Saturday, October 15, 2005

Sami Yusuf

Sami Yusuf is a great singer who's got a new album out, entitled "My Ummah," which continues his tradition of reflective, spiritual music. One difference that strikes you immediately is that the musical accompaniment is more sophisticated and textured than in the debut album, "Al Mu'allim." The first album seemed to rely more heavily on percussion, and the music was almost inobtrusive, serving to highlight Yusuf's singing and the vocal harmonies. In "My Ummah" the music is more of a partner, making its presence felt in a welcome way. Of course, the real instrument is Sami Yusuf's beautiful, otherwordly voice. When you listen to him, it feels as though you are transported to an oasis in the desert for a brief respite from the furnace of daily existence.

He continues to sing in Arabic and English, switching between languages with perfect fluency and ease. His songs range from those which praise the Prophet (peace be upon him) to those which call attention to the injustices being waged against Muslims in the world. An excellent example of the latter is the song, "Try Not to Cry" which features vocals by the group Outlandish (Isam Bachiri, Waqas Qadri, and R. Lenny Martinez), a hip hop band that became internationally renowned, especially in Denmark, where they started and are most famous. The song speaks more to the pain of oppression rather than promoting any sort of political agenda. Indeed, this is what is most compelling about Yusuf's lyrics, they paint a picture and leave you to make your own conclusion, giving voice to a perspective that is rarely heard in the mainstream media.

What also impresses me about Yusuf's songs are their emphasis on self-improvement in order to effect change that is meaningful. Truly, it is only when we make ourselves better people, morally and spiritually, that we can hope to effect change that is just and lasting. Yusuf specifically denounces the senseless violence of extremist groups (a violence that has no place in traditional Islam), reminding listeners that Islam's revolution is against one's own vices and shortcomings. As Waqas sings in "Try Not to Cry":

I throw bricks at the devil so I’ll be sure to hit him
But first at the man in the mirror
so I can chase out the venom

This, after all, is what Muhammad (peace be upon him) was sent for, as he himself stated, "I have been sent to perfect noble moral standards". It is this mission of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that Sami Yusuf so poignantly reminds us of us through lyric and voice. In short, Sami Yusuf has come out with a gem of an album that should be good listening for people of all backgrounds.

Of course, you don't have to take my word for it, you can download songs from iTunes, MSN Music, or watch some videos online for free. Enjoy!

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