Looking back at 2019
As our world wheels around again towards another year I’d like to sincerely thank you all for your beautiful messages. Some of the stories I have read are so powerful, they truly make me want to continue writing and singing until my last breath (which will be the day of God’s choosing).
Thanks to those who have stuck with me since the 60’s, and those who have recently jumped on board, peace to you all.
I have searched this world
I have seen the sights
But I will not rest till I past the line…
‘There is Peace‘
How the year unfolded…
In January, Yusuf was invited by his good friend Sean Penn to headline at his annual CORE Charity Gala in Los Angeles, California. The event raised over $3.5 million for disaster relief and preparedness work in Haiti, across the Caribbean, and in the US. Yusuf performed a spellbinding set consisting of ‘Peace Train‘, ‘Wild World’, ‘He Was Alone‘, and a specially revived version of ‘Ruins‘ from Catch Bull at Four.
Sadly, 2019 saw the unspeakable tragedy of the Christchurch Mosque shootings in New Zealand. During Friday Prayers on March the 15th, 51 worshippers were murdered and a further 49 injured in an act of the purest evil. Yusuf travelled to the country to take part in the memorial service and show solidarity with the Muslim community. At the service itself he praised the unity that the people of New Zealand showed after having been confronted by such a heinous act.
“We learn about things through their opposites and it’s through opposites like this, the evilness of that act and what drove it, we find its opposite which is the love and kindness and unity which has sprung up right here in New Zealand. And, that love and unity is actually what all the Prophets and Messengers of the Divine taught.” – Yusuf
Supported by Bruce Lynch on bass and confronted by a sea of solemn faces Yusuf performed ‘Peace Train blues’ and ‘Peace Train’. Then, using his tremendous gift of emotional sincerity, he achieved the seemingly impossible by raising the spirits of the gathered masses with a rendition of ‘Don’t Be Shy’. It was as though he’d opened the curtains to a darkened room and allowed light to flood in once again. During his performance Yusuf proudly wore a pounamu pendant given to him by Ngāi Tahu, the principal Māori iwi of the southern region of New Zealand, that symbolises eternal friendship and the joining of cultures. Afterwards he met with dignitaries and the families of the victims to support them in their grief and acknowledge their strength. In a television appearance given after the ceremony he praised Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for her swift and decisive action on gun laws following the atrocity and the New Zealand people for their unshakable spirit in the face of such darkness.
On June 13th Yusuf was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame at the 50th annual ceremony in New York. The incredibly talented Dave Matthews explained how it was the music of Cat Stevens that inspired him to become a songwriter. After having performed a powerful version of ‘Father & Son,’ Matthews presented Yusuf with the accolade and the two artists shared a moving embrace. At the star-studded event, Yusuf performed ‘The Wind’ and ‘Roadsinger’ and also gave a short speech in which he explored his musical and spiritual journey.
“Songwriting is amazing, it enables you to draw upon all kinds of possibilities in life – real or imagined. And when you’re Inspired you become something of a medium through which people can be brought together, sharing stories and feelings that reveal the highest peaks and deepest cracks in our humanity.” – Yusuf
In July, Yusuf donated a signed guitar to the National Trust for Historic Preservation‘s campaign to save the Childhood home of Nina Simone. The instrument raises over £5000 for the campaign helping it to achieve its financial targets.
“It’s important to preserve the memory of one of the greatest songwriters, performers and civil rights activists – and a major influence for me and my own musical voice.” – Yusuf
On Sept 7th Yusuf and his beloved wife Fawziah celebrated their 40th Wedding anniversary. Yusuf married his ‘Hard Headed Woman’ at the London Central Mosque in 1979 following his original retirement from the music industry. Their loving family unit currently comprises of five wonderful children and ten glorious grandchildren.
