Friday, April 01, 2011

Yusuf's message as sound as ever

YUSUF Islam wore that contented look going through the final paces of completion of his latest music video made in Cyberjaya. This was last Thursday afternoon, the day I met this clairvoyant personality I used to listen to quite a lot when he was a mod British singer belting out inspirational songs under the name of Cat Stevens in the early 1970s.

Yusuf was in one of the studios at the Multimedia Development Corporation where he had been working on the creative animation and post-recording elements of My People with his mostly young Malaysian team.

And they all looked so pleased as the final product fell into place after having worked continuously for five days.
The mesmerised youngish company in the studio said Yusuf was meticulous but very professional about what went into his video. "He knew what he wanted," said one. "And he would go through frame by frame to see that it fits in with his message."

My People is another moving number from Yusuf, the singer-songwriter who brought us the compelling Matthew and Son 40 years ago. He wrote this latest song after being inspired by the developments in the Arab world, the uprising and the call for change.

The sing-along chorus and the timing of its release makes it a huge potential hit.

Repetitive but powerful indeed, the chorus goes something like this:

See them coming down, my people

Can't you hear them shout,

my people

Every day everywhere, my people

Stop running from my people

Stop stealing from my people

Stop pointing guns at my people

God, show the way

God, show them the way

We have all heard about the changes in the phase of Yusuf's life from the days of his iconic album Mona Bone Jakon and the symbolic song Wild World.

But this man that I came face to face with for more than 20 minutes at the small studio in Cyberjaya late last week, in his more spiritual outlook, still evoked the kind of artful charm that I had felt listening to his old staples.

Somehow the hallmark of his poignant messages remained intact in his newer compositions.

It's the universality of the message that comes with the universal appeal of music that can be an instrument of social change, he said.

I still can't get over Cat Stevens with long flowing locks and dark beard belting out those meaningful words that made him one of the most-loved artistes of those days -- songs about the environment, about the generation gap, the working man and about peace. Sometimes melancholic, at times downcast. But never out of time.

The days when my classmates and I were carolling songs at the pavilion of the Malay College Kuala Kangsar to let off steam are still fresh in memory.

But that Cyberjaya encounter with the star confirmed that my deep admiration for him was not about to change.

He was physically different -- the hair and beard had turned grey and he was not in those trademark glitzy tight T-shirts of old but in a simple chequered shirt and jeans and had this deep serious look in his eyes.

And he exuded the calmness and tranquility of a person who is very much into spiritualism and the deeper sense of religion.

I first mentioned that I still listen to his Tea For The Tillerman album, especially the rather morose songs Sad Lisa and On the Road To Find Out.

This obviously lighted him up and after we talked about My People and its significance, the conversation struck deep into the spirituality of peace and freedom in the world today.

Yusuf, who has a villa in Dubai where he sometimes spends time with his three grandchildren, has many friends in Malaysia. Another is Mohamed Fudzail, the chief operating officer of Dubai-based CSI Construction, who is helping him with the logistics of the music video production.

Yusuf is beginning to like Malaysia a lot and has taken a fancy to some things Malaysian, including wayang kulit. He collaborated with nasyid group Raihan before and is said to be buying a property right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

He is planning a European concert tour later this year.

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