Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Return of the Cat

Last night the BBC screened a documentary on Yusuf Islam, the recording artist formerly known as Cat Stevens – I missed that programme about the oil running out which most of today’s papers have reviews of, as some of us have to work in the mornings – so here’s the power of blogging giving an alternative voice by covering what the mainstream media ignore.

Cat Stevens was a highly influential singer-songwriter in the 1960s and ‘70s, before he gave it all up after converting to Islam following a life-changing near-death experience in the ‘70s. Hits like Matthew & Son, Morning has broken and Moon Shadow and I love my dog (an unusual thing for a cat to say) still regularly haunt the airwaves. "Father and Son" was even covered a few years ago by the most definitely non-Islamic Boyzone. Now looking more like a cross between an imam and Bill Oddie than an ageing ex-rock star, Stevens/Islam has just finished recording his first mainstream album for almost three decades.

Born Steven Georgiu, a Londoner of Greek Cypriot origin, Stevens/Islam eased the boredom of working in his parents’ cafe by writing songs in his head. Presenter Alan Yentob charted the remarkable transformation of Islam’s life from hedonistic indulgences and psychotropic experiences while on tour with Jimi Hendrix to a spiritual life of contemplation and prayer as one of the UK’s leading Muslim figures, founder of Britain’s first Muslim school and patron of several charities.
Early signs of a spiritual conversion surfaced after a bout of Tuberculosis induced by touring fatigue, which inspired Stevens to grow a beard and record his highly regarded definitive album Tea for the Tillerman. A few years later Stevens claimed to have been saved by God from drowning and after receiving a copy of the Koran as a gift his conversion gradually took shape.

The programme dealt very briefly with the rise of global terrorism in the wake of the infamous Salman Rushdie affair and the events of 9/11 and 7/7. I don’t doubt Yusuf Islam’s credentials as a man of peace – he has received an award from a committee of Nobel laureates - but his passion for Islamic schools may in this day and age be somewhat misguided. The Northern Ireland experience has shown that segregated education can be divisive, with children placed in a narrow-minded, one-sided environment without the influence of other cultures from an early age.
Islam made the headlines in 2004 after being denied entry to the USA simply because of his name. Presumably had he still been called Cat Stevens he would have been held in quarantine and screened for rabies.

His unlikely friendship with American country & western singer Dolly Parton was also covered, with positive contributions from Dolly herself. We also had the inevitable analysis of his music from know-it-all commentator on all things under the sun Bob Geldof, who stated that while Stevens’ impact on popular music at the time was considerable, it wasn’t exactly cool to admit you liked him.
His singing voice has hardly changed in 30 years and listening to brief clips from his soon-to-be-released album the songs sound remarkably similar to the old Cat Stevens. It’s good to see him back on the scene.


Caroline said...

I'll be looking out for it. Always liked Tea for the Tillerman.

I have to admire the man for sticking with principles to better his character when so many of his peers fell off the edge completely. More power to him.

ainelivia said...

Missed this..... wonder if they'll show it again

CW said...

I'm sure you could download clips from it somewhere on the BBC website.

Lorainne said...

I think segregated schools are a bad idea whatever the religion - perhaps if both sides had gone to the same schools in Northern Ireland and had had a chance to beat the crap out of each other at that age they may have lost interest in fighting by now. Seriously though, creating more Islamic schools will not help Britain grow as a multicultural society - and it will feed the Islamophobia that the gutter press like to encourage.