Living legend, Cat Stevens - AKA Yusuf Islam - is finally being inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. SceneNoise takes a look back at his impressive, groundbreaking career.
It isn't every day, if ever, that an Muslim musician makes it into the history books, but on Monday, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced that this year they will be inducting the one and only Cat Stevens, oooops, we mean Yusuf Islam, into their elite list of artists.
This legendary folk singer, humanitarian and education philanthropist’s induction has been a long time coming. With classics like Peace Train, The First Cut is the Deepest, Wild World, Morning has Broken, among others, one would have assumed that his entry would have come sooner. However, with his conversion to Islam mid-way through his career, he ended up becoming somewhat of a controversial icon, probably resulting in the delay of his inclusion. We decided the best way to talk about this announcement is to delve into the life of Cats Stevens and to figure out what inspired him musically, and brought him to Islam, spiritually.
Born in London as Steven Georgiou, Stevens found himself in love with the arts at a young age, and actually attended art school to become a cartoonist. Inspired by the music of Nina Simone, Bob Dylan and Muddy Waters, he decided to start building a musical career playing under the name Steve Adams in various coffee houses and pubs in the 60s. Realising that a well chosen name can help sell albums, he adopted his stage name, Cat Stevens, on the suggestion of a girlfriend who told him he had cat eyes.
With his new stage name, Cat Stevens’ first album, Matthew and Son, was an overnight success, and inspired him to release, on average, an album every year until 1978. A good portion of the material he used for tracks during that time came to him when he was fighting tuberculosis in 1969. It was in that same hospital bed that he started looking for spiritual fulfilment, which is reflective in many of the songs he would release thereafter.
It is reported that Islam first piqued his interest on vacation in Morocco where he found himself intrigued by the Adhan which was explained to him as 'Music for God.' "I thought, music for God? I'd never heard that before – I'd heard of music for money, music for fame, music for personal power, but music for God!" he explained. Shortly thereafter, he found himself in a near-death drowning experience in California, where promised he would work for God if his life was spared. Luckily, he survived and began his conversion to Islam in 1977, changing his name to Yusuf Islam. Afraid that his music career would interfere with his spiritual path, Yusuf Islam decided to give up his music career and focus on his spiritual awakening.
Despite the fact he gave up his music career, Yusuf Islam found himself in the spotlight due to the controversy. During an address to students in London, Yusuf Islam's words were misinterpreted leaving the audience believing that Yusuf Islam was in support for the Fatwa to kill Salmon Rushdie for his controversial book the Satanic Verses. Until this day, he denies the allegation.
Yusuf Islam would resurface once again after the attacks of September 11, 2001 saying “I wish to express my heartfelt horror at the indiscriminate terrorist attacks committed against innocent people of the United States yesterday. While it is still not clear who carried out the attack, it must be stated that no right-thinking follower of Islam could possibly condone such an action. The Qur'an equates the murder of one innocent person with the murder of the whole of humanity. We pray for the families of all those who lost their lives in this unthinkable act of violence as well as all those injured; I hope to reflect the feelings of all Muslims and people around the world whose sympathies go out to the victims of this sorrowful moment.”
Somehow this statement landed him on a no-fly list to America in 2004. It isn't clear why the composer of Peace Train found himself a suspected terrorist, but then again George W. Bush was president... This incident may have been what inspired him to return to music, releasing his first album under the name Yusuf Islam in 2006. Thankfully, the travel ban has been lifted allowing him to tour the States, as well as allowing him to accept his award at the Rock and Roll Hall of fame. The ceremony will take place in April and joining him in the Hall of Fame will be legendary acts, Nirvana, Hall & Oates, Kiss, Peter Gabriel and Linda Ronstadt. We love you Yusuf Islam and Egypt congratulates you on this accomplishment.