Kuwait Times caught up with British musician Sami Yusuf just before his concert yesterday at Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmed Cultural Centre. Yusuf was named the “King of Islamic Pop” by the Al-Jazeera network and listed by the BBC as one of the ’30 Most Famous Britons’ in 2009.
Kuwait Times: Tell us about yourself. How did you get into music?
Sami: I come from a family of musicians; I entered the music industry when I was 14 years old. When you mix music with commercialism, it turns out to be fake. Coming from a culturally rich family, I decided that I didn’t want to pursue such music. When I was 21, after the September 11 attacks, I felt the need to sing for a purpose and reflect the Muslim community. I felt the desire to defend my religion and explain that what happened wasn’t a particular religion’s fault. It was a calling from God for me to be what I’m today.
KT: How do you feel about performing live in Kuwait at the Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmed Cultural Centre?
Sami: I am very honored to be the first artiste to perform at the Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmed Cultural Centre. This isn’t my first time in Kuwait – I have been visiting since 2005 for the Hala February festival.
KT: What message do you want to convey to the world through your music?
Sami: My music is the message – I love my religion. I do not see music as a tool but as a gift from God. It is connected to the soul. In my previous album, the message was to preserve our traditions. In order to go forward, we have to preserve the past and our identity. The terrorist groups are modern-day groups and know nothing about our traditions – they have destroyed books that carried the traditions of Islam. Art alone can portray how peaceful Islam is. Truth is always connected with beauty – all mosques depict beauty. ‘God is Beautiful and He loves beauty’.
KT: Whom would you like to work with in the future?
Sami: I will be more than happy to work with anyone who strives to deliver the right message without worrying about commercial considerations.
KT: Tell us about your new album.
Sami: My new album is a collaboration of one thousand Islamic songs from India to Andalus. It took me a year to research. I discovered that people are thirsty for tradition and it was No. 1 on iTunes and in the Western world. I felt I needed to show another side of tradition, particularly to modern youth who are religious but are detached from roots and traditions.
KT: In your view, what are the main reasons for the lack of solidarity and cooperation between the Muslim nation? How can we unite our ummah again?
Sami: Islamic traditions are dead, but in my opinion, the most important thing to do is to preserve our tradition. If we do not preserve it, we might lose our identity. We live in this era, so we have a responsibility to preserve traditions and pass them to the next generation.
KT: Tell us about your upcoming projects.
Sami: I work with Spirit foundation. We are trying to get songs from the ‘Barakah’ album into schools, not only in Arab countries, but also in British schools. Every school has music classes, so instead of singing the usual songs, we are trying to introduce some songs that were famous in the past. I dream of running an institute in the UK to teach people about traditional art, maqamat, Islamic music and music from all over the world.
By Faten Omar