Why Cat Stevens Matters More Than Ever Today
At a time when so many are encouraging racism, hate and bigotry wholesale, the world desperately needs more people like Cat Stevens a peacemaker who calls out to the best in us.
Yusuf Islam, commonly known by his stage name Cat Stevens. Photo: Reuters
When Zaira Wasim announced her decision to leave Bollywood to return to the folds of her faith, the furore it created reminded me of another instance from another time, which was even more sensational Cat Stevenss conversion to Islam in the 1970s and subsequent departure from the world of music and stardom.
The British pop icons journey from the world of music to the world of religion and back again is especially relevant to the times we are living in, not the least because it challenges several stereotypes surrounding those who feel called to follow the Islamic faith.
Born in 1948 on this day July 21 to a Greek Orthodox father and a Baptist mother, Stevens grew up in London and became a singing sensation at 18. Songs like I Love My Dog, Matthew and Son and The First Cut Is The Deepest established him as one of the most prolific songwriters and performers in the music industry of the day. And though his conversion to Islam a few years later shocked his fans around the world, in reality, it wasnt as sudden as it seemed. In his own words:
About the Quran, Yusuf said:
He also admits:
Cat/Yusuf Islam left the stage as a young man searching for his purpose. He has returned to it as an elder.
Special Interview With Yusuf/cat Stevens Legendary Singer/songwriter And New Inductee Into The Songwriters Hall Of Fame
With a career now spanning over 50 years, Yusuf/Cat Stevens has long been regarded as one of the great singer/songwriters in pop & rock music history. Known for writing and singing such classic songs as Peace Train, Wild World, Oh Very Young, Moonshadow and The First Cut Is the Deepest, he has blended pop, rock & folk music to create a very unique and soulful style.
In 2014, Yusuf/Cat Stevens was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Now in 2019, he has been selected for induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He will be inducted in a special ceremony on June 13 in New York City.
When he first emerged as an artist in 1967, he was known by the name, Cat Stevens. He released his albums under that name until 1978, when he decided to leave the music business, convert to the Muslim faith, and change his name to Yusuf Islam. At the time, it was a very surprising and unusual move, for a pop artist at the height of his popularity and success, to leave the music business and change his name.
|SPECIAL FEATURE: STREAMING AUDIO
|Heres an excerpt of our interview with Yusuf/Cat Stevens, who tells how he wrote his classic hit song, Peace Train.
When he returned to music in 2006, he went by the name of Yusuf. But in more recent years, he has embraced the name Cat Stevens again, and he is now known as Yusuf/Cat Stevens.
When Did Yusuf Islam Convert To Islam
In December 1977, Cat converted to Islam and adopted the name Yusuf Islam the following year.
In 1979, he auctioned all of his guitars for charity – he has since bought back at least one of these guitars as a result of the efforts of his son Yoriyos.
Yusuf left his musical career to devote himself to educational and philanthropic causes in the Muslim community.
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Singer Converted To Islam Officially In 1977
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Cat Stevens now known as Yusuf/Cat Stevens has opened up about his conversion to Muslim faith.
The singer spoke about his choice to convert when he appeared on the BBC Four radio program Desert Island Discs yesterday .
Stevens real name Steven Demetre Georgiou cited his 1976 near-death experience in Malibu as the event which ultimately led him to convert to Islam.;
He said: I was an Englishman. I didnt know it wasnt wise to go out at that time of day and take a swim, so I did.
I decided to turn back and head for shore and, of course, at that point I realised, Im fighting the Pacific. There was no way I was going to win. There was only one thing to do and that was to pray to the almighty to save me. And I did.
The 72-year-old continued: I called out to God and he saved me. A little wave came from behind. It wasnt big. It was just simply pushing me forward.
The tide somehow had changed and I was able to get back to land. So I was saved. I didnt know what was going to happen next.
Following the incident, the musician was given a Quran by his brother. Stevens said: I would never have picked up a Quran. But it became the gateway. After a year I could not hold myself back. I had to bow down.
On The Road To Find Out
As you pass through different thresholds of life, you look at some of the memories, and the songs that represent those memories. For sure, you see another dimension. One very obvious example would be On the Road to Find Out, which almost foretold, in very prescriptive terms, what was going to happen to me and my . Yes, the answer lies within, so why not take a look now/Kick out the devils sin. Pickup a good book now. Before I received any book, I was writing about this book that was going to change my life. And wow.
