Sunset on 2022
As we turn the page on another calendar year it is our custom to look back and reflect upon the events that occurred in the peaceful world of Yusuf / Cat Stevens as our beautiful and precious planet orbited once more around the golden sun.
Yusuf’s Peace Train charitable initiative commenced 2022 with the ‘Kitchen Gardens & Livestock’ project in Sindh, Pakistan. Widowed families were given livestock, tools, seeds and fruit trees, empowering them to look after themselves and their orphaned children. The region was selected due to sustained poverty and this remarkable and worthy project sows the seeds that we all hope will flower into a substantial upturn in the population’s quality of life for many years to come, Inshallah.
Songwriting Magazine made Yusuf the cover star of their winter 2022 edition. In a fascinating interview about the details of his craft Yusuf revealed some sparkling gems about his songwriting process: “The music is what leads me to the destination that I’m longing for and then the lyrics flow after that.”
Yusuf was a special guest on the enormously popular Broken Record podcast that conducts interviews with the true luminaries from the world of popular music. In a relaxed and thoughtful conversation, Yusuf guided interviewer Bruce Headlam through the twists and turns of his complex artistic journey: “I was wandering through the woods of religiosity or spiritualism and not yet finding my home.”
The gloriously uplifting soundtrack to Harold & Maude was given a special 50th anniversary release. Director Hal Ashby had edited his quirky black comedy while listening to songs from Mona Bone Jakon and Tea for the Tillerman and was convinced that the film should exclusively feature Cat Stevens material. After a significant campaign, he won Cat Stevens around, however, the collection has never been on general release until now. Both fans and critics were delighted to finally be able to get their hands on the official soundtrack with Pitchfork magazine naming it their best new release.
“I never allowed them to put out the soundtrack because it would have sounded like a collection of greatest hits and I felt like I was only at the start of my career. But I did write two songs for the film. I did the demos in San Francisco and I always meant to do them properly but no, Hal put them straight into the film and that was it, locked away. I love those recordings now because they’re so raw.”
Yusuf spoke to Rolling Stone magazine about the connection between his life’s path and his songwriting, revealing a golden thread that binds the two together. He gave an inspiring account of having the courage to live up to the deep convictions that had always underpinned the message of his music: “I did strive, not only lyrically, but mentally, spiritually, to attain the ideals of my songs.”
February was marked by the sad loss of Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker. Gary will always be remembered for ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, one of the most iconic and enduring hits in a golden era of British songwriting.
“Gary was a master of song. We began chart buzzing together around the same time on the same label, Deram, in 1966. Last we hooked up was at the Music for Marsden benefit concert in aid of cancer in 2020, where he played piano on Wild World. God bless him with a brighter shade of peace.”
Yusuf was invited by Trekstock to design an exclusive T-shirt for their Merch For Good campaign which sees all profits go to supporting young people living with cancer. The T-shirt was a tremendous success for the campaign and raised invaluable funds for this most worthy cause. Merch for Good by Trekstock
“Cancer touches so many people and tragically implodes in so many homes, causing loss to families, without discrimination. I’m proud to support the cause.”
We live in a time of transition. The digital revolution is in full flight and so many aspects of our material lives have become subsumed into the online space. For musical artists this has had a profound effect on the sales of physical copies of their music. Many great performers have not survived this shift, however, it is encouraging to know that Yusuf’s music has retained its popularity and is being discovered by a whole new generation of listeners. This is evidenced by the fact that Wild World has now reached over 400M streams on Spotify alone.
April saw the occurrence of the holy month of Ramadan. Fasting during daylight hours is accompanied by heightened levels of self-reflection and spiritual contemplation for Muslims all around the world. Yusuf observes Ramadan with great diligence and shared a glimpse into the essence of his deep insights.
“As we look more deeply at the scale of things above and below us – trees, plants, seas, mountains and the grandeur of the heavenly skies – we are forced to question our own existence. Because we have minds and the ability to question, certainly everybody has sufficient reason to ask themselves what it all means?”
Eid fell on the 1st May marking the completion of another successful Ramadan. Faith and connection to God had been reinforced for Muslims everywhere as delicious treats were enjoyed and festivities held to mark the end of a month of temperance and fasting.
Those who wish to deepen their understanding of the nature of the Muslim faith may well find valuable information and inspiration within the pages of ‘Secrets of Divine Love: A Spiritual Journey into the Heart of Islam’ by A. Helwa. Throughout the year Yusuf showed his love for the book with his friends, family and wider audience.
“When the world goes to sleep, God is the One who is awake with you. God sees the tears you hide with smiles and He embraces the pain you think no one would understand. ‘Not even an atom’s weight in the heavens or the earth remains hidden from Him’ (34:3).” A. Helwa Secrets of Divine Love: A Spiritual Journey into the Heart of Islam
Cat Stevens: Back Beyond, the sumptuous visual study of Yusuf’s career in the early ‘70s was released by Genesis publications. This chronicle of the period that brought us Mona Bone Jakon, Tea for the Tillerman, and Teaser and the Firecat is bursting with rare photographs, illustrations and personal recollections by Yusuf himself.
