Sami Yusuf: 'In Ramadan, I slow things down and immerse myself in all aspects of Islam’s beautiful traditions'

The British spiritual singer released a new song to celebrate the holy month.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 25 APRIL 2019. Sami Yusuf performing at Emirates Palace. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: None. Section: National.
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British singer Sami Yusuf is celebrating the start of Ramadan with the release of a song and an accompanying video.

The stirring Call My Name is taken out of Yusuf's successful EP SAMi, a beautiful six-song set that that delicately manages to sound new and adventurous, while sitting comfortably within his spiritual body of work which blends mystical traditions such as Sufi music from Turkey, Mugham from Azerbaijan and Qawali from South East Asia.

In an exclusive interview with The National, he discusses some of the meanings behind the new track and how Ramadan is an all-encompassing spiritual affair.

“Generally speaking, Ramadan is a quiet time for me,” he says.

“I rarely perform in Ramadan. I try to slow things down and really immerse myself in all aspects of Islam’s beautiful traditions.”

Would it be fair to say that Call My Name is not the typical Ramadan single we are accustomed to?

People might have expected something overtly typical. When I say that, I mean songs that talk about the usual topics associated with Ramadan, such as going to the Taraweeh prayers and the usual subjects. I wanted to do something that alludes to the metaphysical aspect of Islam. This is a subject that is accessible and very beautiful and it is an ocean of knowledge itself. Call My Name is heavily influenced by a work of (Sufi mystic and poet) Ibn Arabi called Alone with The Alone. It is translated by the great Arabist Henry Corben, who presented it in this beautiful poetic form. I was so moved by that piece that I decided that I had to use it.

The accompanying video is equally evocative and mysterious. Can you take me through the concept behind it?

A few people asked me about the meaning of that video actually. It was filmed across several locations in the Gulf, but what stands out about it was the post-production. The CGI technology made the video seem otherworldly. It makes the whole desert landscape not feel like earth but the moon, instead. It is a celestial fairy tale and there are several layers of meanings within the video, but essentially it is a love song and the more you get into it the meanings get more profound.

At the same time, there are some beautiful lyrics in the song, such as ‘There's a line that leads from you to me. It's a path we've long forgotten.’ Is it that theme of reconnection that makes the song ideal for Ramadan?

Absolutely, and this is really what the song is about. It is about ‘Dhikr Allah’, which is the remembrance of God. The month is such a mercy because all that we should be doing is that remembrance.

But as you alluded to earlier, Ramadan is more than just doing the typical tasks. In what other ways should we engage in that remembrance of God?

That’s a really interesting question and I would really say this: aside from connecting with scripture and all the outwards actions of faith, which are so important, I also hope that we reconnect with our cultures and traditions. That means also connecting with Islamic arts, philosophy and literature. For example, why don’t we during this month make an effort to listen to a little bit of Qawwali, or some of the sacred music that came from Syria and the region.

What effect will that have?

To realise the inner meanings of those prescribed practices. It makes us understand that these traditions and cultures come from Islam’s teachings. So going back to the example of Qawwali, we shouldn’t think that ‘it is unrelated to me because I am not from Pakistan’. That is a big mistake. This is part of our great Islamic legacy of art and civilisation, which spread from China to Andalucía. It is all connected and it deserves to be celebrated.