Rehearsals for Yusuf’s special exclusive concerts in Turkiye took place in Istanbul a week before the shows. The rehearsal facility was a stone’s throw from Istanbul’s iconic Galata Tower, a historic watchtower in the Beyoğlu district and a popular tourist destination. Yusuf’s team for these shows was a mixture of old and new faces, plus a complement of local techs. There was a fun atmosphere as people became acquainted with one another and learned their roles fuelled by sensational Turkish food and a level of tea consumption that would shock even the British!
Yusuf / Cat Stevens was the headline performance of the Beyoğlu Culture Route Festival 2022, and the concert took place in the newly constructed Attaturk Cultural Centre in Istanbul on 19th October.
The buzz was palpable when the day finally arrived. With the house lights off, the atmosphere in the auditorium was humming with excitement and then erupted into powerful applause as Yusuf strode out onto the stage. He opened with a delicate and captivating rendition of ‘Moonshadow’. The band played with expert restraint allowing space for the audience’s imagination to mingle with the chords and melodies, enhanced by the lighting and beautiful images, thematically complimenting the set list.
For the next hour and a half the enchanted audience were taken on a journey through Yusuf’s world, from the hope and innocence of his early 70s songs through to the devotion and enlightenment found in his more recent work. This was Yusuf / Cat Stevens at his finest; intimate, sincere and entirely enveloping.
“Looking out at that sea of adoring faces was amazing. The fans really connect with this music on a profound level.” Kwame Yeboah (Musical Director)
The show then rolled onto the capital of Turkiye, Ankara for Yusuf’s performance at the CSO Ada on the 23rd October headlining the Başkent Culture Route Festival. The team had a day off before the show, however, Yusuf was occupied by a round of interviews and podcasts for various Turkish news agencies. The media circus is not always easy to navigate but the Turks were respectful and polite if a little excited to be in Yusuf’s presence. He was happy that the interviewers were keen to explore important issues to him beyond his music. Yusuf generally prefers to explore the big topics relating to life’s journey: charity and education, and how to bring about real and lasting change in the world rather than answer more obvious about his work in the 1970s, however, he appreciates that his early work retains an enduring fascination.
The concert in the CSO Ada was another sparkling triumph, despite a few behind-the-scenes obstacles. The venue itself is a quasi-futuristic spherical space with the stage being in-the-round. The intention had been to block off the seating behind the stage but this clear instruction had been lost in translation somewhere along the way and all tickets in the venue had been sold. This certainly created some challenges for the sound engineers who had to scramble to make sure that the whole audience would get a good quality sonic experience. It also led to some interesting scenes backstage with Yusuf’s management team having to investigate how such a clear and obvious error could have been made. But Yusuf took the challenge in his stride and was able to announce during the show that anyone who was dissatisfied with being behind the stage would be able to have their tickets refunded. In reality it is unlikely that anyone took up this offer as the concert was utterly outstanding. Yusuf was relaxed and performed beautifully.
Around 90% of Turkiye’s population are Muslim meaning that the demographic of the audiences was quite different than one would expect to find at the majority of Yusuf / Cat Stevens’ concerts. As a result Yusuf was able to curate a slightly different setlist for these shows. Of course he included the likes of ‘Father & Son’, ‘Wild World’ and ‘Peace Train’, but he was also able to share songs such as ‘A Is For Allah’, ‘Tala Al Badru Alayna’, ‘Olive Hill’ and ‘God Is The Light’. It can be hard for Western fans to understand how meaningful and powerful these songs are to his Muslim fans but their delight at hearing them was clearly evident. For many, songs such as ‘A Is For Allah’ are sort of like hearing a nursery rhyme, a Beatles classic and a number one hit all rolled into one. These are songs that they have grown up with and learned from, in some cases they are the only songs that they will have listened to in the home. It was an obvious honour and pleasure for Yusuf to perform this repertoire and for it to be so gratefully received, even fans who were less familiar with these songs were tangibly moved by the experience.
“Prior to these Turkiye shows with Yusuf I wasn’t fully aware of the gravitas of his material. A man clearly on a quest for peace, I can now see and understand why his songs and messages have had such a great and deserved impact on people all over the world.” Alf Cole (Sound Engineer)
The final concert of this expedition was a rather unique experience for all in the presence of the presidential leader of the Turkic nation. President Erdoğan had been instrumental in inviting Yusuf to perform in the country; Yusuf had met him on a previous visit to Turkey, and it was at that time that the President obtained a promise from Yusuf to come back and perform. The concert took place in a theatre within the Presidential compound and was attended by the President himself, along with his wife and many other dignitaries.
During the concert 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.
As with the previous two concerts, the final performance was a huge success. The hard work and preparation that went into putting these shows together at fairly short notice by Yusuf and his entire team certainly paid off. 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. These may have been Yusuf’s first ever shows in Turkiye but many are praying that it won’t be his last.