Music can unite and serve a spiritual purpose: Sami

Posted on August 30th, 2013

54Muscat: For the fans of Sami Yusuf in Oman, tomorrow will be a special day.

For the first time, Sami,  the young singer-songwriter, composer, and producer will be performing in Oman at the Grand Hall of the Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) at a concert organised by Black & White in association with Bandera Events LLC.

Blessed with exceptional talent and enriching thoughts, Sami has been making waves across the globe after having pursued his dream of making music for the world to hear since he was 14.
Sami says that even if he had not sold 15 million records and filled some of the world’s leading venues to the brim, he would still have made music — “because it’s in my blood!”

Sharing his creative journey with Times of Oman, Sami said, “I was guided by my father, a master musician, a poet, songwriter, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist.  I was exposed to all types of musical genres and expression at a very young age. I grew up learning the tombak. At six, I asked my father, ‘You teach everyone, why you don’t teach me?’ He told me I would have to learn by the book. I learnt by the book. One day he went for a tea break after asking me to continue studying. When he came back in half an hour I said I had finished. He was not convinced and asked me to open the book and play. I did. That was basically the beginning.

I play many instruments, like the santoor, the piano, the violin and the oud. Singing was something that came much later. I thought I would probably end up becoming a composer. I didn’t think I would sing until I did a demo for one of the famous Persian singers. That day, my dad had a cold and couldn’t do the demo. He asked me to do it. I sang and that was it. My dad and mom thought I was really good. That was how it started. But I continue to be a student.”

Explaining the genre of the music he sings, Sami said, “People have called my music different things. It was called Islamic rock, which I didn’t like. I think that is an error. Some called it Islamic pop culture, which I simply don’t like at all. I believe that this music is an aspect of sacred music, which is a whole genre in itself. What constitutes sacred music is a whole book in itself. I have termed it ‘Spiritique’.

Once you give your music a religious title or religious connotations, you are effectively closing the door on many people. I am a person who loves the sacredness, whichever way the sacred is expressed. I am a lover of spirituality. I am proud of my Islamic faith and heritage. I am never shy about it. It inspires me to make my music. At the same time, I am a lover of the truth and how it is expressed in all the great major traditions. If I can somehow, in a small way, invite somebody to think in that way or entertain that concept through music, I will be happy.”

Spiritual purpose

Sami believes music can serve a spiritual purpose. “Music can unite, create respect, show mercy and spread love,” he said.

Sami adds that the global response to his music has been phenomenal, regardless of the faith people follow.

“The response has been phenomenal, actually, especially in the last five years. I have received a wonderful response. Many travel from afar to hear me sing. In venues such as Wembley Arena in London, I have seen people of other faiths come and be inspired. Many of the things I humbly talk about are perennial, they are ever lasting. They are inspired because my songs talk of aspects everyone can relate to.

“There is an underlying spiritual dimension to my humble work.”

His Silent Words are dedicated to the people of Syria and have touched many a chord.

Sami, who has been very happy with the response says, “I am not an activist, but a human being with a conscience. I have a traditional world view, which I hold dear. What affected me was two things. One was when I visited a camp in my capacity as a United Nations Celebrity Partner. I asked the crowd, ‘what can I do for you’? One middle-aged lady said, ‘Sami, we are going to get through this, you don’t worry. Instead, sing for us. Let the world know what we are going through.’ That really affected me. When I got back, I had this theme in my head and within 10 days the song was recorded.

“The second thing was the destruction of the holy sites, irrespective of which religion they are from, is a great injustice. Many were destroyed indiscriminately. These two incidents inspired me to create the song.”

Sami worries that human beings have become indifferent to the sacred. “When the scared means nothing anymore, then nothing has sanctity — even relationships with parents,” he says.

Sami notes that the video is not a political statement. “I am not saying something. I am not in a position to saying something. We are just echoing the suffering of the refugees and saying to them, we are with you.”

On music having a history of being a vehicle for social change, with artists from across the spectrum taking up various causes, Sami said, “Sometimes musicians get involved in issues they shouldn’t. That is why I think artist should stick to humanitarian issues and not get into politics, which is not their area.

“It is important that artists, in their capacities as celebrities, help. But I, personally, believe musicians have to be at peace with themselves and only then think of spreading peace around the world or taking up causes.”

After having already collaborated with musicians from other parts of the world, including Connor Reeves, Ian Brown, Erkan Mutlu and Sezen Aksu, Sami has new plans.

“I am working on a venture with John Taverner, who is the best known and regarded composer of this generation. We share similar thoughts on spirituality. He is a great admirer of the world religions. Besides, I was going to work with Ravi Shankar. I spoke to him on the phone, but unfortunately it was not meant to be. I would also like to work with my good friend A. R. Rahman. Both of us are wondering when it will happen…..but we know it will.”

Right now, he is busy with his pet project, Andante Studios.

“It took 10 years to set it up. Andante Records will promote new talents across the world and bring them to the attention of a wider audience. There is a lot of talent here. Two of the artists who have signed are from Kerala in South India. One of them, Hesham Abdul Wahab, is performing with me on Friday. Adanate Records is there to guide and support them.”

Speaking to Times of Oman about tomorrow’s concert, Sami said, “God willing, it will be an emotional, enchanting and spiritually uplifting experience.”