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Yusuf set to give Sweden a Cat Stevens 'homecoming'

Yusuf set to give Sweden a Cat Stevens 'homecoming'

Published: 05 May 2011 13:01 GMT+02:00
Updated: 05 May 2011 13:01 GMT+02:00

Yusuf Islam, known to many as singer-songwriter Cat Stevens, is set to kick off his first European tour in 35 years in Sweden, a country he cites as instrumental in shaping his career, contributor Oliver Gee discovers.

At first glance, one may wonder why Cat Stevens, who now prefers to be called just Yusuf, would choose the Swedish capital to launch a comeback more than three decades in the making.

As it turns out, however, Yusuf has had a long relationship with Sweden on account of his mother, who hails from the town of Gävle, located about 150 kilometres north of Stockholm in eastern Sweden.

Yusuf, who was born in London in 1948 and has a Cypriot father, actually lived in Gävle when he was eight years old, and attended a local school for six months.

This experience, he says, prepared him for his future fame.

“It was the first time I realized I was going to be a star,” he explained to talk show host Fredrik Skavlan on Sveriges Television (SVT) in April.

“Everybody was staring at me. I had these brown eyes and at that time everybody had blue eyes, so I had my own little playground and got to choose my friends.”

It wasn't long until his predictions came to fruition.

By the age of 18 he had tasted his first success in London, both as a singer and a songwriter for other artists.

Songs such as ‘Matthew and Son’ and ‘I Love My Dog’ gained attention internationally, and within a year he was on tour with Jimi Hendrix, arguing over which of them would close the sets each night.

But the ‘Live Fast, Die Young’ life on the road took its toll, and Stevens became hospitalised with tuberculosis in 1969.

The year-long recuperation was the catalyst in transforming Stevens for the first of many times. He covered up the mirrors, picked up a pen and a guitar, and focused on self discovery. His resulting music was deeply introspective and hugely popular.

Stevens emerged from the hospital and into the 1970s with a flowing beard and good health.

Over the next three years he took the world by storm with the multi-platinum albums ‘Tea for the Tillerman', 'Teaser and the Firecat', and 'Catch a Bull at Four'.

These included such classic songs as ‘Peace Train’, ‘Morning Has Broken’, and ‘Father and Son', helping make Stevens into the voice of a generation.

However, unexpected events would once again lead to drastic change for Stevens.

While swimming at Malibu Beach in 1975, he got trapped in a strong current and began fearing for his life.

Desperate, he made a bargain with God.

“If you save me, I'll work for you,” he recalls saying to himself.

With these words a wave carried him safely to shore and the deal was done – but a few surprising details were yet to be clarified.

Soon after, Stevens received a gift of the Book of Koran. Despite 'never being interested in Islam before', something clicked, and he embraced the religion wholeheartedly, turning his back on the music industry entirely.

In his 2004 DVD Majikat, Yusuf claims that he found in the book “a world of explanations which lay beyond the veil of Western imaginings”.

He changed his name from Cat Stevens to Yusuf Islam in 1978 and auctioned off all his musical instruments.

Fans were confused, even angry, but Yusuf had found his calling and wasn’t looking back.

“Everything came together. I recognised so many things which were part of everything I learnt as a Christian,” he told Skavlan.

He then claimed that his Swedish upbringing allowed him to be so open minded about discovering a new religion.

“I had that Swedish part of me, which said, ja, let's have a look, let's get out there and see. Vikings were very brave people... they went everywhere, picked up so many things and brought them back. I had that as well. I went in there and looked. I recognised [Islam], it's not foreign. Jesus is here, Moses is here, Abraham is here, God's here," he said.

However, the new religion and the subsequent musical influence have divided fans, old and new. He was booed at a Dublin concert in 2009 for playing his latest music, yet the video for the title track from 2000s ‘A is for Allah’ has been viewed more than 11 million times on YouTube.

While Yusuf has shied away from politics or preaching, he admits that the September 11th, 2001 terror attacks in the United States inspired him to get back into music.

"What happened in New York in 2001 was the spark that made me seriously return to music and through it distance myself from terrorism and hate," he recently told the TT news agency.

"Islam in itself isn't a threat and many people, including Muslims, forget that the word comes from peace. So what I did directly after that was to sing my song 'Peace Train' and continue to spread the message of peace."

Speaking on Skavlan, Yusuf explained that people in the Muslim world "want the same freedom as we've got".

