Sami Yusuf's musical evolution in 10 songs: from ‘Al Mu’allim' to ‘Madad’
The British singer and composer released songs in various languages including English, Arabic and Hindi
The music of Sami Yusuf is fit for all occasions, not only Ramadan.
For two decades, the British artist has built a successful career with stirring compositions blending mystical traditions such as Sufi music from Turkey, Mugham from Azerbaijan and Qawwali from South East Asia with western sensibilities including classical music and electronica.
Underpinning all that sonic adventurism, however, are Yusuf’s evocative lyrics which often takes inspiration from Islamic prayers, sacred texts and poems.
Here are 10 songs showcasing the spiritual and innovative sounds that have made him a global success.
1. ‘Al Mu'allim’ (2003)
With the debut single, Yusuf showcased his self-labelled "spiritique" approach to his craft, which is an amalgam of styles including eastern percussion, western harmonies and spiritual lyricism.
Al Mu'allim, a song extolling Prophet Mohammed's wisdom, cracked the top 10 charts in both Egypt and Turkey and immediately garnered Yusuf a regional fan base.
2. 'Supplication’ (2004)
While the lyrics, an Islamic prayer praising Prophet Mohammad, and melodies have been used for centuries, Yusuf's version of the tune is powerful due to the choral arrangement. Backed by light percussion, the minimalist production allows listeners to focus on the mesmerising chanting. Supplication also featured in 2007 film The Kite Runner.
3. ‘My Ummah’ (2005)
The title track of Yusuf's best-selling second album, the song exemplifies the more adventurous route he took with the release, including the use of strings and traditional percussion from South East Asia.
The lyrics have Yusuf declaring that, through cooperation and the healing of divisions, the beauty of the faith will be realised: "I swear that with firm belief in our hearts, we can bring back the glory of our past."
4. ‘Hasbi Rabbi’ (2005)
Some nasheed artists like to record songs in various languages to appeal to as wide of an audience as possible. Not Yusuf, however. For one of his biggest hits, he switches languages throughout the song as he pleads for God’s mercy in Arabic, Hindi and Turkish.
5. ‘Wherever You Are’ (2010)
The opening song and title track for Yusuf's third album represents a new career phase, where compositions are bolder and the lyricism more personal.
Over piano and strings, and sung in English, Arabic and Farsi, Wherever You Are can be taken as both an ode to faith or a love song: “In each smile in every single sigh, every minute detail, traces of you are found there."
6. ‘Forgotten Promises’ (2012)
If there is a secret to Yusuf's success, it's his keen eye for innovate arrangements. Forgotten Promises is ingenuously powered by finger snap percussion as Yusuf calls for unity and forgiveness.
7. ‘Mast Qalandar’ (2016)
Yusuf turns his focus on traditional sacred music from the Muslim world with the album Barakah.
From the release, Mast Qalander is a vibrant reworking of an old Sufi song popular in the Indian subcontinent.
Accompanied with a sumptuous video set in the desert, the song hit No 2 on BBC Asian Music Charts and racked up over 25 million views on YouTube.
8. ‘Shadowless’ (2019)
Yusuf may have viewed his 2019 Sami EP as a stop-gap release, but it remains home to some of his most underrated songs to date with its nods to electronica, lo-fi and pop music. The moody Shadowless is a case in point.
9. ‘The 99 Names’ (2020)
Released during Ramadan, The 99 Names is one of Yusuf's most epic compositions.
Over eight and a half minutes, he goes through the 99 divine attributes of God – a cornerstone of Islam – over an almost cinematic production full of shimmering percussion and ethereal backing vocals.
Immersive and mystical, The 99 Names is a career milestone for Yusuf.
10. ‘Madad’ (2021)
The latest single not only pays tribute to his heritage but illustrates why Yusuf remains an exhilarating live act.
An Arabic version of previously released Azerbaijani song Nasimi, Madad was recorded as part of 2019's Fes Festival of World Sacred Music in Morocco.
Stunningly shot and backed by a large ensemble, including Moroccan vocalists and Azeri folk musicians, Madad is Yusuf at the top of his game.
Updated: April 21, 2021 07:56 AM