent against the dictatorship.

Ironically, it was these political and economic tensions and pretensions, power plays and freak economic prosperity that also propelled the gradual expansion of the country’s urban middle and lower-middle-classes.

And it is the youth cultures that emerged from these classes that launched the first shots of the kind of pop culture, scene and music we now call modern Pakistani pop.

Change was in the air. Tensions were running high and something had to give. This was the underlining feeling among the time’s youth. They could not pin-point exactly what or how this change would happen, but the moment Benazir Bhutto returned from exile in mid-‘86 and led a mammoth rally in Lahore, the country’s major urban centres saw a quiet but certain outpouring of brand new pop bands who wanted to sound somewhat different from the time’s top pop scions.


Before the ‘revolution’: Nazia and Zoheb Hassan performing on the state-owned PTV in 1981. She (along with her brother Zoheb Hassan) was Pakistan’s biggest-selling pop act, even though their album sales and TV appearances were briefly banned by the Zia regime in 1981. The ban was lifted in 1983.


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Alamgir was another seminal pop wonder of Pakistan and a star. This is a 1979 song of his.

Come in here, dear boy, have a cigar …

Most of the new acts that began appearing after 1986, played at private parties and weddings and at college functions. The Signs by early 1987 were firm favourites in the period’s college function circuit.

The Signs performance also included ambitious and bold covers of vintage Pink Floyd, Rush and A-ha songs, apart from the usual popular Pakistani filmi-pop and Indian film tunes of the time.

The band never took itself seriously, though. Music was just a hobby. But all that changed, however, when they were discovered by ace PTV producer and director, Shoaib Mansoor, a shy, introverted bohemian and a keen music lover.

Wanting to cash-in on the charisma he found in the way the band looked and sounded, Shoaib asked them to record a national song he had written and wanted to air (as a video) on PTV. The song, of course, was “Dil, Dil Pakistan.”

By now the band had started to call themselves the Vital Signs, inspired by the title of a song on the 1981 Rush album, ‘Moving Pictures.’

It was Nusrat Hussain who took the initial shot at composing the song. Shoaib hated the first draft. He wanted it to be a lot catchier. Nusrat had another go and came up with an intro that was appreciated by the other members. Encouraged by it, the others (especially Junaid), lend in their own in-puts and ideas until the tune was completed, approved by Shoaib and recorded.

It was released in the summer of 1987 as a video (directed by Shoaib), in which the Signs are shown singing the song over what looked like the lush hills of Murree.

It was an instant hit. The new generation loved it, as it was the first time ever, since the Zia regime had restricted the wearing of western dress on TV (in 1982-83) that young men in denim, leather jackets and guitars were seen (and allowed) on PTV.

Shoaib had certainly pulled off a smart coup. For years now, ‘Dil, Dil Pakistan’ is regarded to be the ‘second Pakistani national anthem.’


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The ‘Dil, Dil Pakistan’ video that appeared on PTV in the summer of 1987. Director Shoaib Mansoor spent days trying to convince the censors to allow the airing of this video. PTV thought a video showing young men riding bikes in leather jackets reminded one of hooligans. The video was eventually allowed to air, mainly because of its patriotic lyrics.

But the song’s success was not seen by the Signs as something that would turn them into professional musicians. At least, this is what Nusrat Hussain and Junaid Jamshed thought.

Nusrat, training to become an airline pilot, flew out to Karachi and Junaid who wanted to become a professional engineer, didn’t want to have anything to do with music other than just treating it as a hobby.

However, the allure of instant success and the amount of interest Shoaib was ready to invest in the band kept Rohail and Shahzad going. They managed to convince Junaid to hang around for at least the recording of their first album. But as far as Nusrat was concerned, there was no coming back. The band was now without their main composer and guitar player.

Rohail purposed looking around for a “proper guitarist.” And ironically, it was Nusrat who suggested Salman Ahmed (a medical student living in Karachi).

Shoaib’s clout had already gotten EMI (Pakistan) interested in helping the band record their debut album. This saw Rohail, Junaid and Shahzad travelling to Karachi.

The album was recorded at EMI’s studio, but almost all of it was written and composed at new guitarist Salman Ahmed’s residence in Karachi where the band had been lodged.

Shoaib did all the lyrics while Junaid and Rohail shared the bulk of the composing duties. And even though Salman wanted more guitars on it, he agreed to keep the instrument in the background when EMI’s Arshad Mehamood and Shoaib insisted that they should play it safe and straight on the first album.

However, he was allowed to have a go on the rocking “Doh Pal Ka Jeewan” and played rather beautifully on the moody “Yeh Shaam.”

Cover of the first Vital Signs album released in 1989. From left: Salman Ahmed (Guitar), Rohail Hayatt (Keyboards), Shahazad Hassan (Bass) and Junaid Jamshed (Vocals).
Cover of the first Vital Signs album released in 1989. From left: Salman Ahmed (Guitar), Rohail Hayatt (Keyboards), Shahazad Hassan (Bass) and Junaid Jamshed (Vocals).

The sound and words of the album are (though indirectly), influenced by an important turning point in the history of the troubled nation.

On August 18, 1988, the country’s ubiquitous military dictator, General Ziaul Haq, was assassinated when a bomb went off on the C-130 plane he was flying in.