May marked the 10th Anniversary of Moonshadow the musical. Featuring songs from throughout his career, Moonshadow takes the audience on the incredible journey of a young man and his moonshadow’s struggle against the oncoming of darkness. As the night planet prepares for the big blackout by the death of the Moon, the odd duo battle to overcome the hidden enemy, in search for the mythical land of the lost sun and everlasting happiness. “The story is reflective of the challenge many people are facing today as they struggle to meet their needs for food and energy for their homes.”
Father’s Day fell on 19th June for both the USA and UK in 2022. It is always a special date for one of Yusuf’s most beloved compositions, ‘Father & Son,’ with many people choosing to use the song to reflect the profound importance of fathers and father figures in their lives. It remains a great honour to Yusuf for a song he wrote some 50 years ago to be connected with such an invaluable relationship.
The Peace Train ‘Tandoor Project’ was launched providing free bread to vulnerable Afghan refugees including widows, children and the disabled in towns close to the Afghan border. Special bakeries were established with educational programs to pass on invaluable skills and train new bread makers every month allowing the scheme to expand into new regions benefitting more displaced families and communities. The name ‘Tandoor’ comes from a traditional bread oven used for millennia. A committee formed from the respected elders of the community recommend three people to run the Tandoor and nominate those who will receive free bread twice a day. “The eradication of poverty is the way to peace.”
Gibson guitars honoured Yusuf by releasing a limited edition custom Cat Stevens model. The gorgeous black acoustic J-180 features a special moon and star headstock inlay, two faux tortoise shell pickguards, a special Cat Stevens truss rod cover and comes in a unique custom case with Yusuf’s own cat stencil design from the ‘70s. This Cat Stevens signature model is based upon the legendary guitar used on Mona Bone Jakon, Tea For The Tillerman and Teaser And The Firecat. Yusuf was delighted with the outcome and has started using the new model for live concerts, studio recordings and for songwriting. “I really turned a corner when I got my hands on a black Gibson Everly Brothers J-180, it was my favourite guitar!”
Despite being vaccinated and receiving his boosters, in July it was Yusuf’s turn to catch COVID. Thankfully his symptoms were not overly debilitating and after a responsible period of rest and recuperation he recovered, Alhamdulillah
Not long after his recovery from COVID, Yusuf and his band travelled to the golden sunshine and green fields of the South of France to spend time in the studio. The time was spent productively exploring new ideas and rehearsing work from his extensive canon of work. The session doubled as an unofficial family holiday with a number of Yusuf’s children coming to stay at the same time. It was the first time that all of his grandchildren had been able to be in the same place since before the pandemic started – and there had also been a new addition to the tribe since then taking the total number of Yusuf’s grandchildren to a mighty eleven! What better way could there possibly be to celebrate his birthday on the 21st than to be surrounded by such love?
The great Welsh warrior Alun Davies celebrated his 80th birthday on the 27th July. Although they weren’t able to see each other on the day, it wasn’t long until Yusuf and Fawziah met up with Alun and his wonderful wife Val for a celebratory meal in a fabulous London restaurant: “Happy 80th Birthday Alun, to the Epiphonian craftsman, who helped etch and shape my songs into the history book of music. Big love and peace.”
August saw the passing of Roland Young, the designer who worked with Yusuf to create the album covers from Foreigner to Izitso. Theirs had been a joyful and productive partnership and Yusuf shared his sadness at the loss: “You drew my face in the sand…”
The world also lost Mikhail Gorbachev, a true broker of peace who was instrumental in bringing the Cold War to an end. In 2004 Gorbachev presented Yusuf with the Man Of Peace award at a meeting of the Nobel Peace Laureates “For having dedicated the most part of his life in the promotion of peace and reconciliation among peoples and for having condemned terrorism.” Yusuf expressed sadness at the loss and acknowledged Gorbachev’s immense contribution to peace.He also revealed that during their meeting Gorbachev had offered some sage advice: “A giant in the world of peacemaking. When I met him in 2004 he told me to expect hardships on the road to building bridges.”
Following a period of tragic flooding in Pakistan, Peace Train shovelled coals into the engine and mobilised to lend vital support to the humanitarian relief effort. They immediately commenced working with their partners in the Districts of Hyderabad and Jamshoro in the Sindh province of Pakistan to provide around 1500 meals daily for survivors affected by the catastrophic floods. This crucial sort of work makes a real difference in people’s lives and is built upon Peace Train’s central motivation, ‘Feed the hungry and spread peace.’
On 7th September Yusuf and Fawziah celebrated their 43rd Wedding Anniversary. May God continue to bless their wonderful union that stands as a shining example to us all.
