Mainstream Music, Muslim Style
Musician Dawud Wharnsby melds Islamic spirituality into inspiring mainstream music. This is an artist you'll want on your iPod.
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As the years have passed, I have been a witness to Wharnsby's musical transition from a kid-friendly artist to adult-oriented fare. In 2003, he released "The Prophet's Hands," his sixth recording for Soundvision, and it was much more adult than his previous work. The album was wholly Islamic, with songs such as "Remember Allah," "Whisper of Peace," and "The Prophet's Hands." His song "Don't Talk About Muhammad" brought me to tears (and still does). It is a song about the beauty of the Prophet's character, and it never ceases to touch my heart and soul. Yet, the album was clearly geared toward older listeners, and when I had a chance to ask him about that, he told me that many parents of his child listeners beseeched him to record an album for them. (I secretly yearned for the very same thing.)
After that album, however, Wharnsby really changed: He pulled out his guitar and began to sing with it. It came as a major shock to me, as I have never heard him sing with a guitar before. I was used to Wharnsby singing alone or with drums. Yet, it was completely wonderful; it only made his music all the more beautiful. In 2006 he released "The Poets and the Prophet" followed by "Out Seeing the Fields" in September of 2007. These two albums are exactly what I had been wanting Wharnsby, and other Muslim singer/songwriters, to do for a long time: Produce albums that are mainstream and wholly Islamic, yet without a single "Allah" or "Muhammad" in it.
It is not that I do not like music that references Allah or the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), but that sort of music limits its applicability and reach: Only Muslims will listen to it. Islam and its values are universal, and it deserves to be shared with a wide variety of people. Thus, I have been yearning for songs that overflow with Islamic principles and values but can be mainstream enough to fit right in on a local radio station. "Poets" and "Out Seeing the Fields" do just that.
"The Poets and the Prophet" completely blew me away. I bought the album during the annual Islamic Society of North America conference last Labor Day weekend, and I was instantly hooked. Rarely have I ever listened to an album where I loved every single song. From the very first song, "You Are the Only One," I was transported to that wonderful place where mind and spirit are released from the shackles of life on earth and the hypocrisies of the human condition. One can hear a number of musical genres on this album, including R&B, folk, classical, and music from the Far East. Along with Wharnsby, the album features double bass legend Danny Thompson (from the United Kingdom), award winning Canadian songwriter Stephen Fearing, world famous sitar master Irshad Khan, R&B vocalist Priyesh Shukla, and top Canadian oboist James Mason.