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Did Cat Stevens Live In Iran
Though in 1984 he emphatically denied rumors that he was living in Iran as a follower of the late Ayatollah Khomeini and that he was studying to become an Ayatollah himself, he resurfaced as the object of controversy in 1989 when he came out in support of the late Ayatullahs death threats to author Salman Rushdie,
The Meaning Of Yusuf/cat Stevens
A unique feature of the destabilizing, horrifying Great Interruption of the past year and a half is that it has nudged so many of us into a period of protracted introspection and reassessment. Superficially, weve discovered the wonders of sourdough starter and urban gardening, but beneath the surface something more significant has been going on. Especially during those long, pre-vaccine months of sheltering in place, it became somewhere between interesting and necessary to recalibrate, to inventory what we value, to look at who and what we surround ourselves with, and why.
Stevenss road has been anything but a straight line. His career began in the late 60s as a teenage pop star in Britain, before a bout with tuberculosis nearly killed him. During his convalescence his songwriting morphed, and he emerged as the acoustic-guitar-wielding, long-haired Pan most people still conjure in their minds when they hear his name. He achieved superstardom with evergreen standards like Morning Has Broken, Moonshadow and Peace Train, and toured the world as a major headliner. Then, in 1978, Stevens suddenly renounced his music career, changed his name to Yusuf Islam, auctioned off his instruments and rededicated his life to being a family man and a devout Muslim.
Well youve cracked the sky, scrapers fill the air
But will you keep on building higher
Til theres no more room up there?
Will you make us laugh, will you make us cry?
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Cat Stevens First Album In 18 Years Is Biography Of Mohammed
LONDON _ The man who wrote “Peace Train emerged from retirement Tuesday to sign copies of his first album in 18 years _ complete with a Muslim hymn to fit his revised outlook on life.
The former Cat Stevens, the singer-songwriter who has changed his name to Yusuf Islam, says his conversion to Islam means he now considers the love songs he sang in the 1970s impure.
“In the context of Islam, love should be connected to marriage, he said, surrounded by hundreds of fans jammed into a central London store.
That counts out pop hits like “Here Comes My Baby and “The First Cut is the Deepest.
He described as “still halal _ or acceptable _ songs such as “Peace Train, “On the Road and “Morning Has Broken.
“On those songs, the words are unknowingly reaching for something higher than this world, he said.
Fans longing for the lilting Stevens melodies of yore will be disappointed: The new album is 80 percent talk.
In his new album, Islam has taken on the tradition of the “qussa, the wandering storyteller who recounts the life of the prophet Mohammed. Three years in the making, the album, out on the singers own Mountain of Light label, is called “The Life of the Last Prophet.
It has three musical pieces. One of them, a song featuring Stevens voice, is an ancient hymn called “Talaa al-Badru Alayna, or “The White Moon has Arisen Over Us.
There were more temporal considerations as well.
“The records are still spinning, if you want to listen to them, he said.
Did Cat Stevens Nearly Drown
Around this time, while swimming at a Malibu beach, Stevens nearly drowned. Facing imminent death led the singer to make a promise: If divine intervention could save him from drowning, Stevens would devote his life to honoring God. According to Stevens, a wave pushed him to shore as if in answer to his prayers.
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But I Might Die Tonight
But I Might Die Tonight has a message thats consistently relevant to so many people. We talk about corporate companies, and they’re getting bigger and more monstrous as time goes on. Now they’re bigger and more powerful than governments! Either you belong to a company or you don’t belong. If you don’t belong to a company, you’re in the danger zone. You’re likely to be wiped off. That song is talking about people who feel that life is in somebody else’s hands. You’ve got to take ownership, because you might die tonight. That’s a very powerful message.
When I wrote that song, I was being asked by the director of this film called Deep End with Jane Asher. He wanted to use Father and Son. I said, “No, no, you can’t use Father and Son, because it’s for a musical opera. So I tried to get out of it by saying I’ll write another song that was similar.
Introduction And Early Life:
Cat Stevens was quite simply one of the most influential and talented British singer-songwriters of the rock era. During his early career, he was a major teen idol who recorded several hit songs under Decca Records. Stevens, however, is best remembered for his 1970s career reincarnation as a personal songwriter who wrote socially astute and introspective lyrics. Following his conversion to Islam, he adopted the name Yusuf Islam and renounced his music career. Stevens returned to pop music in 2006 and has since recorded three studio albums.
Born Stephen Demetre Georgiou in Marylebone, London in 1948, his family ran a restaurant in the Soho theatre district of London. Stevens attended St. Joseph Roman Catholic Primary School and developed an interest in piano at an early age. He bought his first guitar at age 15 and started writing songs. He cites the Beatles, the Kinks, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Muddy Waters and Paul Simon as his major musical influences.
