Stevens Returns With Small Kindnesses
Still from MajiKat DVD
Islam, known to millions as the British singer/songwriter and
pop star Cat Stevens, has reconciled himself to his music.
A long, personal journey led him to a small stage in NYC last night
for the private screening for the worldwide release of his new DVD,
Stevens: MajiKat: Earth Tour 1976.
long after the MajiKat tour, Cat Stevens walked away from the music
business and stardom, embraced Islam, and changed his name to Yusuf
Islam. He shunned his pop star life, including those magical songs
that captured the hearts of millions of fans and inspired many to
embark on their own artistic journeys. So many of us loved that
music, and it felt as if he were rejecting us, too. Photo: Promotional
poster for Cat Stevens: MajiKat DVD
new life, largely hidden from public view, was subject to speculation
and at times, derision. Some thought he had become a monk, others
thought he'd gone crazy, many were just plain mad that the star
whom they had embraced could abandon everyone so swiftly and so
completely. But Yusuf Islam did not become a monk or a cleric. He
did not retreat to live alone on top of a mountaintop in some exotic
land. He did not stop living life, and once was quoted in an interview
as saying, "I wanted to stop singing about life and start having
a life." Yusuf started living a different kind of life from that
of a pop star, one in which he found meaning, substance, and direction
through his newfound faith in Islam.
Yusuf Islam at reception prior to screening
currently lives in London, is married and raising a family of five
children. He founded four schools in Britain for Muslim children
so Muslim families can educate their children following their cultural
and religious practices. He owns a Muslim-friendly hotel in London.
He also founded a charity organization, Small Kindnesses,
to rescue war orphans in countries like Kosovo, Bosnia, and recently,
in Iraq. It is with Small Kindnesses that the screening opened.
J. Brown, President & CEO of Friends of the United Nations,
welcomed the 90 or so Eagle Rock Entertainment staff, distributors,
journalists, photographers and assorted associates to the screening.
He informed us that today was also the launch of the United States
branch of Small Kindnesses, a charity that has been endorsed by
the United Nations. In his eloquent speech, Mr. Brown spoke of the
great work that Small Kindnesses does, and the wonderful contributions
that Yusuf Islam makes in the lives of some of our most helpless
world citizens: war orphans.
Mr. Brown, Yusuf's right hand man, Mohammed Kahn, spoke with
a trembling voice of his experiences in Bosnia and Kosovo, of the
helpless children and families... and of meeting a man called Yusuf
Islam, who came over from Britain to help. Mohammed didn't know
of Yusuf's former life, had never heard of Cat Stevens. When he
learned of the former Cat Stevens and heard his music, Mohammed
said, "I didn't see a different heart in Cat Stevens than the one
I know in Yusuf Islam." When it came to helping victims of tragedy,
Yusuf "didn't just sing about it - he acted on it."
Hoeffel with the Department of Public Information of the
United Nations came onstage to describe how Yusuf had come to
the UN a few years ago about Small Kindnesses and his interest in
forming a partnership with the UN to work with war orphans. Mr.
Hoeffel explained that the UN works with thousands of nongovernmental
organizations, large and small, to help with crises and disaster
relief. The smaller organizations often have specialized, grassroots
knowledge so critical to successful operations in countries at war.
disaster relief a "growth industry" because of the many conflicts
around the world, he said that the UN depends on organizations like
Small Kindnesses to create a network of aid and assistance. He called
upon the creative community to participate, to help. He said that
the UN and its network of charity organizations are looking for
people who care, and suggested that people like Yusuf Islam can
bring the creative community together to lend a hand.
Yusuf Islam at screening, holding his walking stick
this point, Mohammed came back onto stage to introduce a man who
was a hero to him from a completely different time, place, and world
than for those of us in the audience who only know Cat Stevens.
He asked Yusuf Islam to come to the stage. A slim, slightly hunched,
middle-aged man in a light gray suit, rimless glasses and a wooden
walking stick walked onto the stage. There he stood, with a neatly
trimmed full beard and closely cut hair, both salt and pepper, a
gentle smile and those dark, dancing, intense Cat Stevens eyes ...
Despite his modest manner, this was a man completely at home on
the stage, completely home with leadership. The baritone voice spoke
project "is a combination of where I was and where I am ..."
he began. "My music was a gift," he said, " and I hope it weighs
in my good deeds ..." Yusuf held out his right hand, as if weighing
his songs in the scale of righteousness. "I've heard stories of
how my music has helped people ... even stopped suicides ..." he
looked down. "This gift was given to me." It became clear to me
at that moment that Yusuf Islam has finally brought his long private
journey from stardom to rejection to reconciliation to a close.
He has found the common ground that acknowledges the gift of his
art, the gift of his faith, and his desire to live a life of value.
founded Small Kindnesses because he wanted to "do something in a
practical level." The Small Kindnesses logo flashed on the screen,
a photo of a precious young girl waiving. "This is a photo of a
girl in Kosovo. She was hiding," he said. His camera captured her
when she came out of hiding for one brief moment to waive. The screen
was then filled with images of children, all orphans, saved by Small
Kindnesses, smiling for the camera. Then there were images of refugee
families who found help and solace with Small Kindnesses. Speaking
softly over the powerful images, Yusuf explained that they serve
orphans, families, and also now provide education for young women
and girls to learn skilled occupations.
Yusuf Islam speaks with Mike Carden, Eagle Rock Entertainment
photo of the young girl came back onto the screen and faded, and
Yusuf asked Mike Carden, President North American Operations
/ Executive VP Eagle Rock Entertainment, to join him. We learned
that Mr. Carden was not only the man behind this DVD project, but
also is one of the special people who have adopted orphans, as well.
A visibly moved Mr. Carden told us that he adopted two children
and is in the processes of adopting his third, to the applause of
the audience. He thanked the audience for coming to the screening,
and for supporting the release of the "Cat Stevens: MajiKat:
Earth Tour 1976 DVD. Realistically, at this point in the evening
they could have showed me just about anything and it wouldn't have
mattered, because I was so moved by what I had just witnessed. And
then the show began.
never seen Cat Stevens perform live. I'll not go into any details
about the performances on the DVD (we'll leave that to the DVD review),
but I will say that I literally had to stop myself from clapping
after each song! Cat Stevens earned the love of his fans. Hearing
those songs brought goose bumps, remembering the melodies, those
singable, wonderful melodies! Interspersed between performances,
Yusuf Islam speaks about his career, his albums, his music, his
life. And hearing the lyrics anew, in light of what we saw and heard
... I just can't explain what it was like. As I listened to the
lyrics, I thought of the man who stood before us, weighing the value
of those songs in his hand.
Eric de Fontenay, Publisher and Anne Freeman, Senior Editor,
is the meaning of art? What is the value of what we do as artists,
songwriters, and musicians? Those are questions that Yusuf Islam
wrestled with, and each of us wrestles with. Why was I gifted with
the desire to create music? What are the responsibilities of my
want to personally thank Yusuf Islam for bringing his personal struggle
and journey to our attention through the Cat Stevens: MajiKat:
Earth Tour 1976 DVD. He reminded me that who I am as a creative
being is just as important as who I am in every other aspect of
my life. Yusuf Islam has a story to tell that is important to us
the creative community. Listen to his story, and then think about
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