Yusuf Revisits 'Tea For The Tillerman,' His Masterpiece As Cat Stevens Known as Yusuf since becoming a Muslim in the late '70s, the man who was Cat Stevens discusses Tea for the Tillerman 2, a reimagining of his now-50-year-old masterpiece.
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Yusuf Revisits 'Tea For The Tillerman,' His Landmark Album As Cat Stevens

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Yusuf Revisits 'Tea For The Tillerman,' His Landmark Album As Cat Stevens

Yusuf Revisits 'Tea For The Tillerman,' His Landmark Album As Cat Stevens

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In the 1970s, there were few more beloved singer-songwriters than Cat Stevens.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILD WORLD")

YUSUF ISLAM: (Singing) Ooh, baby, baby, it's a wild world. It's hard to get by just upon a smile.

MARTIN: This is "Wild World" from his landmark 1970 album "Tea For The Tillerman." A lot has changed since then. He's now a grandfather. He's not even Cat Stevens anymore. He's been Yusuf Islam since his conversion to the Muslim faith in the late '70s. And now Yusuf Islam has gone back to rerecord that song and every song from his now 50-year-old masterpiece. "Tea For The Tillerman 2" comes out tomorrow. This is his new take on the classic hit "Wild World."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILD WORLD (2020)")

ISLAM: (Singing) Ooh, baby, baby it's a wild world. It's hard to get by just upon a smile.

MARTIN: This new version is almost unrecognizable, which isn't the case with a lot of these. You just sang them as they were in their original form, but this one is so different.

ISLAM: Well, I mean, on reflection, I might have made a mistake, you know (laughter). It may not be the best version...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

ISLAM: ...(Laughter) I could have done. I'd been playing around for some time, you know, with my - you got one of these, you know, Yamaha Clavinova things. And you can press a button, and you can just get any genre that you want - you know, world music, you know, "Star Wars," classical. And I pressed this button called ragtime...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

ISLAM: And when I did ragtime, I started playing these chords. And they just kind of fell into the place. And it's like - you know, I just started singing the lyrics to "Wild World." I went, oh, wow. That sounds great. I mean, I enjoyed it. And, you know, when you get to my stage of, let's say, proficiency and musicianship, everybody says, oh, yes, that's a good idea. And so we did it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILD WORLD (2020)")

ISLAM: (Singing) You know I've seen a lot of what the world can do. And it's breaking my heart in two.

MARTIN: Other than "Wild World," which song on the album changed the most?

ISLAM: I think "On The Road To Find Out" is a pretty good example of the departure. Particularly, it brought out of me my love of blues, you know, and especially kind of African and desert blues, if you like.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ON THE ROAD TO FIND OUT (2020)")

ISLAM: (Singing) Well, on and on I go. The seconds tick the time out. So much left to know, and I'm on the road to find out.

And the song, you know, the lyrics just stand up anyway. You know, whatever way you sing them, they're going to stand up. You know, I seem to be asking myself these questions about the meaning of life quite early on - about, you know, where I'm headed. Who was I?

MARTIN: I mean, there are quite a few songs from that period of your life that reflect that yearning. How did that manifest in your own life? I mean, were you unsettled by asking those questions, or did it feel right?

ISLAM: Yeah. I was pretty unsettled, you know, because I really wanted to keep moving. I wasn't satisfied with where I was. And, you know - and with songs like, you know, "On The Road To Find Out," you can see my life has been more or less a play out of those lyrics.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ON THE ROAD TO FIND OUT (2020)")

ISLAM: (Singing) Well, the answer lies within. So why not take a look now? Kick out the devil's sin. Pick up - pick up a good book now.

ISLAM: The very end, I talk about, you know, pick up a good book. You know, and I was very, very careful to say a good book, not the good book in case people would say - oh, I know that, the Bible. Yeah, he's one of us (laughter). You know, so I said, no, no, no. I'm studying all these, you know, different spiritual paths. And who was to know at that point that, you know, I was going to pick up the Quran, for instance, which changed my whole view of life, if you like. Well, I wouldn't say it changed it. It clarified it. It re-centered me.

And so, you know, that kind of song is, like, kind of slightly "prophetic," you may say in quotation marks - small p. And - but that's amazing. When you pick up as a songwriter, these things, you don't plan them. You are driven by something within you. And something is calling you, and sometimes you hear it. And it's pretty miraculous, really, to be honest.

MARTIN: After you converted to Islam, you stepped away from pop music for a couple of decades. May I ask how and when you knew that it was time to come back?

ISLAM: Well, I've had lots of people throughout that period telling me, make some more music, please, for us. I mean, not just, you know, my old fans but, you know, just people in general, including, you know, Muslims saying, you know, I think you should be doing this more than that. I think that the turning point came because - you know, I went through so many changes in the beginning. You don't know the rules and things, what to do. And so, you know, you're in a state of educating yourself. So I got rid of my guitars because...

MARTIN: You got rid of them?

ISLAM: Well, yeah. I sold them to charity - for charity, rather. Yeah. I got rid of it all because I just felt I was being weighed down with an image of me that I was no longer willing to serve.

A lot of the things that I was being told also within the Muslim community, you know, sort of, oh, we don't do that, or, you know, your music is (imitates growling) kind of sex and drugs and everything all associated with it. I would say, well, I wasn't quite that kind of singer. But they didn't understand that. It doesn't matter.

Anyway, when it came to - there was a point, I think, in - when the Bosnian War was taking place. And it was such a shock. It was a big, big shock because this was Europe, you know. And we were seeing a genocide right on our doorstep. You know, this was quite frightening. But when I went - and we were doing a - you know, I was involved in relief, you know, and delivering aid to these people. And when I got there, I found that they were singing these songs. I mean, these songs lifted their spirits at this time when it was so dark. And I think it was that that made me realize that, you know, music has a very important part to play in the shaping of our dreams and in the shaping of what we want for tomorrow, what we want for today.

MARTIN: Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, he has rerecorded one of his landmark albums from the 1970s. It is called "Tea For The Tillerman 2."

Yusuf Islam, thank you so much for talking with us. It's been a real thrill for me.

ISLAM: Thank you, Rachel. I enjoyed it.

(SOUNDBITE OF YUSUF ISLAM'S "FATHER AND SON (2020)")

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