A quick glance at Sami Yusuf’s body of work and you will notice a pattern. Ever since his 2003 debut, the British singer, known for his music with a spiritual flavour, has always been about the message of peace and of brotherhood, irrespective of religion.
So, when the people behind the United Nations-endorsed World Interfaith Harmony Week came calling for a project, Yusuf just couldn’t say no. The plan was for the singer and instrumentalist to write and record a track to mark the event, held on the first week of February every year.
The result, a song called The Gift of Love, was released on February 2, accompanied by a video.
“This is a monumental opportunity for me to basically relay the quintessence of my humble message of unity and peace and love,” says Yusuf, who makes no profit from the song. “I cannot stress enough the importance and timeliness of this project with what’s going on with the world, all these horrible things that’s happening.”
Interfaith Harmony Week
Proposed by King Abdullah II of Jordan in 2010 and later adopted by the UN, the World Interfaith Harmony Week now marks international events around the world. Yusuf’s song is also part of a ‘crowdspeaking’ campaign that lets people rally together via signatures and social media footprints to spread a message of peace and harmony.
A goodwill ambassador for the UN’s World Food Programme, Yusuf says he was approached by a member of the Jordanian royal family, who he prefers to only refer to as “a very private and humble person”. The singer and his team spent two weeks in Jordan filming the video across various locations, including Petra, the baptism site of Jesus, Wadi Rum and at the Holy sites in Occupied Jerusalem.
“I got to fulfil my dreams. Because for the first time I get to put the core of my message and essence of my humble works in an anthem. It was amazing,” he says. “This project is beyond any individual. It’s purely out of love. There was no financial incentive. The only goal that we have is to get this to go viral.”
The theme of the song, of course, is centred around the universal message of love.
“If you boil all the religions down, it’s really the love of good and love of [one’s] neighbour that they all emphasise. And that’s the message we’re trying to spread,” he explains. “It’s not just Muslims, or people who claim to be Muslims, that are always in focus. From Buddhist militants in Myanmar and Christian militias in Nigeria, it’s just a very difficult time we live in.”
The song has already received support from A.R. Rahman, the Oscar-winning Indian composer, with whom Yusuf is working on a project, and Oscar-nominated director Lee Daniels, “a good friend”.
Yusuf, who launched his fifth studio album, The Centre, in September last year, is currently in the UAE, where he spends a few months every year at his home in Sharjah. He’s currently working on the music for a short film on Al Hazen, the 10th Century Arab polymath known for this contributions to optics and astronomy. Legendary Egyptian actor Omar Sharif will play the science icon.
“I love movies. It’s always been an area I’ve wanted to get into for a long time,” says Yusuf whose songs were used in the 2007 Hollywood film The Kite Runner. “The whole world of films is just very exciting.”
After the UAE project, Yusuf will jet to Chennai in South India to work with A.R. Rahman on the much talked about film, Muhammad, based on the childhood life of the Prophet (PBUH) by award-winning Iranian director Majid Majidi. Rahman is the composer for the film.
“There are hundreds of movies on Jesus Christ or the Buddha. But there are very few films on the Prophet (PBUH), done without misconceptions,” he says. “A.R. told me of all the movies he’s done, this was something he’s been most proud of.
“He’s very picky,” he says of Rahman. “After he asked me to get involved with it, he sent me the song. Because of the nature of the project, it has to be the best for him. I shared some ideas, we did some initial recording at our studio here and now I’m flying down to Chennai for some more work.”
There are also two Hollywood films that Yusuf’s working on, but he wouldn’t elaborate.
“One of them is a very, very big budget film. Both of the stories are very close to my heart,” is all he’ll say.
Then, by the end of February, he’ll be back on the road across Europe to perform and promote The Centre.
“It’s one of my finest and in many ways it’s much closer to my first album,” he says. “I know a lot of artists say that but lyrically, philosophically, I’d say it’s the richest of all my humble works.”
Through his label Andante records, Yusuf has also been mentoring up-and-coming artists. One of the first artists he signed, Hisham Abdul Wahab, a singer-songwriter from South India, will accompany him on his Europe tour.
“My goal with Andante has always been to support artists who are essentially not just gifted but who want to make music, not only for a purpose but also who are grounded and have the correct mental approach. This whole industry is very dangerous. To fall into that trap of ego and ‘me-me’ mentality and how many likes you’re getting… it’s very easy to get caught in that world,” he says.
“I’m very delighted with the outcome of Hisham’s album. It’s a beautiful contemporary traditional album, not your typical Bollywood sound. He’s really into reviving lost traditional sounds. And it’s doing really well.
“We are always looking for talent. People who are prepared to take the long road. Do something positive with music.”
In essence, it’s something Yusuf set out to do when he began his career more than a decade ago.
“I’ve been given these amazing opportunities to work on something I love, I think that’s a great honour,” he says. “I really feel blessed.”
For more on Sami Yusuf, go to samiyusufofficial.com.