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A phenomenon happened across the musical spectrum in South Africa in 1994. From the birth of kwaito, to the explosion of rock music, musicians were suddenly given the freedom to think differently.
This also happened in the Muslim faith when a young Zain Bhikha released a tape of Islamic spiritual songs sung in English, music that was traditionally always heard in Arabic.
Thus began a journey which has seen Bhikha perform in Malaysia to 40 000 people, as well as tour the US and England.
He’s been voted one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world and is a household name among Muslims. His biggest hit, Mountains of Mecca, has had five million hits on YouTube.
His music is described by fans as soothing and inspirational, with many learning about their faith through his lyrics.
In celebration of his career he has just released a double CD and triple DVD set – Songs of a Soul. It is a Best Of offering containing four new songs. The DVD set comprises a live show, a documentary and a collection of his music videos.
Bhikha says two things happened to lead him into music. He lost his best friend when he was 19 and a few months later he entered a competition on Radio 702 which he won. He found solace from the pain of his friend’s death through his faith and expressing his grief through music.
“With my friend dying I wrote a simple song giving thanks to Allah. The song says that no matter how good or bad life is, there is a greater purpose.”
His parents encouraged his singing and he released his tape in English in 1994. The well-known guitarist, Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam after converting to the Muslim faith, heard the tape via Bhikha’s father and signed him to his label in 1999.
“I owe Cat Stevens a lot. It was through him that I started doing tours all over the world.”
Bhikha works for his dad’s accounting firm when not touring.
“My family keep me grounded. The audience can see you as a perfect human being when on stage, but as artists we cannot live up to that. I think it was Eric Clapton who said that you perform in front of thousands of people and then are left alone in your hotel room. That is why I am close to my family and work with my father.
“I don’t see myself as an entertainer. I see my work as a means of inspiration. Music is a tool for social change. I think I can make a difference.”
Does he believe Allah had a plan for him?
Bhikha becomes emotional when he considers the question: “No one has asked me that before. Yes, it was planned for me. When I am performing for young children I understand why I was created. Out of everything I could possibly be doing, this is my place in the world. I often wonder if I am worthy of singing these words. But yes, I wouldn’t have become a better person if I hadn’t.”
He is to play 19 shows in the UK this month in conjunction with charities F.E.E.D and Caring Women’s Forum.