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Sami Yusuf

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Sami Yusuf
Sami Yusuf in 2011
Sami Yusuf in 2011
Background information
Born (1980-07-21) 21 July 1980 (age 41)
Tehran,[1] Iran
Genres
Occupation(s)
  • Musician
  • singer
  • composer
  • songwriter
  • humanitarian
Years active2003–present
Labels
Associated acts
WebsiteOfficial website

Sami Yusuf (born 21 July 1980) is a British singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and composer.[5] He gained international attention with the release of his debut album, Al-Muʽallim, in 2003.[6] As of 2020, he has released eight studio albums, five live albums and one compilation album. His studio albums were mostly released by Andante Records, with the first two being released by Awakening Records.[7][8] He has sold over 34 million albums as of 2016.[9]

Besides his native English, Sami has performed in Arabic, Azerbaijani, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu, sometimes in the same work, as was the case with his hit, Hasbi Rabbi. His work is marked by blending different musical styles and genres, including elements from Sufi, folk, and Rock music. He used his multilingual and multi-instrumentalist style to address social, spiritual, and humanitarian issues.[10] In recognition of his philanthropy, in 2014, Yusuf was appointed United Nations Global Ambassador for the World Food Programme.[11][12][13]

Early life[edit]

Sami Yusuf was born in 21 July 1980 in Tehran to Azerbaijani parents.[14][15] His grandparents are from Baku, Azerbaijan, from which they left to Iran when it was captured by the Bolsheviks following World War I. Yusuf and his parents later arrived in Ealing, West London, in the early 1980s, after the Islamic Revolution in Iran.[16] From an early age, Yusuf showed great interest in music.[6] He was influenced by the wide range of musical genres available to him in Ealing, immersing himself especially in Western classical music and Middle Eastern music.[17] He learned the piano and violin as well as traditional instruments including the oud, setar, and tonbak.[18] At the age of 16, Yusuf experienced a spiritual revival that made him become a "more committed Muslim".[10] In 2003, although considering pursuing a career in law, he produced and released his first album.[14] It quickly became an international success and launched Yusuf's professional music career.[17] Yusuf studied music as a composition student at the prestigious Royal Academy, as well as at Salford University in north-west England.[16]

Music career[edit]

2003–2009[edit]

In 2003, Yusuf released his debut album, Al-Muʽallim, an album that he produced, wrote, and performed.[19] Its feature song, Al-Mu'allim, became a hit in the Middle East, North Africa, and South-East Asia, topping the charts in Egypt and Turkey for twelve consecutive weeks, selling millions of copies worldwide and reaching a diverse audience.[20][21] The last track of the album, Supplication, was used in the Golden-Globe award-nominated film, The Kite Runner.[22][23]

Yusuf garnered increased worldwide recognition following the release of his second album, My Ummah, in 2005.[24] The album, using both Eastern and Western sounds, utilized wide-ranging musical instrumentation. Considered a breakthrough album, it sold over four million copies globally[25] and was well received particularly by young people, who identified closely with the themes of Yusuf's lyrics.[20][26]

Yusuf left Awakening Records following a controversy over Without You, an album that he claimed was released without his knowledge or consent.[27]

2010–2016[edit]

Wherever You Are, Yusuf's third official album, was released in March 2010. Rolling Stone called the album "beautifully produced".[28] With its release, Yusuf welcomed what he termed a "new chapter" in his professional career and music.[29][19]

Yusuf's fourth album, Salaam, was released in December 2012.[30] Within four months of its launch it achieved platinum status in Southeast Asia and was the best-selling album in the Middle East and North Africa.[31][32][33] The album includes the song "Hear Your Call," composed by Yusuf to call attention to the situation of people who are affected by natural disasters.[33][34][35][36]

The Centre was released in 2014 and is a collection of 13 songs in which Yusuf hopes his listeners will find inspiration to seek their individual spiritual centres.[37][23] It is a new sound that has multicultural influences, employing traditional as well as contemporary Middle Eastern, North African, and European poetry, instrumentation, and melodies.

Yusuf's sixth album, Songs of the Way, was released in January 2015. All lyrics are by the noted philosopher Seyyed Hossein Nasr and are from his books of poetry, Poems of the Way and The Pilgrimage of Life. Except for two tracks in Persian and Arabic, the songs are in English.[38]

Barakah, Yusuf's seventh album, was released in February 2016 by Andante Records.[39] It is the result of extensive research into the traditional music and poetry contained in the album. Yusuf said it is his musical response to the increasing chaos and noise of today's world, and his wish is that these music and lyrics offer a window onto an inner oasis of peace and harmony.[40][41] The song "Mast Qalandar" from Barakah reached #1 on World Music charts on iTunes and BBC Music.[42][43][44][45][46]

According to Yusuf, the new album aims "to respond to the growing extremism in our world with a call for a return to harmony and balance."[47]

Following its release, Yusuf performed in the Dubai Opera in 2016 and released it as a live album.

2017–present[edit]

In 2017, Yusuf performed in New Delhi, India. 4 songs from the performance were released in 2019.

In 2018, Yusuf released his new EP SAMi as a side project that grew out of his desire to explore his British musical roots.[48] The song collection, with its accessible sounds and direct lyricism, finds Yusuf's exploring the western sounds emanating from his childhood growing up in London.[49]

SAMi has sold well and topped a number of iTunes charts since its release, and Yusuf says he is grateful and somewhat surprised that he wasn't criticised for the commercial nature of the project.[50]

Yusuf performed in Baku, Azerbaijan in 2019 (A Timeless Presence), with 9 new songs exploring Azerbaijani culture and all instruments except for the piano being Azerbaijani.

