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Pop stars of Muslim world continuing rise up charts

ANKARA - Anatolia News Agency | 2/16/2011 12:00:00 AM |

Muslim pop stars, who give religious messages in their songs, are very popular on video-sharing websites. While some of the stars were brought up as Muslims, others converted to Islam later in life. Their music has been termed 'green pop' by some, yet the musicians prefer to see their music as fitting more authentically into Muslim musical traditions

Bringing a moral message to their music, a new generation of Muslim singers is following the legendary Yusuf Islam, formerly Cat Stevens, in smashing album sales and video-sharing records with their religiously themed work.

In addition to the singer Islam, stars such as Sami Yusuf, Hamza Robertson, Zain Bhinka and hip-hop group Native Deen have sold millions of albums. Their music is termed “green pop” by some circles, but they call their style “nasheed” (Muslim vocal music).

Yusuf was born in 1980 in London to a musical family of Iranian Azerbaijanis. At the age of 18, he received a scholarship from one of the world’s most prestigious music institutes, the Royal Academy of Music in London, and gained many fans within a short time around the world, particularly in Muslim countries. He sings in English, Turkish, Arabic and Persian on his albums.

He released his first album, “Al-Mu’allim,” in 2003 and second album, “My Ummah,” in 2005. Later, he performed a concert in Istanbul in 2007 that drew 250,000 people. Yusuf, who has appeared on the cover of many popular magazines, including Time Magazine, is working for young people to be proud of their own identity by providing messages of tolerance and peace in his songs.

Yusuf’s latest album, “Wherever You Are,” which was released in 2010, has also broken sales records. Among his most popular songs are “Al-Mu'allim,” “Hasbi Rabbi,” “You Came To Me,” “Healing,” “My Ummah,” “Eid Song” and “Supplication.”

The singer, who appeared on a list of the world’s 500 most influential Muslims in 2009, has also made his name known with social responsibility projects. He took the stage at the “Muslim Live 8” event which was organized at Wembley in London to help Darfur. Tickets for the concert were sold out.

[HH] Yusuf Islam, a.k.a. Cat Stevens

At the beginning of his successful musical career, Stephen Demetre Georgiou assumed the name of Cat Stevens. Born in 1948 as the third child of a Greek father and Swedish mother, Stevens attended Catholic school although his father was Greek Orthodox. He left the school at age 16 and released his first hit song “I Love My Dog” at the age of 18, taking the new moniker when he released his album, “Matthew and Son,” in 1966.

Stevens converted to Islam in 1977 after nearly drowning in an accident. During his recovery from the accident, his brother had given him a copy of the Quran, which he credited with helping him to find peace and recover from the incident. As is customary when one converts to Islam, Stevens changed his name, calling himself Yusuf Islam after the prophet Joseph, interpreter of dreams.

In later years, he left the musical world and asked music companies to no longer distribute his albums but he was rejected. After a public absence of many years, he re-appeared on stage to perform some English-language nasheeds, and has ultimately released another five albums under the name of Yusuf Islam in addition to the 14 he released as Stevens. He is now married with five children and lives in London.

His Arabic song “Taleal Bedru Aleyna” and the English-language “A Is For Allah” broke records on the Internet.

[HH] Tom Robertson chose Islam at age 21

Tom Robertson, who was born in Oldham, England, in 1982, took music and drama classes until the age 20 before converting to Islam a year later and changing his name to Hamza. Since then, Robertson has invited many people to Islam through his songs.

Robertson, who turned to Sufism because of his Muslim friends, was discovered by the singer Islam at an event where he performed in London. Known for his support for poor women and children, Robertson released his first album “Something About Life” in 2009 and has become very popular in Turkey and abroad.

The song “Your Beauty,” which he composed with Yusuf, is very popular on video-sharing websites.

Another Muslim pop singer, Zain Bhinka, was born in 1974 in South Africa. He gained success in a song competition in 1994, started making music in 1996 and has since composed many songs with the singer Islam. His albums “Mountains of Makkah,” “Allah Knows,” “1415 The Beginning,” “First We Need Love” and “A Way of Life” are very popular in the Islamic world.

Bhinka’s name dropped like a bombshell in the virtual world with the death of Michael Jackson in 2009 as there were claims that the former’s song, “Give thanks to Allah,” was actually performed by Jackson and that Jackson had converted to Islam before his death. When the truth was revealed, Jackson fans said Bhinka had put the video on the Internet to promote himself. Bhinka remained silent for some time but later said he was not a Jackson fan and that their voices were not similar.

Bhinka has performed concerts in 18 U.S. cities with the support of the North American Islamic Union as well as in his own country, European countries and Australia. He gives priority to television programs for children.

[HH] World’s first hip-hop-style nasheeds

Hip-hop, which became a life style for African-Americans at the end of the 1970s in the United States, was the starting point of the band Native Deen, which was formed in 2000 in Washington, D.C.

Naim Mohammed, Joush Salam and Abdul Malik Ahmed, who chose to infuse their hip-hop songs with Islamic messages, became very popular among Muslims living in the U.S. within a very short time.

What makes the group different from other hip-hop musicians is the instruments they play; they use percussion instruments only, as some Muslims believe that playing musical instruments is impermissible in the faith.

The group members have also made common projects with the singer Islam, Bhinka and Yusuf. Their song “Not Afraid to Stand Alone” is a very popular video on the Internet.

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