Party-based elections were announced for November and by October, thousands of young Pakistanis thronged the streets with huge, spontaneous car rallies, dancing and waving flags, with “Dil, Dil Pakistan” blaring out from car stereos and music stores.

It was a euphoric time, of great hope and anticipation.

Released in early 1989, VS:1 was a massive success. It was a happy album. It reflected well the mood of the time. It was all about hope and the safeguarding of national pride, coupled by the new generation’s respect and liking for individuality, independence and free will.



‘Doh Pal Ka Jeewan’ (From VS-1, 1989)

However, the album’s last two songs were rather enigmatic. The melancholic “Musafir” and “Yeh Shaam,” opted for a more reflective outlook, pleading moments of introversion to come to terms with the other side of the euphoria.

In fact, these two compositions can be seen having the seeds of the deep blue sound and mood the Signs would become known for. These songs are also the first by the Signs on the theme of someone fearing the sudden loss of happiness; a theme they would eventually continue to address in all their albums.



‘Musafir’ (1989)

Change changing places …

The debut album’s success saw the Signs rapidly rising towards stardom, leading a wave of fresh new acts that came to the front at the expense of the old stars.

Most of the new guns were a prominent part of the many “youth festivals” that began to do the rounds in Karachi and Lahore, especially after one such show was specially conducted and televised by PTV in late 1989, (‘Music ‘89’).

Directed by Shoaib Mansoor, it went down in history as being Pakistan’s first ever modern pop program; an impressive one-off headlined by Nazia and Zoheb, but stolen by a crackling performance by the Vital Signs.

The Signs greatly admired Nazia and Zoheb. Like all young Pakistanis who entered their teens during the Zia regime, the Signs too looked at the dynamic brother and sister duo whose music helped young men and women cope with the frustrating moral and myopic idiosyncrasies of the Zia dictatorship.

The Signs looked forward to meeting the duo after their performance, only to be given a cold shoulder by Zoheb.

Junaid and Salman were greatly disappointed. They did not realise that their band and the many acts that they were inspiring had already started to be seen as threats by the old guard.

This was true, because by the early ‘90s, almost all top pop guns of the ‘80s had been overshadowed and siphoned out by the new lot.

Festivals apart, the Signs soon went on a whirlwind tour of the country, playing sell-out concerts in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar.

Some of these, especially the two concerts held in Karachi in late ’89, are still remembered as some of the best by the band.

Vital Signs in Karachi, 1989.
Vital Signs in Karachi, 1989.

But during this tour, cracks started to appear in the Signs otherwise shiny armour.

The Signs were made up of four very different personalities. Rohail, in spite of being introverted and not at all interested in getting a lot of attention, was somehow treated as the leader.

And though his quiet disposition helped him cultivate a good balance between artistic aspirations and sound business sense, he did carry a mighty hefty ego and a pretty potent penchant for sly Machiavellian intrigue.

Salman on the other hand, was an outright extrovert. At times crudely so, even though on most occasions he was only trying to speak his mind. He too carried a hefty ego and an almost ruthless ambition to make it big. Things soon fell apart.

Junaid was tricky business; but not in a malicious way because even in those days, Junaid was a volatile character, as emotionally impressionable and contradictory as he is today as a Tableeghi Jamat member.

He went about as a man tormented by a sense of burdensome guilt - guilt about something no one, not even himself was able to define. And even though all the Signs enjoyed numerous fleeting affairs during their early hay days, it was Junaid who ended up stuck in an awkward, tearful romantic fling.

He was close to both Rohail and Salman, but could not defuse the tension between the two. In the end, when the Signs were approached by Pepsi (in late 1990), Junaid decided to side with Rohail when he managed to completely isolate the capricious guitarist.

The Pepsi contract was signed in December 1990, (ironically in the presence of Salman), but by January 1991, Salman was gone.

Mother should I build the wall …

Salman’s idealistic nature bordered on being clumsy and naïve. But it was his passionate focus and ambition to become a big time rock star that first made him launch Junoon with former Jupiters’ vocalist, Ali Azmat and ex-Signs man, Nusrat Hussain.

Cover of Junoon’s first album (1990).
Cover of Junoon’s first album (1990).

But to be a popular rock star, Salman was bold enough not to become yet another Signs clone. His idea for long-term relevance lay in introducing socially conscious rock music to the mainstream Pakistani scene.

Many believe that Rohail planed to give Salman the boot in mid-1990 when Rohail (along with Junaid and Shahzad), saw guitarist Rizwan-ul-Haq play with a local band at a concert in Islamabad.

On a number of occasions, Rohail complained about Salman’s “interfering ways” and what Rohail called, “Salman’s Imran Khan complex.”

Pressured by Pepsi to come out with a brand new album, the Signs called in Rizwan as Salman’s replacement.

Rizwan’s more subdued personality and his talent to play a lot more melodically compared to Salman’s riff-friendly ways, was more to the liking of Rohail’s plan to construct the Signs’ sound as a crisp cross between vintage late-80s pop (ala A-ha and Duran Duran), with the aura of ‘70s Progressive Rock (especially Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis).

Junoon Mk:2. Ali Azmat (vocals), Salman Ahmed (guitar), Brian O’Connell (bass) and (not in the picture), Malcom (drums).
Junoon Mk:2. Ali Azmat (vocals), Salman Ahmed (guitar), Brian O’Connell (bass) and (not in the picture), Malcom (drums).

