Getty | Getty There are a number of ways musicians can also become…
- Posted on Mar 28th 2011 2:15PM by Chris Epting
Islam, who initially stopped performing after his conversion to Islam in the late 1970s, has taken to the stage in recent years to perform new songs inspired by his faith alongside his greatest hits from the '60s and '70s. He's touring Europe this summer and a video for 'My People' will be released soon.
In a recent conversation with Spinner, Islam discussed his newest creative effort and reflected on his career and faith. Good-natured, funny and self-effacing, he's fully comfortable once more with his career, which continues to touch millions of people around the world.
What prompted you to record 'My People'?
Most of the things in my career have happened spontaneously, and this is just another one of those things. I had no big plans, but as we were all watching what as going on in Egypt there was this fantastic feeling of support and so we wanted to stretch out a hand to these people who were peacefully asking for change. I was on the guitar and then suddenly this song came out and 'My People' had arrived. The mood was simply one of intense admiration for the people who were standing up peacefully.
Technology and social networking played an integral in the creation of the song. How did that happen?
When I got back to making music again I was so delighted by having all this amazing technology at my fingertips. It was always tapes or these heavy, metal wheels that you carted around, and now it's all done on your laptop. It's amazing, and that one fact alone makes the making of music so much easier today. Now, something had flashed in my mind about Facebook, because I've got a Facebook page and I suddenly realized with all those people there, I bet they'd love to sing along to this because the chorus is so simple. We put that idea out there, posted it up with an invitation to anybody that wanted to just sing along. We gave them about four bars with about three different harmonies that they could sing. And we got all thee amazing voices from all over the world: Indonesia, China, Pakistan, India, the USA, Germany, South America. It was remarkable.
Do you have a sense of just how embedded many of your songs are in the public consciousness? How exposed are you to feedback about your older music today?
I get just amazing feedback all the time. I'm exposed to it a lot. We'll get these amazing stories from people who were perhaps so depressed that they'd actually started to become suicidal. And then, they fall upon, somehow, accidentally, my music, and that would change their life. Now, that is such an amazing thing and a lot of responsibility in a way.
It's why, I think, many artists try to write with their consciences. Not everybody of course, sometimes there are commercial reasons, but more often artists are driven by their conscience and that resonates. When you write from the heart, it goes straight to the heart. There's no barrier. That' a beautiful thing, and rediscovering my music has been incredible. I mean, there's a whole new generation getting into Cat Stevens. I thank my son of course. He is the one who reawakened it in me again years ago when he put the guitar back in my hands. He's a musician as well and so it was important to him.
Do you follow much modern music today?
I don't listen to much but occasionally I like what I hear coming through. I like Tom Waits. I know he's been around a long time but I like his kind of groove. I'm also listening to Mumford and Sons as well.
Some of your songs have interesting origins. Is the story about 'Matthew and Son' being inspired by a sign true? That you saw a sign?
Sometimes you remember the stories and sometimes you don't. With 'Matthew and Son,' I do seem to remember sitting on top of a bus, going through London and stopping at a certain point where I saw a sign that said "Matthew and Son." That's definitely what I remember. I had a friend who was working in a factory and his story and what he was going through in his workday that really inspired me to write that kind of social message. There actually is a Matthew and Son at 99 Gower Street in London. I've passed it a few times, but that's not the one I saw originally.
Is there any chance of you touring the United States soon?
I'm sort of going around the world very slowly at the moment [laughs]. Give me time and we may get there.
Lots of American fans would love to see you play live.
I did feel that when we did the Rally to Restore Sanity. There was an amazing moment that was kind of the reconnect of feeling, it was definitely there. And then Ozzy comes on sort of spoils it all, which was a bit of an upset for many people [laughs].
Does it frustrate you that many things you say seem to get either exaggerated or misinterpreted?
There's a great saying by Winston Churchill. He said, "So you have enemies? Good!" That means, at some point, you stood up for something. There was a point when I was totally aghast at people not understanding me. That's I another reason why I've sort of come back to writing songs again because it's such an easier way for me to communicate. I mean, as I've said before, you can argue with a philosopher but you can't argue with a good song. And I think I've got a few good songs.
It's interesting that your music becomes a way to clarify and also defend yourself.
If you listen to my last record you'll hear one line, "I'm being chased by a wild pack of lies." It's great being able to answer with a pen like that.
What I go through is not that different from what John Lennon went through. He was also struggling and striving for that word, for that ideal, for peace. And some people, at that particular time, didn't like that message, particularly Nixon. John also went through his own, very strenuous challenges.
Did you know John Lennon?
I met him a few times but I think we were soul mates, I actually do.
What has been the Muslim community's response since you've started playing and touring again?
Incredibly positive. Some people stop me and say, "You represent what we want to say," and they really mean that from their heart. So many Muslims are happy with what I'm doing and supporting me.