By Tom Perry
CAIRO (Reuters) - A
singer who has shot to fame in the Middle
East with songs about Islam and the Prophet
Muhammad (pbuh) says his music is quenching
a thirst for spirituality in pop.
Sami Yusuf combines
English, Arabic and Turkish lyrics with
Middle Eastern and Western instruments in
Brought up in London
but of Azeri descent, 25-year-old Yusuf
has achieved celebrity status in Middle
Eastern countries including Egypt, where
his CDs sell alongside traditional pop and
are played in shops and cafes.
is missing in the vast majority of most
songs," Yusuf said. "The art world
has been hijacked by thecommercial environment.
That's why we have a vacuum in producing
positive art with positive messages, promoting
"I'm not a preacher,"
Yusuf made his first
album, "Al-Muallim," for Muslim
minorities in the West, who he says are
in need of role models from their own faith.
"In the West, we don't have enough
Islamic celebrities who would make minority
Muslims proud," he said.
"In my father's
time we had Cat Stevens, Malcolm X, Muhammad
Ali. Now you find that a lot of people think:'Islam.
Ah, Osama bin Laden,' You find some youth
who are confused, who might feel disillusioned,"
Although it was mainly
aimed at Muslims in the West, "Al-Muallim"
has sold widely across the Muslim world.
The title is the Arabic word for teacher
and is a reference to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
"We were shocked
when we realized it had become a success
in Egypt, and not just in Egypt, in the
whole Muslim world," Yusuf said in
Cairo, during a recent tour.
He says his work is
popular in Arab countries because both the
arrangement and lyrics offer listeners something
new and different from Arabic pop, which
typically deals with love and romance.
SINGING FOR HEADSCARVES,
"We need something
different -- new concepts in the Arab world.
I feel that a lot of the messages, if there
are any messages, are just a blind imitation
of the West," he said. Yusuf plays
several instruments including the violin,
piano and the Arabic lute. His style at
times evokes a traditional form of Islamic
chanting called nasheed.
"What genre is it? I don't know. We're
blending Western harmonies with Eastern
modes. You'll find a lot of Turkish influences,
Arabic, Western and Indian. I want to show
that Islam represents a huge amount of people
and cultures," he said.
Yusuf's second album
"My Ummah" -- a reference to the
Islamic nation -- was released last year.
It includes a song called "Muhammad (pbuh)"
condemning violence in the name of Islam.
The song is dedicated to people killed in
2004 in a bloodbath at a school in the Russian
town of Beslan.
Chechen Islamist separatists
seized hundreds of hostages in the school
and 331 people were killed, more than half
of them children, when security forces tried
to free the captives.
also includes "Free," which defends
Muslim women's right to wear the Islamic
headscarf, or hijab. French state schools
banned the veil along with other religious
symbols in schools in 2004.
"I was doing a
concert in France and a girl approached
me and said: 'Please do something on the
hijab, you don't know how much we're suffering.'
It's not just for people who are wearing
hijab. It's for civil liberties," Yusuf
Yusuf says his second
album is less dedicated to Islam than the
first. "I hope to launch my next albums
in mainstream Western pop."
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