Sohaib’s lyrics remained to be reflective musings about lost chances and of urban existential crisis being tackled by a highly romanticised version of the concept of nostalgia.

Junaid was a huge admirer of these lyrics, and sang them with great commitment and meaning. It was as if he was tackling his own awkward emotional crisis of the self with these songs.

And it was these very crisis that saw him suddenly announce his departure from the Signs, right in the middle of the recording process of the band’s second album.

He huffed out of Rohail’s studios in Rawalpindi, returning to study engineering in Lahore, though the bulk of the vocals had already been recorded.

This is precisely why the Signs’ second album, VS:2 is such a departure from the first album’s more upbeat ways.

Cover of Vital Signs second album, VS:2 (1991). From top left: Shahzad (bass), Rizwaul Haq (guitar); Junaid (vocals); Rohail (synthesisers/drum-machine/acoustic guitars/production).
Cover of Vital Signs second album, VS:2 (1991). From top left: Shahzad (bass), Rizwaul Haq (guitar); Junaid (vocals); Rohail (synthesisers/drum-machine/acoustic guitars/production).

Rohail was left in a lurch in his studios as he sat down to produce the final mix of the album, unsure of the band’s existence.

The resulting sound emerging from the intra-band turmoil and uncertainty was heavily melancholic and introverted (“Rahi,” “Yaad Kar Na”, “Ajnabi”), suddenly jumping towards thumping anger with the powerful, “Aisa Na Ho.”



‘Ajnabi’ from VS-2 (1991)


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 ‘Yaad Kar Na’ (1991)

This is also perhaps the Signs’ most political album as well, alluding to the loss of innocence, hope and euphoria that bloomed in 1988 with the demise of the Zia dictatorship and the election of a young Benazir Bhutto as the country’s new prime minster.

By 1991 such hope and euphoria lay crushed under the weight of a new round of ethnic and sectarian violence and political corruption. The late ‘80s street dancing revolution was over.

The Signs’ rued this loss with a warning shot on “Aisa Na Ho” and masqueraded their taunting of America’s deceptive ways with third world countries like Pakistan on “Mera Dil Nahi Available.”

Hardly anyone knew that the song’s narrator was a cynical, stereotypical American politician and not a hearty teenage flirt! Cheeky stuff, but pulled off with an ironic sense of humour.



‘Aisa Na Ho’ from VS-2 (1991). The Signs ruing the slipping away of hope.

Harmlessly passing your time in the grassland away …

With VS:2, the Signs’ music had shown strong signs of maturity and versatility. And even though the album was a commercial success, some fans were not happy with the album’s downbeat sound.

However, it was this album that was able to draw the attention of many “serious minded” listeners.

The success prompted Pepsi to revive its sponsorship deal with the band, raising the stakes enough for the band to, (for the first time), seriously start treating making music as a career.

Junaid made the final break with his ambition of becoming an engineer as the band prepared to go on another gruelling tour of the country. But more importantly, they were now set to become the first modern Pakistani pop act to go on a tour abroad. The United States was the destination.

The tour also changed the way the band looked. No more were they clean-cut Ah-Ha clones, as they let their hair grow, slipped into heavy cowboy boots, Levis 501’s, leather jackets and chunky metal jewellery!

VS 3434
Vital Signs in 1993: From Top Left: Rizwan, Rohail, Shahzad, Junaid.

The early ‘90s that saw the emergence of grunge and a revival of interest in ‘70s music and fashion were the instigators.

The change also saw Rohail, Shahzad and Junaid moving to Karachi (Rizwan decided to stay back in Islamabad), as Rohail started constructing a brand new studio in his Karachi apartment.

They entered the studio in early 1993 almost the same time as Junoon did the EMI (Studios) to record their second album, Talaash (the first album, though promising, had bombed in the market).

Pepsi had also raised the stakes for it to meddle in the ways the new Signs album should sound.

They had not enjoyed VS:2’s “depressing tone” and pressurised the band to make the new album sound a lot like the first one. And this time there weren’t to be any songs alluding to politics whatsoever.

However, the general theme of the new songs remained the same. Shoaib again penned songs ruing about lost opportunities and the need to look towards an idealised version of a nostalgic past to counter modern urban existential pangs.

One such song also became the title of the new album: Aitebaar. Built around some marvellous piano playing by Rizwan-ul-Haq, Junaid gave voice to what would become one of the local scene’s finest ballads. And this was also the highlight of the album which was otherwise studded with tunes that were nothing more than a cosmetic exercise in making easy-to-swallow pop music.

Cover of ‘Aitebar’ (1993).
Cover of ‘Aitebar’ (1993).

Aitebar remains to be the Signs’ weakest album. Highly predictable, it did have its moments, though. But these were too far and in-between.



‘Aitebar’ (1993)

A lot more was changing. A wave of brand new acts had come tumbling in, mostly via Ghazanfar Ali’s weekly pop show, ‘Music Channel Charts’ (Yatagaan, Awaz, Collage, Fringe Benefits, Sequencers, Jazba, Nadeem Jaffery, along with, of course, a rapidly galloping Junoon).

Though still the land’s top pop act, the Signs now had some serious competition.

The Pepsi Therapy: VS washed down their demons with Pepsi.
The Pepsi Therapy: VS washed down their demons with Pepsi.

