On the New Year and New Release (‘The Praised One)

Posted on January 6th, 2021

I’m delighted to announce the release of The Praised One at this special time. This release, coming as it does at the New Year — with all its possibilities and promise — has deep significance for me.

That’s because the music I’ve produced throughout my career, from my very first album to my recent works ‘One’ and Shirvanshah’s Palace — everything I’ve done — has always sought to express something directly or indirectly of the compassion, the love and the light at the heart of all mystical teachings. ‘The Praised One’ is my rendition of a poem by the 13th century Sufi poet Imam Busiri that speaks of these qualities in the being of the Prophet with heart-wrenching eloquence.

For this piece I blended flamenco rhythms with instruments of the Silk Road. Imam Busiri’s life took him across the breadth of North Africa from the Maghreb to Egypt and musically the piece hints at that migration. And while my music is focused almost exclusively in recent years on the complex and beautiful legacy of my tradition, it’s not only about the past and where we’ve been. It’s about the present moment — and it’s about where we’re going.

Like most of you, I’ve spent much of the past year in lockdown and it’s fair to say there was nothing normal about 2020. It was devastating. In my own field — arts and culture — there’s been a lot of suffering as venues and production around the world have had to shut down completely with no ability to plan ahead. On a global scale it was harder than any year we’ve faced in our lifetimes. The pandemic took loved ones, upended lives, destroyed hopes and dreams. It broke too many hearts. But along with shock and loss and grief we’ve witnessed the incredible inner strength of medical professionals, frontline workers, and neighbors and strangers helping one another. There’s no denying that the beauty of the human spirit shone bright this past year.

This piece, the Praised One, is connected to that shining spirit. When I contemplate the unconditional compassion Imam Busiri describes it leaves me breathless. It’s indiscriminate compassion that got us through last year. And it’s no small thing. It’s that unlimited compassion that makes the dervishes whirl in ecstasy; it’s said to make the very heavens turn. It’s compassion for our fellow humans; it’s compassion for the creatures of the earth and sea; and it’s compassion for nature itself. We can find it in our sacred teachings; we can find it in our hearts. I’ll be looking for that compassion everywhere in the coming year, within and without.

When we look for guidance going forward, I feel that we’re very blessed to have the wisdom of our traditions and the paths they have laid out. ‘The Praised One’ is my offering for this time from my own tradition. The transformative love and light at the heart of it, the same love and light at the heart of all the world’s great traditions, can — I believe — help us see beyond the limited boundaries that divide us and look to the beauty that binds us.

T.S. Eliot said:

“Last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.”

To all of you I wish peace and strength in the year ahead, and pray that the voice of 2021 will speak the language of compassion and love.

Sami Yusuf