Before he releases his highly-anticipated new album, Barakah, on February 1 next year, British singer Sami Yusuf has some history lessons for us. As composer of the soundtrack for 1001 Inventions and the World of Ibn Al Haytham, Yusuf, known for his spiritually-infused music, says working on the part-animated film was special in many ways: Firstly, it’s produced by the educational organisation 1001 Inventions and shines light on the golden era of Islamic civilisation. And secondly, it was the last film that legendary Egyptian actor Omar Sharif did.
Ahead of the film’s premiere at the Dubai International Film Festival (Diff), Yusuf spoke to tabloid! about the project, his upcoming album and a tour. Excerpts from the interview.
Hi Sami, how did you get involved with 1001 Inventions and the World of Ibn Al Haytham?
The project was first introduced to me by Ahmad Salim (producer and director of 1001 Inventions) back in 2012 and instantly caught my attention. It hadn’t been long since the release of his highly acclaimed film, the award-winning 1001 Inventions and the Library of Secrets which starred Oscar winner Sir Ben Kingsley.
What convinced you to accept the project?
The film is about Ibn Al Haytham, a 11th Century scientist who ultimately discovered how we see. The story is fascinating and immediately drew me in. I think it is incredible that we live in an almost perpetual state of cultural and civilisational amnesia. It is crucial — especially during our modern time — for people around the globe to acknowledge and appreciate the contributions made by different civilisations.
For example, in school we learn about Aristotle and then suddenly jump two thousand years to Isaac Newton. That period in between is often referred to as “the dark ages”. Although, some parts of Europe were going through a ‘dark’ period (plagues, sickness, decadence), it was glowing and radiating in another part of the world: The Golden era of Islamic Civilisation (includes all the major traditions, not only Muslims) which spanned continents from Indonesia to Andalusia. This film is about educating. I pray and hope it serves its purpose.
How many tracks did you compose for the film?
I composed the entire score as well as the title track Shine, which will be made available soon. There are eight tracks in total. I’m sure you will like it.
How long did it take you to work on the score?
My part took a few months but being a perfectionist, it has gone through one or two updates from project inception. The musicians used are very diverse, from Jordan to Kenya! It has been quite an experience.
Did you meet or interact with Omar Sharif for the film?
No, unfortunately. I never got the opportunity. He will be sorely missed.
Why should everyone watch this film?
Because it provides an alternate narrative from the one we have been hearing (and today suffering from) for so many years. A narrative, which is at once both true and extremely powerful and paints a different picture of not only Muslims and Islam but the interaction and interrelation between the great traditions. Ultimately, it is educational and hopefully inspires the generations to want to discover as Ibn Al Haytham did.
Your next album is coming soon. What can you tell us about it?
The album is called Barakah, which roughly translates to ‘grace’ or ‘blessing’ in English and will be released on February 1, 2016. This album consists of 12 pieces, 11 of which are of a sacred nature, and it has taken me over a year to compile the research since most of the songs are covers and traditional pieces. Some are over 600 years old! It has been a monumental task for me and I’m very excited for its release.
Extremist groups think they know better than thousands of years of Islamic tradition and seek to erase it. That is why they blow up monuments and shrines and burn books and outlaw music. If their ears and hearts could only be opened to the profound beauty and truth of these traditions, they would put down their guns and pick up a drum, they would stop shouting in anger and start singing in love.
The release of this album is a call, an invitation to return to the beauty of the Islamic spiritual and artistic traditions, and to resist the centrifugal forces that are tearing our societies apart and throwing our world out of balance. This album aspires to be a fragrant breeze that calls us back to the garden that resides in all of us, at the centre.
What can fans look forward to from this album?
A journey of self-discovery, spirituality from West Africa to India. A window into an almost forgotten world.
Will you be at the Dubai International Film Festival?
Sadly, I will not. I am in Europe shooting some music videos for the release of my album. But Ahmad Salim and the rest of the team will be there. I’m sure it will be amazing.
What next for you besides the album?
Currently my focus is on the album and the 2016 Barakah tour. I’m excited for the release of Shine, which will be accompanied by a music video before 2016.