On the surface they seemed not to be so perturbed. In fact, Rohail produced the first Awaz album, a band that was being tipped by Pepsi to be the next Signs.

It’s another matter that though a commercial success, the album was nothing more than a predictable exercise in one-dimensional boy-pop.

The Signs then toured the country to record the Shoaib Mansoor directed Geetar ’93, a compilation of videos of the Signs’ biggest hits thus far, shot across the four provinces and financed by Pepsi.

Made for PTV (and now available on DVD), Geetar ’93 was an entertaining document of the Signs’ progress as a solid pop act. However, the only thing in those videos that stuck out like a sore thumb was the not-so-aesthetically and strategically placed Pepsi bottles in the videos. They seemed surrealistically ridiculous placed there in songs about broken hearts, emotional isolation and soft existential angst.

1993 was also the year in which the Signs played the most number of concerts. The biggest taking place at the KDA Stadium in Karachi, headlined by the Signs and also consisting performances from the Milestones, Awaz and the newly formed Arsh.

Another note of interest at the concert was the presence of Salman Ahmed in the audience and the fact that it was after this concert that Rohail first started to show signs of agitation regarding his growing dissatisfaction with Rizwan-ul-Haq’s playing.

Run, rabbit run, dig that hole forget the sun …

Rohail wasn’t counting his blessings as far as Rizwan was concerned. He was a pretty competent player. Not flashy but highly melodic and understated. His playing was near perfect for the Signs’ sound.

However, the prospect of getting guitar whiz Aamir Zaki became too good an opportunity to let go. Rizwan was quietly siphoned out (he joined Awaz), and in came the moody and temperamental Zaki.

Amir Zaki. (Picture courtesy Maryam Shah).
Amir Zaki. (Picture courtesy Maryam Shah)

Pepsi were breathing down the band’s neck to come out with a new album. To compensate, the band released a hurriedly compiled “Best of …” package. Rohail did not want another Aitebar, deciding to construct a sound that was similar to the one discovered on VS:2 but a lot meatier.

Rohail and Zaki wanted it to be like a cross between Floyd, Eagles and Fleetwood Mac.

Much talk (and smoking) took place but little work was done as Rohail also ventured out to try publishing the country’s first music magazine and a possibility of recording actress Atiqa Odho’s debut album.

Rohail seemed to be spending more time planning Ms. Odho’s album than he was in the one coming up for the Signs’.

Already signs of tension and friction between Zaki and Rohail had started to emerge. And then came the announcement that the Signs would be touring the States.

Rohail flatly refused saying that he has a magazine to publish and albums to produce.

Rohail’s refusal did not go down well with Junaid who sided with Zaki’s suggestion of making the tour without Rohail. Which they did.

Ticked off, Rohail announced his departure from the band.

On returning, Junaid reproached Rohail and along-with Shahzad coaxed Rohail to rejoin. The meeting did not have Zaki in it, and when the Signs were interviewed in a TV show in mid-’94, here too Zaki was missing from the line-up.

But Zaki was still there with the band when they finally started work on the new album. The process was broken when the Signs flew to Dubai for a couple of concerts. They were seen embracing each other after the concerts in a show of reviving their trust and mending fences.

Zaki in the studios with the Signs, 1995.
Zaki in the studios with the Signs, 1995.

The recoding of the new album was again interrupted when the band toured England.

In between shows, Rohail took the band (along-with Awaz’s Asad Ahmed and Junoon’s Ali Azmat), to see Pink Floyd live in London.

Rohail had always wanted a guitarist who could sound and play like Floyd’s David Gilmore. Now, more than ever.

But he was shocked when Zaki came out of the concert severely criticising Gilmour’s playing. This was the final straw. After a heated argument, Zaki was asked to leave.

Some even blamed too much indulgence in hallucinogenic paraphernalia by the band.

Zaki was finally replaced by Asad Ahmed to help the band complete their new album.

Cover of 1995’s ‘Hum Tum’. By now VS had moved from EMI to Virgin Records.
Cover of 1995’s ‘Hum Tum’. By now VS had moved from EMI to Virgin Records.

It was no secret that Asad always wanted to jump Awaz and join the Signs, but Rohail wouldn’t accept him as anything more than a hired hand.

In early 1995, the Signs finally completed and released their fourth album, Hum Tum.

This was to be the last time the Vital Signs could be seen with their long locks, cowboy boots and denim. Hum Tum also sees Rohail expanding the Floydian ambience and the moodiness that he injected in VS:2  enough to come out clean as one of the local pop scene’s finest producers.

And even though lyrically Junaid Jamshed and Shoaib Mansoor again did well to compliment the album’s Floyd-meets-Eagles aura and VS:2-type moodiness, Hum Tum is really Rohail’s baby.



‘Jana Jana’ (1995).



‘Mein Chup Raha’ (From Hum Tum, 1995)

Asad Ahmed on stage with the Signs in London, 1996. He had replaced Zaki.
Asad Ahmed on stage with the Signs in London, 1996. He had replaced Zaki.

The aesthetic and commercial success of the album wasn’t enough to roll back another happening: Rohail and Shahzad were both emotionally, creatively and, if I may, philosophically, drifting away from Junaid Jamshed and Shoaib Mansoor. Nothing much seemed in common anymore between the two camps.

