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The Story of Life After Cat Stevens

8 May, 2004 By: Holly J. Wagner

In 1976, Cat Stevens was at the height of his career. In 1977, he walked away from it all, converted to Islam and fans heard little more than rumor and speculation about what happened next.

Those fans can find out in a three-part interview on Eagle Vision's double-disc Majikat, a concert film due May 18 with footage from the 1976 Earth Tour and the interview with Yusuf Islam, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens.

Although he shies away from discussing politics, he has a firsthand understanding of how world politics can influence music and its appeal to fans, and how industry politics influence what gets released.

“There is a great number of people who were attached to my persona at that time. Many of them would have caught a show or two. Many of them who saw Majikat would like to reconnect with that experience,” he said. For a younger audience, the appeal may be in finding out what all the fuss was about, experiencing “the myth of Cat Stevens and ... what it was like to be at a concert.”

Boomer generation fans will remember swaying to songs like “Peace Train” and “Where Do the Children Play?” — songs with a political and environmental conscience. They're songs, Islam said, that present-day music culture might not create.

“Pop music, in a way, tries to disengage from the political realities, or in a political way is more idealistic,” he said. “Maybe it might remind people of the same kinds of issues we are dealing with today, like the war. ‘Peace Train,' for example, was about getting on a track toward a better world. We all believed in it, but the reality is the politicians didn't believe in it.”Although musicians are limited in their ability to set or influence political agendas, Islam believes music can help shine the light.

“[The DVD] will probably give an insight into the recycling of these issues like the antiwar movement, which is very alive in the world today,” he said. “My music represents an optimistic glimmer that came through in that period, the '60s and '70s. I am pleased that I was part of that. Music comes from your soul. I am content with what I sent out because it is optimistic.”

That optimism is scarce in music today, he said, particularly in music that aims to be political.

“If you look back at the early blues period, which gave rise to rock and roll ... when Elvis, a white boy, did it, it got popular,” Islam said. “There isn't that sort of inspiration [today]. It's mainly driven by sex. There still are a lot of rap songs out there, I guess because of that. But rap is very angry.”As Cat Stevens, he gained recognition on pirate radio early in his career, when it was difficult for independent artists to get airplay, particularly on the BBC.

“People were working very hard to get records on there, but in the old days it was very hard,” he said. “BBC, they still call her auntie. There's a reason they call her auntie.”

To some extent, file-trading is the 21st-century answer to that.“There's a very good parallel, I think. The only difference here is it's not guided by these quirky disc jockeys,” Islam said. “Today you've got to hunt for what you're looking for. It lacks the kind of communal aspect of listening to a radio station. This is all done individually, and it is sort of they go into their own little world.”

On the other hand, the Internet makes it easier for independent artists to build awareness and to keep their visions intact, despite industry politics.“We were making music despite the record company's wishes, And you know what? People loved it,” Islam said. “Today it seems to be all dictated by the corporate giants, and therefore it has become much less interesting and much less challenging. It's all about how much you expose or something. ... No doubt there is a great generation out there who really do deserve something more.”

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