As Sami Yusuf prepares for his forthcoming intimate London show and UK release of his acclaimed album, “Salaam”, TME caught up with him to pose a few questions about the concert, his music and current charity projects.
TME: You have a London show coming up in July. Please tell us about it?
SAMI YUSUF: That’s right. It will be held at RADA on 8th July as part of my new album (SALAAM) launch. It’s possibly the smallest performance I’ve ever had (other than performing in the living room for relatives/family as a kid!) but also the most daunting too since you are totally ‘exposed’. The tiniest mistake is noticeable and you can’t really get away with any errors like you could at a stadium. But I’m very excited for the launch. It will be followed by a Question and Answer session with the audience – which I’m also very excited about.
TME: Have you been pleased with the International recognition of your new album “Salaam”?
SY: Absolutely. I honestly did not expect such a phenomenal response. The album (as far as I’m aware) went Platinum in South East Asia and Diamond in Turkey all within hours/days after launch. It’s very humbling and surprising to see all these stats but in all honestly, I see my commercial success as more of an ‘accident’ and welcomed blessing than anything else. I never actively sought commercial ‘success’. Not that I’m complaining of course. All praise is to the One.
TME: Last time you played in the UK it was for Muslim Live Aid at Wembley Arena, what was that like?
SY: It was surreal but very humbling at the same time. I will definitely treasure the beautiful memories.
TME: How did you get into music? I read somewhere that you gave up a law career for it. Was that a difficult decision and what did your parents think?
SY: I never really ‘got into it’ so to speak. I mean I virtually grew up in recording studios assisting – and later helping – my father from a very young age. Music has always played and continues to play an integral role in my life. I started producing from the age of 14 and it didn’t take long for me to feel disillusioned and put off by the shallowness of Pop/commercial music in general. I wanted to distance myself from the industry and therefore opted to study Law – which, as it turned out, wasn’t a good idea after all! Just before I made my ‘exit’, I decided to sing – something I had never done professionally – a devotional album based on the noble Prophet which turned out to be the main catalyst behind my continued involvement in music to this day. I believe this album was providential.
TME: You were born in Iran, but brought up in the UK. Did that affect your approach to music at all?
SY: I would say most definitely. Iran is a very rich country with over four thousand years history. Most people are not aware of this, but Iran is a multi national/multi ethnic country with over 30 million Azeris alone (not counting the Arabs in the south, Balushis, Tajikis and Kurds etc)! I feel immensely blessed to have been exposed to so many different cultures and influences. By the time I was 5 or 6 years old, I was already exposed to Persian, Azeri and Kurdish traditional music.
TME: How does it feel being called “Islam’s biggest rock star?”
SY: A little odd actually. I don’t really take it that seriously, though I must admit, it was a great ‘sound bite’ for PR purposes in the West.
TME: When you write songs, tell us about the process. Which comes first the melody, the track or the lyrics?
SY: Usually, it’s a melody line or musical theme. Sometimes it’s the lyrics and melody together as was the case for Al Mu’allim. Other times it’s the melody. It varies each time. But in general, I have to be in a spiritual and introspective state otherwise the process doesn’t quite work for me.
TME: One of your songs featured in the internationally acclaimed film, ‘The Kite Runner”. How did that come about?
SY: One evening while resting in my apartment in Cairo, Egypt, I received a call from Oscar winning Director, Mark Forster (Finding Neverland, Monster’s Ball, Quantum of Solace, Kite Runner are counted in his repertoire etc), who was joined by his editor Matt Cheese. He said he was the doing ‘The Kite Runner’ movie and he wanted me to make one original composition as well as permission to use “Supplication” from the Al Mu’allim album. I asked him how he got my number and how he even heard of me. He said most of the cast members were made up of Egyptians, Persians and Afghani and they all recommended my name for the music sound track – it was a beautiful experience and Marc and I have kept in touch ever since. He is very sweet.
TME: Your songs mention a lot about the plight of the Palestinians. Would you say that you are a “political” artist? And what do you hope that people will take away from listening to your music?
SY: No, not at all. I’m interested in Spiritique. Which remind us of the timeless truths passed down throughout the ages as well as the truth within ourselves.
TME: In Turkey you have played enormous concerts including one in Istanbul for 250,000 people. What are your thoughts with what is happening in Turkey at the moment?
SY: I really don’t feel I’m qualified to be giving any kind of political analysis on the current situation in Turkey or elsewhere for that matter. I hope and pray for the continued success, stability and prosperity of Turkey and her people.
TME: You have collaborated with some interesting artists such as Connor Reeves , Ian Brown and Erkan Mutlu. Do you have any desires to collaborate with anyone else in the future?
SY: You forgot to mention the legendary Sezen Aksu from Turkey. She wrote the beautiful lyrics for “Without You”. I don’t mind collaborations at all so long as there is an underlying meaningful purpose beyond mere commercial interest.
TME: What music do you listen to when you are on your own?
SY: When I find the time, I prefer to listen to Traditional/Classical music, anything from Bach, Mozart to the works of Darvish Khan and mystical music.
TME: You do a lot of charity work. Please tell us about some of the projects you are working on at the moment?
SY: At present, I am the global ambassador of Silatech (www.silatech.com) a non-profit, micro-finance and job creation initiative spearheaded by Her Highness Shaykha Moza. This is a very rewarding project that not only aims to create jobs in the Middle East but also throughout the world in the coming years. I am also working closely with ‘Make A Wish Foundation’ (www.worldwish.org) which is doing some great work and I’m happy to support them. I am also a United Nations World Food Program Celebrity Partner and I work very closely with WFP to help them raise money for relief efforts around the world. Having embarked on a joint campaign to raise money for the Horn of Africa, Live Feed Africa (www.livefeedafrica.com) a year ago, we will now be initiating the next campaign for Syria (LiveFeedSyria) soon.
Sami Yusuf appears at RADA in London on July 8th at 7pm. Please click HERE for details