And though the Signs’ demise was never officially announced, by 1998 when the band were offered a deal by Pepsi for another album, Rohail declined, signalling the folding of what still remains to be one of most important and volatile chapters in the history of Pakistani pop music.

And then there were three: Vital Signs in 1997. They finally ran out of guitarists and time.
And then there were three: Vital Signs in 1997. They finally ran out of guitarists and time.

The same old fears …

Junaid had already started his gradual slip (flip?) towards a state of mind which would eventually land him as the puritanical Tableeghi Jamaat’s poster boy, while Rohail and Shahzad decided to shift their energies into producing new acts and advertising jingles.

Many years later, looking back I have no hesitation in also suggesting that Junaid’s band mates, Rohail Hyatt and Shahzad Hassan, and mentor, Shoaib Mansoor, did absolutely nothing to help him tackle the crisis plaguing him and whose solution he ultimately found in the shape of the Tableeghi Jamaat.

There was nothing wrong with him finding solace in the Jamaat, but the problem was that since Junaid had already tasted the fruit of success and fame as a pop star, his need for attention did not evaporate even when he decided to bid farewell to music.

On the contrary, his rather obvious desire to remain in the picture saw him continue to make news by first dipping in and out of music, varying the length of his beard according to where he stood on the subject of music and Islam, and then ultimately, announcing that music was not allowed in Islam.

This is what apparently took both Shoaib and Rohail by surprise and also caused disappointment because both had planned important future projects with Junaid.

Junaid’s conversion was not sudden. It was a gradual, slow and rather painful process, unfolding piece by piece right in front of his band mates and Shoaib Mansoor.

Ironically, he was the hungriest for success and stardom, not only in pop music but also in film and television. This made him one of the hardest working members of the band who actually wanted to continue playing beyond Hum Tum. He is on record as saying that music was his life as he went on to release two impressive post-Signs solo albums.

But more and more he was falling prey (rather willingly) to his frustrations, as his desire to work again with Vital Signs got no serious response from Rohail.

Though his two closest allies in the music business had by now become aware of the growing conservatism in the religious and social ideas held by Junaid, they still couldn’t see through the obvious fact that in front of them was a man spiralling downwards towards a situation in which he would ultimately start questioning their faith.

Even though Rohail’s liberal mindset, tastes and lifestyle always clashed with Junaid’s idea of being an artiste (even though he himself was leading a rather lavish life), this undercurrent eventually turned into open resentment by the time Rohail did come around and agreed to reform the band in 2002 for a special Nazia Hassan tribute concert.

It was interesting to note how Junaid responded to Rohail’s call. Only a few days prior to the concert, Junaid had already announced to the press that he was joining the Jamaat full-time and would quit making music.

In fact, he had been spending his time preaching and being preached at in a congregation in Raiwind, when he suddenly reappeared on the day of the concert flanked by two members of the Jamaat but with his long, flowing beard now trimmed into a neat, stylish goatee.

When asked by the press about his earlier statement regarding his retirement from music, Junaid said that after consulting with some elders in the Jamaat, he has been assured that there was nothing wrong with playing music.

Wearing a T-shirt, denim and with a stylised goatee, Junaid played an excellent set with Rohail, Shahzad and the original VS guitarist, Salman Ahmed.

However, by the end of the concert he looked anguished as he started making his way towards his two Tableeghi comrades waiting in the wings to gather him back.

A common acquaintance of Salman and Junaid told me that Junaid boiled when Salman Ahmed declined his offer to join the Jamaat and he was never happy with the kind of band Rohail wanted Vital Signs to become.

He said Junaid thought that Rohail, who was trying to ring in bands like Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac as influences in the Signs’ music, was trying to turn VS into a “druggie” band.

Junaid shared these views with Shoaib as well, and yet the latter saw nothing wrong with the way his protégé was turning out to be.

Junaid has publicly criticised the way Mansoor has portrayed jihadis and Islamic evangelists in his 2007 film ‘Khuda Kay Liye’. He has alluded that it is Shoaib who is confusing the youth about Islam and not him.

But, of course, Junaid’s own confusion regarding the subject is now well documented and his lectures and statements never fail to sound contradictory as he goes about denouncing the material and the ungodly nature of music and showbiz, but continuing his long-standing stint as an expensive clothes’ designer and a naat-reciter. He releases his naat albums through exactly the same immoral promotional and distribution channels used by the pop music counterparts.

After finally deciding to let go of his need for fame and attention through music, he has found almost an equal amount of fame and fortune as a naatkhuaan, televangelist and designer.

Where are they now?

Rohail Hayatt with his wife, Amber, in 2011. Today he is a successful music producer and pioneered the Coke Studio in Pakistan.
Rohail Hayatt with his wife, Amber, in 2011. Today he is a successful music producer and pioneered the Coke Studio in Pakistan.

Junaid Jamshed, after quitting music and becoming a full member of the puritanical Islamic evangelical group the Tableeghi Jamat.
Junaid Jamshed, after quitting music and becoming a full member of the puritanical Islamic evangelical group the Tableeghi Jamat.

Shahzad Hassan may have lost his hair but not his passion for music. Today he is a successful music producer.
Shahzad Hassan may have lost his hair but not his passion for music. Today he is a successful music producer.

Rizwanul Haq still moonlights as a musician with his own band.
Rizwanul Haq still moonlights as a musician with his own band.