September the 21st is the UN sanctioned International Day of Peace. First observed in 1981, it is dedicated to world peace, and specifically the absence of war and violence, such as might be occasioned by a temporary ceasefire in a combat zone for humanitarian aid access. To mark this meaningful date Yusuf released a Message of Peace intended for all people no matter their creed, nationality or political persuasion. He explored the ways in which the basic actions of being nice to one another and feeding the hungry can set us on the road to re-establishing our common humanity.
“As human beings, we all posses the power to imagine, each of us can imagine our own picture of what that heavenly place called ‘paradise’ could look and feel like. Regardless of individual preferences, one thing would be similar for all — the ‘Peace’ we’d expect to find there.” – Yusuf
In October Yusuf travelled to Turkey where he met with the country’s President and established important connections with the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture. This meeting led to Peace Train volunteers participating in the planting of eleven million trees on the 11th November. The event was part of the “Breath for the Future” campaign, a massive reforestation initiative that will be observed annually and highlights the country’s commitment to a greener future. This was the first act of Yusuf’s Global Peace Train Project – of which you will be hearing much more in the coming months and years.
November also saw Yusuf announce the long awaited release of the Back To Earth Super Deluxe Box Set. Fans and collectors can look forward to the most comprehensive exploration of one of Yusuf’s most significant albums. It was with Back To Earth that Yusuf bade a farewell to stardom and the music industry in search of deeper meaning and significance. While his legions of fans were saddened by the news, along with the musicians who had played with him on record and stage, Yusuf himself was exhilarated by the prospect of moving on.
“It was like going back to my original nature, back to wide-eyed childhood again.” – Yusuf
To support the release of the Back To Earth Box Set, in November Yusuf released ‘Toy Heart‘, a track that was recorded for the album but that didn’t make the final record and has never before been released. At the time Yusuf felt that the song was a bit too poppy and upbeat to fit with the album’s overall mood. However, now it serves as a wonderful celebration of a moment of profound change and progression in his life. The song features the phenomenal playing of Texan guitar virtuoso Eric Johnson who was starting out as a session player at the time but who has gone on to become a GRAMMY award winning artists and is widely recognised as one of the finest guitar players of his generation.
On Thursday 28th November, Yusuf was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award by TRT, the Turkish Radio and Television corporation at the ceremony in Istanbul. Their World Citizen campaign seeks to recognise those who show great empathy and compassion for their fellow human beings, a respect for diversity and a desire to create positive change in the world. In his acceptance speech Yusuf addressed the prevailing notion that we should all be seeking happiness as if it is somehow the answer to our problems and the only thing worth aiming for. He explained that the true path to happiness is through goodness and that our technological advancements will not take us to that place of goodness.
“Happiness is not the only goal. Goodness, goodness is the goal. Because when you achieve goodness you achieve happiness and it’s not necessarily the other way round.” – Yusuf
On 5th December Yusuf attended the official opening ceremony of The Central Mosque in Cambridge, Europe’s first ‘eco-mosque’. Designed around the concept of being a calm oasis within a grove of trees, the mosque’s design marries traditional Islamic architecture, geometry and horticulture with indigenous English materials, plants and craftsmanship to create a unique synthesis. The timber used was sustainably sourced and innovations such as rainwater harvesting, solar panelling, and air source heat pumps combine to result in zero on-site carbon emissions. At the opening ceremony he spoke movingly about the building’s many virtues and especially of its capacity to promote cross-cultural unity and to promote peace.
“My hope is that—maybe unlike certain other mosques and cultural centres in the country—this one will provide a much needed space of openness, to promote better understanding between faiths and religions, and cooperation in the great quest for knowledge and unity, that lead us closer to the Face of the Divine.” – Yusuf
2019 certainly has been an eventful year but with the upcoming 50th anniversaries of Mona Bone Jakon and Tea for the Tillerman 2020 promises to be even more special! Let’s all hope that 2020 is marked, as would be fitting, by a clarity of vision and that we are able to move towards a greater level of peace both individually and collectively.
– Team Yusuf / Cat Stevens