He's back, but he never left

That Cat Stevens sound comes through on Yusuf Islam's new pop music. But, like his name, his life's focus has changed.

Published May 8, 2007

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates

Yusuf Islam, the former Cat Stevens, has quietly returned to music with a new album and concerts. And he's sounding a lot like . . . Cat Stevens.

Thirty years after the folk singer converted to Islam, changed his name and dropped out of music, calling it un-Islamic, he has picked up the guitar once more. He has reconciled pop music with his faith and wants to use it to spread a message of peace.

"When I come out now, I sound quite similar. For some people, it's a welcome return to the sound of my voice and my music, " said Islam, who as Cat Stevens sold 60-million albums.

In an interview, Islam said he's trying to make amends for dropping out all those years ago - and he admits he might have hurt some feelings. He said his break might not have been as complete had the press been more understanding about his conversion to Islam, he said.

"For some people (my disappearance) was a deep cut. I'm in a way trying to make amends. And the great thing is, I've still got music in me. It's a gift. Even I'm surprised, " he said.

Islam, 58, dressed in a blue denim button-down shirt, sleeves rolled to the elbow, spoke in a small Dubai office that doubles as a recording studio and the offices of Jamal Records, a label he co-owns.

So far, Islam's comeback has been low-key. A concert aired on BBC TV in April and he is considering taking part in the Live Earth concert series, to raise awareness about climate change, planned for July.

Late last year, Islam launched his first pop album since his conversion in 1977. Titled An Other Cup, the folksy album includes a song he first wrote in 1968, Greenfields, Golden Sands.

Dubai, where the singer lives part of the year (he spends most of his time in his native London), is where Islam's return to music took place after his son bought a guitar in 2002.

"He brings it home and there's this guitar in the house, " Islam said with a pause and a demure smile, eyes downcast. "I looked at it and, well, we just got back together again."

But he had already been moving back toward it, with a lot of study about the Prophet Mohammed's attitudes toward music.

"For a long time I had doubts about music. There's a certain point of view among certain schools of thought in Islam that considers music too closely connected to hedonistic tendencies, you know, sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, " he said.

"But when you take it out of one context and put it in another context, which is connected to healing, spirituality, morality and family values, it's wholesome good stuff, " he said. "That's the kind of music the Prophet encouraged. And there's evidence of that. So I came a long way through the study of music."


Yusuf Islam