In November 2020, Yusuf gave an online concert from his studio at home. He performed his singles "Al Faqir" and "The 99 Names", released in May 2018 and May 2020 respectively.

In late 2021, Yusuf performed at Expo 2020.

Yusuf has said that he plans to release a new album by the name of Ecstasy. While originally planned for 2019, the project was delayed to 2022.[citation needed]

Notable tours and concert performances[edit]

Playing in Farum Arena, Denmark, Grugahalle in Germany, and De Doelen in the Netherlands, Yusuf introduced his forthcoming album, Wherever You Are.[51] He performed in Azerbaijan for the first time in 2006, for the second time in 2015 (14–15 March), and 22 March 2017 in Heydar Aliyev Palace in Baku, 250,000 people attended his performance in Taksim Square in Istanbul to see Yusuf perform in 2013.[52] Yusuf has played across four continents, packing venues such as Wembley Arena in London, Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles and The Velodrome in Cape Town, South Africa. He sings in English, Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Azerbaijani, Malay and Urdu and is backed by a range of both classical and ethnic instruments.[53] Yusuf also performed in Washington DC.[54]

Yusuf performed in Dubai for the first time in December 2016. He premiered the song "Glorification", inspired by the poetry of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.[55]

Humanitarian work[edit]

Since early in his professional career, Yusuf has participated in humanitarian initiatives by performing benefit concerts, releasing charity singles, and acting on behalf of organizations to relieve suffering and poverty.[36] In response to the 2010 Pakistan floods that wreaked havoc in the country and affected 20 million lives in the summer of 2010, he promptly released a charity single entitled "Hear Your Call", performed in English and Urdu, to raise funds for the displaced Pakistanis in a joint-effort with the UN-sponsored charity organization Save the Children.[56][57]

In 2014, he was appointed "UN Global Ambassador" for the World Food Programme.[58]

Personal life[edit]

Sami spoke of his background as "diverse" and cited this as evidence for his "tendency to bring people together".[59][60]

Sami Yusuf married in c. 2005. His wife is of German origin and had converted to Islam before she met Yusuf.[61]

Religious and political views[edit]

Sami Yusuf has gained widespread popularity throughout the Muslim world for his spiritual music.[62] But artists like him and Maher Zain have faced some opposition from conservative Muslims who deem music impermissible.[62] In 2006, Yvonne Ridley, a British journalist and a convert to Islam, wrote a censurious article in opposition to what she perceived as a pop culture that demeans Islam. She considered Sami's open national affiliation to be lackadaisical about conflicts in the Islamic region in which Britain was participating, like the Iraq war.[62][63] In response, Sami wrote an open letter extensively discussing his stance on music and the modern art industry in general from both an Islamic jurisprudence perspective and a social one.[64][65] The response was commended by several commentators.[60][64]

In a previous interview, Yusuf described himself as generally apolitical.[60] Later in 2017, he wrote an open letter criticizing the Trump Muslim ban. Quoting the famous poem First they came, Yusuf emphasized solidarity between the Western and Muslim worlds and opposed Trumpism.[66]

Honors and awards[edit]

In 2009, Yusuf was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters in recognition of his "extraordinary contributions to the field of music" by Roehampton University, London.[67][68] Silatech appointed him as their first Global Ambassador in the same year, later joining Ahmad Al Shugairi in the same position.[69]

Widely regarded as the highest profile Muslim musician in the UK, Yusuf has appeared each year since 2010 on the list of the "World's 500 Most Influential Muslims".[70][71]

In 2014, the United Nations appointed him Global Ambassador Against Hunger, and in 2015 the UN appointed him as an "Elite Ambassador" for the UN World Interfaith Harmony Week.[72][73]

In 2016, Yusuf received a Recognition Award for his contributions to promoting the message of peace and tolerance as part of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum World Peace Initiative.[74]

In 2019, Yusuf received an honorary diploma from the First Vice President of Azerbaijan for his contributions to promote Azerbaijani music and culture.[75][76][77][78][79]

In the media[edit]

  • "Islam's Biggest Rock Star" – Time magazine (2006)
  • "Biggest Star in the Middle East" – The Guardian (2006)[80]
  • "King of Islamic Pop" – Al Jazeera (2007)[81][82]
  • IOL Star of 2009 (2009)[83]
  • BBC's 30 More Famous Britons (2009)[84]

Discography[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

Album Year
Al-Muʽallim 2003
My Ummah 2005
Wherever You Are 2010
Salaam 2012
The Centre 2014
Songs of the Way, Vol. 1 2015
Barakah 2016
SAMi (EP) 2018

Live albums[edit]

Album Year
Live At the Katara Amphitheatre 2015
Live in Concert 2015 2015
Live in London 2016 2016
Live at the Dubai Opera 2016
Live in Concert – EP 2019
Live in new Delhi – EP 2019
Azerbaijan: A Timeless Presence (Live in Baku) 2019
Live at the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music 2019
The House Concert 2020

Compilation albums[edit]

Album Year
The Sapiential Album, Vol. 1 2020
O Lovers: Music from the Unseen World 2020

Singles[edit]

Album Year
Forgotten Promises Dec 2011
The Source Aug 2011
Hope Survives Apr 2014
Mast Qalandar ft. Rahat Fateh Ali Khan Apr 2016
Al Faqīr May 2018
Ya Hayyu Ya Qayyum ft. Abida Parveen Feb 2019
Khorasan (instrumental) Apr 2019
Oblivion (Instrumental) Apr 2019
Light upon light ft. A.R. Rahman Nov 2019
The 99 Names May 2020
One ft. Cappella Amsterdam, Amsterdam Andalusian Orchestra Jun 2020

References[edit]

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External links[edit]