Salman Ahmed folded Junoon on 2005 and moved to New York. Today he is an active member of Imran Khan’s PTI.
Salman Ahmed folded Junoon on 2005 and moved to New York. Today he is an active member of Imran Khan’s PTI.

Amir Zaki teaches music.
Amir Zaki teaches music.

*The blog is based on the many interactions the author had with the band as a journalist between 1990 and 1999.


Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and



The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and He is also the author of two books on the social history of Pakistan, End of the Past and The Pakistan Anti-Hero.

He tweets @NadeemfParacha

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (62) Closed

Magister Ludi
Mar 28, 2013 01:45pm
It is almost a tragedy to see a whole full length article dedicated to follies of the idle rich. What about a piece on Ibn Sina, Husserl, Brentano or Meer. Never liked pop-music from day one. Been listening to Wagner, Bartok, Bach, Mehdi Hassan, Amanat Ali Khan all my life.
VS Fan
Mar 28, 2013 01:49pm
Wah, NFP kya yaad dila deeya. Great days. And I remember you were as much of a rock and pop star in those days as a journalist as these guys were. Fantastic article. VS were awesome.
Sarah A.
Mar 28, 2013 01:55pm
He's still a rock star, if not even more than before.
Mar 28, 2013 02:06pm
Great article as always NFP. Vital Signs were a huge part of my childhood. Still love their sound. Completely agree with you that Hum Tum was the pinnacle of their music and Aitebar was the weakest album they made. Wish they'd carried on for longer. Only four albums out of such a great band is unfair to their fans.
Mar 28, 2013 02:18pm
Great insight into the most important youth cultural phenomenon of the last 25 years. Perhaps the author can expand on this in a book. Artistically, I now feel that Junoon was more daring and, thus, creative than Vital Signs. Not that I don't absolutely love Vital Signs. In many experience, many westerners have commented how Vital Signs sounds like Pink Floyd, so Rohail should be satisfied. Although, I am ambivalent about whether this should be considered a compliment.
Rahilla Imtiaz
Mar 28, 2013 02:25pm
after reading this i want to be VS fan all over again!very well written!
Mar 28, 2013 02:31pm
Classical vs Pop, the two are not exclusive my friend. I listen to Junoon, Vital Signs, Mehdi Hassan, Tupac, Notorious BIG, Ata-ullah EssaKhelvi, Beethoven, NTM, Noor Jahan, Bhangra or anything that I like. Its just music. You have got to look beyond the hair, the jewelry, the baggy pants, that's just part of the show, dose not diminish the art.
viq syed
Mar 28, 2013 02:35pm
Great job Nadeem reflecting on the on the lives and history of this all time favorite. You made me travel back in time, as my youth is so much attached with their music. Admin
Mar 28, 2013 02:56pm
You might be facing difficulty in listening to the audio tracks. We are fixing it. Thank you. Admin.
From the Land of Beaver Tails and Tim Horton's
Mar 28, 2013 02:58pm
Fantastic NFP! You took me back to the best days of my life !! I was fortunate enough to have witnessed the music making process of Vital Signs and Junoon. Man those were days when I would be at Nusrat Hussain's place in Karachi where he was creating songs for Junoon. Witnessed Jam sessions which showcased beautiful music, the sheer brilliance of Ali's singing and the incredible playing skills of Amir Zaki and Salman Ahmed!! I wish we would have recorded these jam sessions and just released them as it is. By the way, you forgot to mention Live Wires :) One more idea: You should make this as a script for a movie on the music scene in Pakistan during the late 80s and 90s with the evolving political scenario as the background and Shoaib Mansoor to should direct it..... I am already buying my ticket.... Regards Khalid
Mar 28, 2013 03:04pm
Thats right, don't you mess with Gilmour. I love how you have used Floyd lyrics are your titles. I wonder if you've watched them live? Great work.
Mar 28, 2013 03:12pm
Ages ago I read Junaid Jamshed's interview in an Urdu newspaper in which he mentioned that Dil Dil Pakistan was not written by Shoaib Mansoor but infact was penned by Hasan Akbar Kamaal (who allegedly got paid only Rs350 for it). As HAK's friend, when SM saw VS playing he was convinced that they would be able to do justice with that song. I am not sure how true it is or it could be possible that I am wrong but have to say to NFP you now owe your readers a good book on Pakistan's history and culture because we are convinced that you have much much more to share with us. looking forward for your next gem...
Mar 28, 2013 03:18pm
Freedom of choice. Just as you can pick and choose what you like so can others. As far as Ibn Sina is concerned he was quite aptly refuted by al-Ghazali in "Incoherence of the Philosophers". Raja
Mar 28, 2013 03:22pm
One can observe you trying to hold back against JJ and TJ :) Well written and researched. Nice to know.
Karachi Wala
Mar 28, 2013 03:48pm
Every generation Blames the one before And all of their frustrations Come beating on your door I know that I'm a prisoner To all my Father held so dear I know that I'm a hostage To all his hopes and fears I just wish I could have told him in the living years ...You say you just don't see it He says it's perfect sense You just can't get agreement In this present tense We all talk a different language Talkin' in defense Mike & The Mechanics The Living Years
Asif Kahsmiri
Mar 28, 2013 03:54pm
What a beautiful beautiful article....loved it. thank you.