Queen Elizabeth II died on the 8th September marking the end of the longest ever reign of a British monarch. Her service to her country was acknowledged worldwide and her funeral was observed on a scale unlikely to be repeated. “To God We Belong and To God We Return, she never failed to serve her country. A loyal and unforgettable Queen.”
Yusuf surprised fans by announcing that in October he would be performing two concerts, later extended to three, in Turkiye. Despite having a long and happy relationship with the country, including numerous holidays and recreational visits, these would be Yusuf’s first ever concerts there. “My relationship with Türkiye goes back to the early Eighties when I first visited after embracing Islam. The welcome I received was so affectionate and strong, I felt at home immediately. Turkish music also had a lot to do with my return to singing in 2006. The ilâhiler (Divine songs) I was introduced to were so inspiring and familiar because of my Greek-Cypriot background.”
In March 2019 the shocking events of the shooting in Christchurch of Muslim Worshippers by a lone terrorist horrified the world. Yusuf travelled to Christchurch to perform at the national memorial service and advocate for peace in the wake of such an act of evil. He committed then to offer a symbol of peace to the city in the form of a Peace Train Chugger. The Covid pandemic meant the Chugger took some time to reach the shores of New Zealand, however, this September Peace Train working with Christchurch City Council were finally able to launch the initiative which offers free rides for visitors to parks and gardens in Christchurch. The train, which now has a home in the Botanical Gardens, will be active throughout the New Zealand Spring and Summer every year for all to enjoy. “Everyone jump upon the peace train!”
On September 27th Catch Bull At Four reached its 50th anniversary. The album showcased a new fuller, electric band sound than had been heard on previous records but the high quality of songwriting remained constant. Catch Bull was a colossal commercial success hitting number one on the US Billboard charts and to celebrate it making it to half a century Yusuf released newly remastered editions on all formats, including a super vibrant orange LP version. “Contrary to the spiritual nature and theme of the album, Catch Bull At Four went straight to number one and became one of my biggest commercial accomplishments. It was scary! I feared it would divert me from my spiritual goals.”
Tragically, just before Yusuf and his team arrived in Turkiye to prepare for the upcoming shows the country was shaken by the news of an awful explosion in a mine in the northern Black Sea coast town of Amasra. Many souls were trapped underground and 41 lives were lost before the survivors were able to be rescued: “May God grant an opening for those buried beneath the earth following the Turkish mine explosion. It’s hard to imagine what they’re going through. I pray that the rescuers will get through and they can breathe the air again.”
Yusuf performed in Istanbul on 19th October and in Ankara on the 23rd and 24th October, 2022. Profits from the shows went to supporting Yusuf’s Peace Train charity. Turkiye has a large Muslim population and so Yusuf curated a setlist that combined a number of his classic hits with some of his more faith based work such as ‘A Is For Allah’ and ‘The Beloved’. Expert musicianship, stunning visual backdrops and vibrant lighting combined to generate a wonderfully immersive experience for a captivated audience. Yusuf himself was on excellent form but above all, the star of all three concerts was the message of Peace and unity contained within the songs.
Turkiye’s President and the First Lady were in attendance at the final show in Ankara. Yusuf commended the President for his work in trying to open blockages between Russia and Ukraine, and urged him not to give up looking for a peaceful solution to his fatherland Cyprus, and to support Peace for all in the Holy Land. Yusuf is no stranger to speaking with powerful political figures and although it sometimes draws questions from outside, he is steadfast in his willingness to engage in dialogue with all sides and to use his peaceful music to bridge gaps between people.
Yusuf’s friends and family were united in sadness at the passing of brother Samir El-Atar. A kind and gentle soul, Samir was a deeply valued member of the Islamic community of North London. He ran the Dar Al Taqwa bookshop and publishing house in Marylebone that was a true Aladdin’s cave of spiritual treasures and a well of deep knowledge. Brother Samir will be missed by all who were blessed to know him: “Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rāji’ūn, oh, my brother Samir! How good you were and soft of heart, we began the school with your children and mine. May Allah grant you everlasting reward for the best of who you were and what you did. Amīn”
With great pride Muhammad Sulaiman collected his Grandad’s award from the International Red Vest Volunteering Awards in Turkiye. Yusuf Islam / Peace Train were awarded for acts of kindness in the International Volunteering category. Muhammad Sulaiman shares his Grandad’s birthday as well as his passions for charity, music and football!
Yusuf’s October concert at the Ataturk Cultural Centre was aired on Turkish TV on the TRT2 channel on Dec 10th. Through their international streaming options, fans from all across the globe were able to tune in and catch the sensational spectacle. Yusuf has shared a few highlights from the performance on his social media and there are plans to make the full performance available to all in the not too distant future.
That wraps up our review of 2022. All that remains is to thank all of Yusuf’s fans and followers for sharing the journey of another eventful year with us. We wish you all peace and spiritual prosperity in 2023 and look forward to your companionship on the journey ahead, Inshallah.