I was seventeen years old at the time I picked up a copy of “My Ummah”, by Sami Yusuf and started to play it in my hand-me-down Toyota Corolla.
The highly recognisable track, and its accompanying music video for “Hasbi Rabi” was a huge success in the Muslim World as well as amongst Muslims in the West. Now, at the age of 27, and having had been given the treat of attending Sami’s first concert in my hometown of Sydney last month, I have reflected on the significance Sami’s music and artistry has had on my personal spiritual development and my relationship with sacred art.
The appeal of Sami’s first few albums including “Al-Mualim” and “My Ummah” was instant. He sung mostly in English infusing Islamic messages with modern beats alongside lyrics which documented political and identity struggles post 9/11 Muslims can relate to. He also reminded us of familiar traditional music our parents celebrated in their original rendition back in their heyday (i.e. Sami’s cover of Urdu Qawaali “Allahu” by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan).
At an impressionable age in my life where I felt that I could have as easily chosen to identify less with my faith and not pursue its practice, I found myself influenced by Sami’s work.
Music is something I have always found my soul to be moved by. As a child I sung often with my father and was subsequently referred to as “singing bird” affectionately by my parents. For years I participated in school choirs, tried my hand at different instruments, and like many people my age, was very captivated by the world of pop music.
At a time I felt myself becoming more aware of Islamic teachings around such music, and seeking an alternative that would satisfy my musical soul through melody and lyrical content, Sami was a great start. Since Sami, I have explored other modern Islamically themed musicians or nasheed artists such as Dawud Wharnsby Ali, Al-Firdaus ensemble, Eduardo Paniagua, and the Singaporean Haqqani Ensemble.
There is an undeniable ability for sacred music to uplift, process emotion and facilitate a connection to the Divine. Music has been used as a spiritual device in all Islamic cultures around the world, all with their unique cultural flair. Sami’s most recent album, “Barakah”, aims to celebrate the contribution of the Islamic world to sacred music over the past centuries, and take listeners on a musical journey that will inspire an experience of love and longing for the Divine.
For the first time ever, Sami delighted his Australian fans by announcing concerts in Sydney and Melbourne. The day I got this news, I secured myself and some companions the best seats in the house I could get. I knew Sami’s shows were going to be of high calibre.
His Sydney concert was held at The Concourse in Chatswood, and was attended by a strong turnout of fans and curious members of mostly the Muslim community. An excited audience welcomed Sami and his accompanying ensemble of four very talented musicians, each wielding traditional instruments such as the tar and daff. There was a strong Persian theme to the set of the evening and a relaxed vibe to be felt with Sami’s calming and sophisticated presence.
From the moment Sami and his band played, the audience erupted in applause and recognition of familiar tunes. He held the fascination of a completely enraptured audience. A few “I love you Sami”s were to be heard from some passionate male fans, as well.
Sami demonstrated his diverse repertoire with the varying tempo, pitch and moods of his selection. He played from pretty much all of his albums, with a focus on his most recent album, “Barakah”. The crowd were most engaged with his performances of “Jaaneh Jaanaan”, “Hasbi Rabbi” and “You came to me”. My personal favourites from the night included a song of deep meaning and an equally powerful melody, “Khoarasan” as well as his performance of “Cadence”, a piece that has always resonated with me.
Sami quite skilfully interacted with his audience, inviting our participation throughout the night while balancing singing and mastery of various instruments. With each crescendo, powerful display of his vocals and multi-lingual capacity, the crowd applauded and sang along.
When the concert came to an end, my friends and I were fortunate enough to get the chance to have a brief chat with Sami and take a few photos. The last time I met Sami was in 2012 at the RIS retreat in Toronto, Canada. What will come across to anyone when they meet Sami is his incredible manners. He listens to people, shows interest in what they say, and makes the effort to pay everyone equal attention without multitasking.
It’s this sincerity and akhlaq, I think, that makes itself present in his music and is a strong factor behind his success. A composer like Sami, with his talent and soulfulness, strikes a chord with his listeners because his personal spiritual journey is encapsulated in his music.
The state of the musician will always be reflected in the music, and impact the audience accordingly.
Sami’s self-invented Spiritique genre, is needed now more than ever. His dedication to reviving our traditions and the middle path, through his music, is using art in a revolutionary way. May it inspire a new generation of sacred music and increase the value of voices of traditional wisdom and truth in the modern age. May Sami and his genre continue to assist fellow young Muslims strengthen their relationship with God and navigate their complex identities.
About the Author:
Sana works in the area of humanitarian settlement services for refugees arriving in Australia. In her spare time she writes for her travel blog, Wayfarer’s Compass, and enjoys painting/visual arts.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Creative Ummah.