Mar 28, 2013 04:12pm
Fantastic article; well-researched and well-written. As a musically-obsessed kid growing up in Islamabad, I was only 8 when VS were formed (albeit I just realized that after reading this article). I loved (and still play) keyboards and VS were MY band; I loved their music and tried to emulate Rohail, though my talent was (and sadly yes, still is) probably less than 5% of his. This article brought back so many fond memories of saving money and begging my parents for more to buy VS albums at Rs25 a pop, of running into Junaid once at an Islamabad market, of sitting around with friends and listening to VS music, of playing their ditties on my little keyboard. Ah, the joy! Time, my friends, is such a fleeting SOB. Living in the US now for well over a decade, I tremendously miss those days dearly and thank the author for helping me remember them so vividly though this thorough piece of writing.
AK Rajput
Mar 28, 2013 04:50pm
Great writing as always I must say NFP. All the behind the scenes stories are truly eye opening. I have been a big fan of VS and Junoon all my life. JJ has been a true inspiration in whatever he does (i.e. Sing / Nasheed) I have met him in his singing days and his tableeghi days and he has been a true inspiration for me and many of the young audience of our generation. Again kudos for such a great article, I dearly enjoyed your Also Pakistan writings as well. Keep up the great work.
Mar 28, 2013 04:53pm
Dil Dil Pakistan. Those were the days. There was still a lot of hope in those days.
Mar 28, 2013 05:29pm
The man behind Nazia Hassan's success - Biddu was not an Englishman. He was an Indian.
Sonia K
Mar 28, 2013 05:46pm
In the beginning it was a cool reminder of the VS era and all the beauty of that era that was so stylish in its own simple way- but in the end I simply fail to understand whether you are being objective or siding with any member or not!!! While you seem to be kicking Junaid for changing into something he has done purely for HIMSELF and not for the world- somehow you fail to realize (as per your writing) how destructive Rohail has been for the band (which does concern other people)!!!
Mar 28, 2013 06:20pm
Wow, what a trip down memory lane, Paracha sahib! I remember each and everyone of those fantastic days through the 80s and 90s when we wouldn't stop listening to cassettes from the Signs, Junoon and Awaz on our Walkman's. And Music Channel Charts - who can forget that? It was the second coming of Pakistani pop. Great article!!
Mar 28, 2013 07:00pm
Few of the information in this article is inappropriate. As 'dil dil Pakistan' was not written by Shoaib Mansoor. Junaid mention in his interview that the writer of this song is still Anonymous.
Mar 28, 2013 07:17pm
Man you sure know how to bring back memories! What a great time it was back then. Still, when i want to go back in time or remembering my good ol' days of karachi, I listen to vital sign especially "Tum Mil gaye tau kiya hua" and Goray rung ka zamana" songs....just awesome!
Mar 28, 2013 08:22pm
Nadia was inspired by many biddy a British Indian was one who was honored to work for an icon who was a Pakistani singer loved by her nation. Incidentally Nazia's song disco dee wane was no 1 in brazil for months. I saw VS perform in London and they were awesome.
Mar 28, 2013 10:22pm
Excellent take on the history of the "Vital Signs" by NFP.
Mar 29, 2013 01:22am
All these rock bands sound pretty much the same. They are more geared towards students and urbanites thus their lack of mass appeal or 80 percent of the population. That 80 percent is firmly in grasp of Bollywood. Rhythm and beat that would get people on their feet is simply missing.
Mar 29, 2013 01:32am
I have some choice words for you but unfortunately Dawn will not publish them
Faiza G R Bhatt
Mar 29, 2013 03:07am
if you hadn't allowed mullahism in Pakistan then 80% would be in the control pop and rock music.
Mar 29, 2013 03:34am
I know your personal favorite was VS-2, NFP. And I also know you were great friends with The Signs (especially Rohail and JJ), Zaki and of of all Junoon guys. I also remember how you and JJ had a falling out because he thought you were promoting Rohail more than him.
Shahryar Shirazi
Mar 29, 2013 04:31am
Reminds me of the music articles NFP used to do back in the mid 90s ... I don't remember if it was Dawn or The News. Sitting at the IBA city campus, we used to read, discuss and debate all this ... Nostalgia!
Mar 29, 2013 05:02am
Mind blowing article NFP. And impressive use of pictures I must say..
Mar 29, 2013 05:14am
He used to work and write for The News. And someone here who said that he used to be as big a rock star as these guys was right. Yes, he's still a rock star but in those days I remember he used to have really long hair and used to wear all sorts of caps and hats.
Mar 29, 2013 06:01am
Cultural critic NFP in full swing here in this article.
Khalid Melbourne
Mar 29, 2013 06:17am
Good ole days.. signs killing the concerts, Junoon trying to breakthru, Strings performing at Commerce college out of nowhere, NFP in rehab!!!!!
Mar 29, 2013 07:11am
"Hallucinogenic paraphernalia" has completely blown me away, Sir.
Mar 29, 2013 07:29am
I've read numerous writers, but I simply love the smart and clever ways NFP uses the English lsnguage.
Mar 29, 2013 07:33am
Yes, it is true that NFP ended up in rehab in the late 1990s, but you'll be surprised how many of his musician friends did as well. NFP's case is now well known, as to how he rose as a journalist but then crashed due to his many unhealthy habits, entered rehab, vanished but after some years returned to rise once again as a popular columnist.
