When the surviving members of Led Zeppelin staged their three-quarter reunion late last year, much of the commentary it inspired was either banal nostalgia or rock critic wankery. To me, the most interesting response came from a Pakistani musician, Salman Ahmed, founder of the band Junoon, who praised Zep as a harbinger of world music. I know Jimmy Page went in for some exotic Asian tones, such as the Carnatic tuning he used for “Dancing Days,” but it was eye-opening (to say nothing of ear-opening) to learn the impact his music had all over the world:
I saw the band at Madison Square Garden during their last US tour in 1977 and it was a spiritual awakening. There was something deeply familiar in the music, but I couldn’t place it until I returned to Pakistan for medical school.
It was then that I realised music – in good measure, their music – had led me home.
Zeppelin channelled the Sufi music of South Asia through the blues to create rock ‘n’ roll at once more spiritual and more hedonistic than any before or since.
Soon enough I traded in my stethoscope for an electric guitar, which seemed the better instrument to help heal my deeply wounded society.
Where Page and Plant had immersed themselves in the blues, I studied with the qawwali legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who offered a similar message of harmony and brotherhood.
With such inspiration I formed Junoon, which became the biggest rock band in Asia.
Since then I have regularly found myself following in Zeppelin’s footsteps. The band’s music validated the belief of another hero of mine, the great Sufi Ibn al-Arabi, who said that only through a multitude of sources can universal harmony be achieved.
Since Led Zeppelin is most often written about for its contributions to the archives of salacious rock lore — the shark episode, the color televisions sailing off hotel balconies, the bizarre practices performed upon groupies — it’s refreshing to get such an unfamiliar perspective.
As for Junoon itself, I recommend the group’s hypnotic 1997 record Azadi as a good starting point.