Sami Yusuf, British singer-songwriter, composer, producer and an accomplished musician, who propagates a new genre of music called Spiritique (music with a message) has arrived with his troupe of musicians for his debut concert in Muscat – Sami Yusuf Live in Oman’ – hosted by Black & White magazine and organised by Bandera Events at the Sultan Qaboos University Grand Hall at 7.30 p.m. this evening.
This evening’s concert is expected to be a bit hit among the Omanis as well as the expatriate population in Oman, especially those from the Middle East and Europe where Sami’s albums are selling like hot cakes. Earlier this month, on August 9, Sami had performed to a thronging crowd in Kazan (Russia) at the square near the Theatre Galias Kamala while next month (September 28) he is scheduled to perform at the Guyana National Stadium, Guyana (South America).
Speaking about his musical journey to the media in Muscat, Sami said, “I have been going around the world trying to connect people to the Almighty through soulful music, imbibed in the centuries-old classics, and traditions of the Sufis. My works are inspired by the Holy Quran, peace, and spirituality”. Often labelled as the ‘Voice of Islam’, Yusuf emphasised he was not a preacher, rather a musician with a message, who believes in the urgent need for “a wave of people to come along and bridge the gaps, because we have so much in common, so much to learn from each other.”
His self-coined genre, ‘Spiritique’, is the musical and philosophical classification of his compositions. Spiritique, according to Yusuf, is a blend of both the ‘oriental and occidental’ sounds, underpinned by spirituality that ‘will utilise music as a facilitator for spiritual appreciation, regardless of race and religion’.
Music vs. Islam
The subject of music is one of the most controversial topics in Islamic Jurisprudence, and Yusuf has come in for criticism from other Muslims about the fact that he sings at all. Being a Muslim artist, Sami said he regularly sought clarification and advice from world-renowned scholars on art, music, singing and culture, and respected those who considered music to be ‘Haram’ (forbidden).
However, he followed the opinion of the classical and contemporary scholars, who permitted singing and the use of musical instruments. The well-established jurisprudential rule states that ‘in matters where there is ikhtilaf (difference of opinion) there is to be no condemnation of either opinion.’, and that is what the phenomenal singer abides with.
“This is from the beauty of the religion of Islam. The diversity of our cultural, legal and social traditions is something we are in dire need of celebrating, and not condemning. So let’s agree to disagree on this one. It has been my approach that whenever personal criticism is levelled at me, I ignore it and get on with my work, as my philosophy in life is to build and not destroy, and to unite, not divide”.
In history, Islam showed itself to be culturally friendly and, in that regard, has been likened to a crystal clear river. Its waters (Islam) are pure, sweet, and life-giving but, having no colour of their own, reflect the bedrock (indigenous culture) over which they flow. Asked to choose between Islam and Music, the singer replied without any second thoughts, “Islam. But would I have to choose? Even Life is one big symphony; you only have to realise it”.
Modernism the biggest evil
An orthodox person, Yusuf doesn’t like change very much. He believes modernism is “destruction in the name of change”, and the cause behind all the chaos in the world. We must be proud of our traditions. They reflect our past, our history, to disown them, is to disown your inner self and submitting to the illusions of the so-called modernism.
According to him, the state of contemporary mainstream music was one dominated by celebrity worship, materialism and the constant promotion of a consumerist culture that sought only to derive instant emotional and physical gratification. “The arts industry in general is being commercialized at the expense of art itself. We don’t value good art or good music anymore – it’s about what can sell most in the market. They could give you a million hits for a thousand dollars on Youtube. That’s how it is these days. Quality aspect is gone. All we are focusing on is quantity, owing to the modernist culture”, he adds.
Not only music, the artist believed modernism was destroying even the very essence of human life, by placing materialism above religion and God. “Religion is a good thing. It teaches us the very principles and values of humanity. Problems are created due to the lack of it. Modernism and its proponents find it hard to accept religion and they want us to forget it, by making us fall for greed and lust,” he asserts. To remember God is most important, “even if you haven’t for long, you could now”, stressed Yusuf, quoting the famous Persian poet Rumi, “Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving; It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come.”
Music for peace
The prolific singer maintained his works looked beyond the commercial aspect of arts and music. According to him, he tried to act as a bridge between humans and humanity through his renditions. “Apart from entertaining audiences, music is a powerful medium to communicate values and social messages. In these times where heinous crimes against humanity are being committed, we as artists, without any distinction have a duty to use this medium to bring some sanity to this world of unrest, fear, violence, terror and war. Human life and dignity are values that should be cherished and championed by all,” he said.
Fame is not Sami’s cup of tea. The very mention of fan frenzy, launch parties, deal signs and other hullabaloo sends the singer into an uncomfortable zone. “I do not sing for money or fame. I sing to remember God, to connect with him. Whatever comes along (name and fame) are the Blessings of the Almighty. But I have never wanted it for myself.” said Sami. Posing for the shutterbugs at the end, he suddenly started, “Don’t be sad by what you see. It’s true, life has its miseries. But one thing’s always worked for me – Worry ends when faith begins!”