"If the Middle East had freedom, they may not use it the same way as Europeans, but give them the freedom to do it,” he said.

Yusuf however, is not back on tour to promote religion, rather, to spread the word of peace and freedom.

“Today with the miniature revival of Cat Stevens, I think that being available is important. There was an incredible movement in the 70s which was pointing toward a much more enlightened world," he said on Majikat.

"My songs captured that and they need to be there for people to wake up to the issues within themselves and perhaps to open that little door which may change their life.”

Yusuf also has a new single called "My People", written in the wake of the recent political upheaval in Egypt and elsewhere in the region.

"It's my wish to join with the people's call for freedom, to lend my voice to others who are fighting for basic rights," he told TT.

Despite all the controversies, the changes, and the 35 odd years since last time, when Yusuf picked up an acoustic guitar on Skavlan it sounded as if no time had passed at all.

And as an expected sellout crowd gets set to gather in Stockholm's Hovet arena on Saturday, many are no doubt hoping that the spirit of Cat Stevens and his melancholic melodies will have no trouble re-emerging when Yusuf takes the stage.

Paul Rapacioli (paul.rapacioli@thelocal.com)

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Your comments about this article

15:05 May 5, 2011 by Tanskalainen
Idiot fool.
17:32 May 5, 2011 by calebian22
I heard he will be debuting his new song, "I loved my dog, but now I'm muslim so the love is gone."
20:45 May 5, 2011 by Swedesmith
No, he simply changed the title to, "I Loathe my Dog".
00:18 May 6, 2011 by Zonob
When he left Music he was criticized. When he came back to it he was also criticized. What do you exactly want, or is it just pure hatred?
01:47 May 6, 2011 by Tanskalainen
I want him to be himself. To be honest with himself and others. I first heard Cat Stevens when I was twelve years old and my teacher brought one of his albums to school and played it for our class. I was just a kid at the time but I was bowled over by Cat Steven's voice and obvious talent. Then he threw it all away to become Muslim (music is frowned upon in Islam). Now he has decided music is "okay" and he has a sort of Anglican version of Islam. Why doesn't he just grow up and be himself? I don't believe for one second that he is happy.
05:53 May 6, 2011 by DOZ
Fantastic. One of the few Non-Lemming Westerners.
12:10 May 6, 2011 by Jes
This man is good proof why some people consider Islam a very strange religion for unbalanced humans .

This is a guy who changed his name and adopted Arabic names ; he changed his looks ,keeps an ungly beard and attempts to imitate Arabs .

One has to wonder why Cat Stevens can recogonize Yusuf Islam .His act looks pretty stupid .

I would say the same to anybody who converts to christianity and goes to the extent of changing him/her self to look like a bishop .
14:42 May 6, 2011 by wenddiver
You won't get my money. I love my dog.

I threw out this losers albums years ago. He stands for craziness pursonified and Sweden should look at it's Visa system if he can get into the country (EU?).
16:34 May 6, 2011 by fridlystamia
Wow, a lot of unjustified hatred going on here. I don't get it. Islamophobia? Yusuf/Cat did his research before turning to Islam. Christian turned Buddhist, even numerology before settling down. Whatever floats your boat, I don't care.

I watched the Skavlan interview, he played Father and Son. Same old guy. People need to move on - he has been a Muslim for 35 years, so what? I'll be at the concert, enjoying the music.
16:55 May 6, 2011 by SimonDMontfort
Amazing man - Cat Stevens/Yusuf: and possibly a bridge between cultures. Loved his music from the 1960s/70s, then he in a sense reinvented himself.

Who says life is boring, when you can travel the same journey as this man?
16:58 May 6, 2011 by truthworthy
Yep. the bigots are at work again. Their hatred is unjustified because it is not against him, it is against something different. They have this deep hatred that they dont even read the topic and just focus on with their agenda.

but let me remind you, you are the minority, you will just commit suicide by yourself guided by your hatred. Dont worry about Islam, it wont destroy you, your hatred will destroy you. Nothing Else.

Go Yusuf, the world needs you. Rock Stockholm
17:18 May 6, 2011 by Dave N
I was a big fan but when he called for Salman Rushdie to be killed it sort of put me off him.

I hear he is doing a re-make of an old Stevie Wonder song - "My Shariah Law."
18:45 May 6, 2011 by Yunis
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
20:48 May 6, 2011 by Dave N
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
21:55 May 6, 2011 by Lakshmi72
What does this man mean by "home coming"?