Mar 29, 2013 07:45am
Great article for then toddlers like me !
Mar 29, 2013 07:50am
Always a pleasure reading his stuff. He's written so well about politicians, poets, revolutionaries, Islamists, leftists, cricketers ... In his amazing 'Crazy Diamonds' series in Dawn, while all the while to me he's been a most interesting Crazy Diamond himself. Check out how his story moves: Born into a wealthy family. But dad is a Socialist, a journalist and PPP member. Does his o level from a elitist school but joins government college where he becomes a Marxist and a student leader. Is arrested and jailed on a number of occasions by Zia dictatorship. Joins journalism and rises fast as a popular writer. Gets into drugs, alcohol and has many flings with women until he loses his mind. Joins rehab. Disappears from the scene. Remerges after years only to rise again as a popular and controversial cultural critic and a staunch liberal. Crazy Diamond, alright.
Mar 29, 2013 08:21am
No other band in Pakistan evokes such nostalgia as Vital Signs. Dil Dil Pakistan, Teh Sham, Aitbar are some of the countless songs that are simply out of the world.
Aamir Zaki
Mar 29, 2013 10:30am
I have NEVER could NEVER ever dislike David Gilmore's playing, i have learnt from him. kindly respond. im just honest and Logical Nadeem Not Moody and things you write. Thanks:)
Mar 29, 2013 11:30am
But both Rohail and Asad Ahmed have narrated this story in interviews. But I guess it's your word against them, even though it was quite an open secret that you had a torrid time in the Signs.
Sonia K
Mar 29, 2013 11:36am
ok so thats why despite all the straight forwardness- somehow Rohail still is the star!! and Junaid, Aamir Zaki and Salman somehow are either victims or killers at different points in time!! :)
Mar 29, 2013 11:40am
'Dil Dil Pakistan' was shot in Islamabad, near Shakarparian.
Sonia K
Mar 29, 2013 11:40am
There can be some write-ups on Mehdi Hasan and Amanat Ali too- care to do some?????
Mar 29, 2013 01:12pm
Thanks. I like him now. :)
Mar 29, 2013 01:50pm
@Faiza G R Bhatt- Mullahism did cause a lot of problems for Pakistan's entertainment industry. But how do you explain lack of mass appeal of Pakistani music in India or other countries where Hindi songs are popular. Could it be that Pakistani music is lacklustre when compared to compositions from other countries?
bacha M
Mar 29, 2013 03:12pm
Not sure what VS concerts you attended that they "killed". All I saw were a bunch of disinterested talent lip syncing and pretending to play to recorded tracks. This takes nothing away from their music - Hum Tum remains one of my favorite Pakistani pop albums to date - but the VS were not a good concert band.
Mar 29, 2013 04:37pm
yeah, sure.
Mar 29, 2013 05:42pm
Hmmm...this seems like it has not been written very makes no mention of "Naya Pakistan" and the whole Imran Khan thing
Rashid Sultan
Mar 29, 2013 05:50pm
Biddu (Appiah), musician extraordinary who directed the Hasan siblings is no more British than Musharaff is America. He lives in Bangalore having banged Tina Charles with Kung Fu.
Mar 29, 2013 07:56pm
Hats off to Nadeem Paracha,as there are only few souls which evacuated themselves after the crush of life.Life is like a chequered history,so who we are to blame a man whom Pen is more powerful than our bloody comments...leave his rehab etc...
Mar 29, 2013 08:18pm
No mention of 'bottles',,, Nadim might be too ill to be himself
Mar 29, 2013 08:39pm
How could ANYONE dislike Gilmore's guitar? The only thing I hold against him is his usurping the Floyd name from Waters. Shine on Mr. Zaki!
Shahid Khan
Mar 30, 2013 12:14am
hey Aamir, i am a big fan of yours from back in the 80s. i met you at the yamaha music center where bass player Arif (if i remember his name correctly) used to teach guitar. hope you are both well. your playing inspired me to continue my interest in music.
F Hyat
Mar 30, 2013 02:52am
Thank you mr paracha, what a wonderful way to return to the past. watching the the brother and sister duo brought tears to my eyes reminding me about how badly they were treated by the public and media and of nazia's early demise. her resting site is two steps away from where my father is buried. dil dil pakistan is an evergreen song and listening to it makes the heart soar and strong nationalistic feeling emerge. rohail hyat was and remains an extremely talented artist. and can undeniably be called a pakistani icon.
Mar 30, 2013 03:59am
Did you ever stop and think Nadeem that maybe, just maybe you are experiencing the same inteshaar in your mind that Junaid was struggling through during his later years with Vital Signs that you talked about in your article. Clearly after reading your articles for the past couple of years one can form an opinion. Junaid seemed to have heard his calling, isn
Mar 30, 2013 05:37am
Pop singers and Rock bands replaced with suicide bombers in pakistan today... ironically both are loud and perform in crowded areas with a "bang".
Mar 30, 2013 07:23am
And in West pop singers commit suicide, dope or die of substance abuse
Mar 30, 2013 07:24am
Mar 30, 2013 12:52pm
Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala is giving him opportunity after an opportunity, make dua that he get understanding of this Deen, and extend hi hand to hold the rope of Allah. As He gave the understanding to Junaid Jamshed

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