Perhaps unintentionally, Yusuf Islam – the Londoner born Steven Demetre Georgiou – has a style matching the amalgam of cultures he represents.
He’s wearing jeans, one of his own Cat Stevens – Peace Train T-shirts and a sheepskin and leather jacket. He’s sporting the same beard he’s had since the late 1970s, though there are a few more grey hairs now, and his iPhone sitting on the table in front of him quietly rings with a call to prayer alarm mid-interview. He’s slim, no taller than 5ft 8in, and speaks with a proper London accent, interspersing common idioms such as “innit” into conversation. The multi-platinum-selling singer, who relocated to Dubai several years ago, has both the wisdom of a man nearing his mid-60s and the humour of a young boy.
In his early 20s, he flirted with several religions to find contentment. He famously discovered Islam before 30 and subsequently gave up music.
I was upset by the reaction of the press towards me,” he says, in Doha for a sell-out public show last Thursday night before an audience of 2,800. “I thought everybody would embrace and understand my reasons for becoming Muslim. Islam comes from Salam (meaning peace). People wanted to take an opposing view from day one. That, you know, immediately creates antagonism. I was not patient enough to abide by that and I just walked away.”
He took his first gradual steps back in the mid-1990s, producing spiritual music. Six years ago, he released An Other Cup, his first western-style album since the long break. Now he is pursuing more ambitious, culturally inclusive and entertaining projects. He’s ramping up to a comeback and is finally at peace with all that has happened, embracing his pre-conversion achievements and merging them with new material on live stages.