He never was a Swede.

I cannot stand this guy.
22:50 May 6, 2011 by xboy
Why is too much negativity? Yusuf (Cat Stevens) is well known artist in the planet. If you don't like Yusuf don't go to his concert.

Note: It's funny to see stupid... non-talented..... psychic people arguing about a person they don't know.

Yusuf, this world needs your God Given talent more than ever. We love you!!
03:35 May 7, 2011 by Crown Prince of Nowhereland
Why does it disturb some people that he would want to share his music with the world again? Has he written a song called 'Salman Rushdie Must Die!'? Why can't his own words be construed as anything other than altruistic? After three decades as a Muslim after giving up his fame, he is suddenly opportunistic? He is paying compliment to his memory of Sweden, and that's a bad thing?

Some people are just too stupid and shallow to understand anything around them, and it's their loss.
10:50 May 7, 2011 by Jes
Hold no !!!!!!

Before anyone calls anyone a bigot ; before anyone calls Cat Islam a great man one needs to hear what he said when 276 Kenyans and 30000 Americans were killed by muslim extremists.

Cat Stevens is theb hater hding behind a dirty beard and useless expired songs
23:41 May 7, 2011 by jamesblish
Cat Stevens was a brilliant pop musician and, like many of his counterparts, he felt a sense of meaninglessness that is very common amongst rich and spoiled stars. Some people, like the Beatles, went to India in search of something new, some people turned to satanism, a lot of people turned to drugs. Cat turned to Islam. Different religion but in the end it's a symptom of the same sort of illness. He did hold on to his newfound faith though, you've got to give him that. Most people abandon if after a year or so, when it goes out of fashion.
04:06 May 8, 2011 by wenddiver
Why not combine the Cat Stevens and Jesse Jackson event into one event and call it Useless Idiot Fest or Violent Extremist Day?
14:05 May 8, 2011 by Jes
@jamesblish , Cat Judas Islam found his "drug" . It is the one that made him say the things he said after his fellow muslim extremists hit USA &, Africa . By pivoting between his mullah´s life-style in UAE and liberal Sweden ,Cat Iscariot is trying to eat his cake and have it.

But, one has to be smart to see through his act.

He should be told to GO TO HELL !!!!
19:13 May 8, 2011 by Yunis
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: Consider the following facts. Whether you like them is another matter.

1. 9/11 wasn't done by Muslims, it was done by Israel

2. Europe is an atheist and immoral continent that hates Islam.

3. Osama Bin Laden did not die in 2011, he was killed at the end of 2001.

4. America is not interested in fighting terrorism because it is a terrrorist state itself.

5. America wants to break up Pakistan for the following reasons:

a. the country is sitting on the potential energy pipelines from the Middle

East/Central Asia to China and India

b. the country is Islamic with nuclear weapons

c. the country's ideology, Islam, is diametrically opposed to Zionism and

Israel.

6. The world has more to fear of 'changing' Western values than Islamic ones.

7. Every country America has attacked since it did Hiroshima and Nagasaki in WWII has been non-white.

8. Al-quada does does not exist.

9. Western mainstream media is extremely distrustfull as a source of truthfull, representational information.

10. America and Britain have committed genocide in Iraq and Afghanistan by, amongst other things, using depleted uranium against the innocent.

11. If Osama Bin Laden did 9/11, why didn't they caputure him first, put him on trial and then sentence him to death? This would put an end to all conspiracy theories.
05:52 May 9, 2011 by wenddiver
@YUNiS- Your time would be better spent returning home and teaching your people about deoderant, toilet paper, Flush type toilets and the need to bathe daily, than talkingnon-sence on western computer sites.

I would gladly applaud the Muslim who could stop the flies from crawling around the eyes of the children of the middle east or even just do something about the smell, so you don't have to worry about throwing up while your shooting terrorists.

You people don't like Dogs, because they are always throwing up, clean up the country and they don't throw up and make excellent pets.
09:30 May 9, 2011 by Åskar
@Lakshmi72

His mother is Swedish. He has lived in Sweden when young. Is that enough for you?
11:29 May 9, 2011 by canam
@Yunis - you need to read the definition of what a "fact" actually is. I always get a laugh from people who think they are smarter than they actually are by spouting a lot of your nonsense. Some conspiracy theorists have good points, but you just vomit nonsense
01:02 May 12, 2011 by Buckshot
Is this the forum for the mentaly ill?

It sure looks like it.
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