Sunday, February 19, 2012

Yusuf Islam: I have always tried to be honest in my art - Doha Qatar

Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, performing in Doha Qatar
Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, performing in Doha Qatar

Before giving his first concert in the Middle East last weekend, singer and songwriter Yusuf Islam expressed his excitement at being in Doha, speaking about his love of performing to people of all nationalities, cultures and ages around the world, and emphasising the importance of education in eliminating cultural divisions.
Having released his first album in 1967 as Cat Stevens, the award-winning musician has a huge fan-base around the world, including in Qatar, where nearly 3,000 fans turned out to see his performance on Thursday evening.

“Well, naturally, my music kind of spans generations and recently at concerts in Europe, we have had people there of all ages, from people in their 60’s and 70’s down to 12 year olds,” he told Gulf Times.

“I think I still manage to remain relevant because I have always tried to be honest in my art, in my words and in my lifestyle, because if my lifestyle was contradictory to my words then I would be a hypocrite and that is probably one of the main driving factors in my life, to try and live by ideals,” he explained.

Islam himself has experienced a number of obstacles and challenges in his lifetime which have contributed to his music and his attitude. He explained that he has always tried to look forward to the future, and to remain upbeat about what lies around the corner.

“There is always something good ahead, like I wrote in the song Peace Train, – ‘thinking about the good things to come’ – no matter what you are facing at that time, there is an overarching, powerful, and enveloping mercy over the universe, I believe, and even in the darkest times, that’s when the light is going to start to shine – that’s the way I look at it.”

Since converting to Islam, and despite his humanitarian efforts around the world, the singer has been entangled in a number of controversies related to his faith, including being denied entry to the US for a number of years.
He stressed the importance of education in helping to combat the prevalence of misconceptions about Islam and other religions, and to help break down the barriers which often divide people from different backgrounds.

“Obviously knowledge and education is going to be critical in helping to overcome problems,” he said, “for a long time Islam was looked upon by the Orient and the image of Islam was created by the Orientalists, but for those westerners who were brave enough to break through the wall and discover what Islam is, they found, like me, so many things that enrich and come from the heritage of previous revelations of Christianity and Judaism.”

“There is no barrier, in some sense, when you look at it with clear vision – it’s all one thing, which is what I would like to make clear,” he said, arguing “I think there is a need for education, because once you read you become enlightened.”

Islam referred to the recent death of pop star Whitney Houston, warning that it is all too easy to fall prey to the temptations and the less savoury elements of fame.

“You have got to be strong, you have got to make your path and travel it with caution,” he said, “anyone who is just frivolous, and if you just waste your life and do what others tell you to do regardless of what your conscience says, then you may fall victim – another victim – on the long path.”

“You may be a great singer, but you may be a failed human being,” added the singer, reiterating his belief in the universal importance of lifestyle and integrity, but warning that this is a difficult balance to achieve.
Many musicians to have been at the forefront of popular music in the past cite Cat Stevens as an influence in their careers, and the man himself explained that he has listened to most genres of music in his time, enjoying a wide variety of styles.

“To be honest my whole musical education began with Beethoven, Tschaikovsky and Bernstein,” he said, explaining “then came the Beatles and they changed everything and made it more relevant for who I was, as a young man growing up in London in the 60’s, and that’s who I took my lessons from.”
Islam was particularly animated when discussing blues music, and some of his preferred exponents of the genre.

“I love the blues!” he enthused, highlighting artists such as John Lee Hooker as particular favourites, as well as a number of English folk musicians who have also provided inspiration throughout his career.
He praised the efforts of the local authorities in promoting culture here by providing a foundation for future development, but also highlighted the importance of education in achieving this goal.

“I think it’s great, it’s created an environment for culture to take root, but ultimately it’s people who create culture, not buildings, and therefore in order to encourage creativity, it is something that has to go into education as well,” concluded the iconic singer, as he prepared himself for what was a fantastic concert last weekend.

Source from gulftimes

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