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Yusuf Cat Stevens On Islam The Fatwa And Playing Guitar Again
The singer-songwriter tells Desert Island Discs about walking away from his fans, and the difficulties of following a spiritual path
The singer-songwriter now known as Yusuf Cat Stevens has spoken of the pain of his decision to leave music behind in 1977, when he first converted to Islam, and of the difficulty of being used as a representative of an entire faith.
It was a hard tug. I felt a responsibility to my fans, but I would have been a hypocrite. I needed to get real. So I stopped singing and started taking action with what I now believed, he said. The singer, who first performed as Cat Stevens, adopted the name Yusuf Islam when he changed faith. He now uses both first names.
Stevens said he had originally wanted to serve as a bridge between two great cultures, yet, while Islam welcomed its famous convert, western audiences were hostile. On the other side, people said, He is a bit of a traitor. He has turned Turk, if you like. So I was often used as a bit of a spokesman, and I was useful for certain occasions.
The 72-year-old British musician, still internationally famous for songs such as Father and Son, The First Cut is the Deepest, Moonshadow and Wild World, said he had hoped fans would understand that he felt he had found something more important than music, but he was wrong.
It was absolute magic. Having laid myself fallow for two decades, I was absolutely flowing with ideas. I knew it was right.
First Spoken Album As A Muslim
In 1995, after eighteen years of silence as a musician, he returned to the music studio to create his spoken word album on his own label Mountain of Light. The album was entitled The Life of the Last Prophet. This album was a combination of both poetry and singing of the Islamic world, filled with rhythm and a joyful voice. To encourage his fans and music listeners after the genocide in Bosnia, he composed another album for charity fundraising, dedicating it to the children of Sarajevo and Dunblane.
Based on these events, Yusuf realized how important his talents could be to educate others, and provide inspiration to the youth of the world. So in 2000, his wrote an encyclopedic project entitled A is for Allah, which was based on lullaby songs he wrote for his daughter in 1981.
Following the 2001 terrorist attacks, Yusuf Islam made the following press release statement, denouncing the attacks:
In 2001, Yusuf relocated his home and office to Dubai, impressed by its futuristic views, tolerant society, and its Islamic culture base. At this time, his son also came to him showing off his new possessiona guitar along with his desire to learn how to play. Yusuf, reflecting deeply as well as joking, said:
So I was there with the guitar, the guitar and I and we had this standoff, but then one of us had to make the first move. So I did, I hadnt picked up a guitar for twenty five years…and then I started to play and it all just came back to naturally.
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Steven Demetre Georgiou To Cat Stevens To Yusuf Islam
While many of the name changes on this list make absolutely no sense, the singer-songwriter once known as Cat Stevens had good reasons to change his name not once, but twice. The son of a Greek-Cypriot father and a Swedish mother, Steven Demetre Georgiou began his music career and changed his name to Cat Stevens because his girlfriend said he had eyes like a cat. “I couldn’t imagine anyone going to the record store and asking for ‘that Steven Demetre Georgiou album,'” Stevens said once in an interview. “And in England, and I was sure in America, they loved animals.” In the 1970s, Stevens became one of the most famous singer-songwriters in the world with hits such as “Wild World” and “Peace Train.”
After nearly drowning off the California coast in 1976, Stevens had a religious epiphany and began studying Islam. He officially converted in at the end of 1977, and the next year took the name Yusuf Islam because Yusuf is the Arabic version of Joseph, a name he had admired. After a nearly 20-year hiatus from performing, Islam returned to making music and mostly performs for philanthropic and charitable causes.
Cat Stevens Son Makes Music Debut
Father And Son both release albums
Cat Stevens son is making his musical debut this month.
Singer-songwriter Yoriyos has attracting favourable critical reaction via his Myspace page, however fans can be forgiven for thinking he looks familiar.
Although not confirming his relationship with the veteran singer, Cat Stevens is listed prominently as an influence on the site, dropping a big hint.
Stevens, who became a Muslim in 1978 and changed his name to Yusuf Islam, named his son Muhammad Islam.
Adopting the name Yoriyos to conceal his identity, the 21 year-old singer-songwriter is releasing his debut album Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee via his own label, Rarechord, on November 27.
The release comes just two weeks after Stevens first album in 28 years, An Other Cup, which he brought out under the name Yusuf.
Stevens, who admits he hadnt touched a guitar in 20 years, attributes his own return to music to Yoriyos.
He bought a guitar back into the house and was writing songs in his bedroom, explained the singer. I had no idea he was doing it or that he was so talented.
He added that as a result of being in close proximity to his sons music instruments he was eventually tempted to play again himself.
One morning a couple of years ago his guitar was lying around and it was difficult for me to ignore, he said. I picked it up, found that I remembered the chords and started to sing some words Id been writing. It was like opening a floodgate.
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