Mainstream Music, Muslim Style
Musician Dawud Wharnsby melds Islamic spirituality into inspiring mainstream music. This is an artist you'll want on your iPod.
No two songs are alike on this album, and thus each song is a fresh and unique musical experience. He even has love songs on this album, but they are spiritually pure and do not appeal to base desires, like so many love songs we hear today. "Prophet for Profit" is a powerful song about illegitimate religious and political leaders. In the song, he sings: "Behind the passion I hold / there are millions like me / deaf to your definitions of democracy / and we don't want your twisted spirituality/and we don't want your bloody hands on the scriptures we read." He could not have spoken better on my behalf. At the end of the song, he says, "Behind the cities you free, there's an oil leak / beyond the city's debris, there is the bed where you / sleep in peace / How can you rest in peace?" Very powerful indeed. This entire album leaves the listener spiritually uplifted and renewed, which I feel is what music should do to the listener.
"Out Seeing the Fields" is a much more mellow album. It features another Muslim musician--an extremely talented pianist named Idris Phillips. The songs are also very good, and my favorite song is titled "Rachel," which Wharnsby wrote in honor of the late peace activist Rachel Corrie, who was killed while on a peace mission in Gaza in 2003. This album even has a song that has Muslim chants in Arabic on top of musical instruments, which gives an amazing acoustic experience. Both of these albums are the perfect embodiment of the infusion of Islamic values into music. These two albums are at once perfectly mainstream and perfectly Islamic.
Moreover, Wharnsby's music really challenges the mind, rather than numbing it like so much of the popular music in our country today. So many heavily rotated songs either excite base desires or speak of silly things. Wharnsby's lyrics are deeply profound, and they can mean many things to many people, which is exactly what art should do. In his song "You Are the Only One," Wharnsby sings: "The jovial conductor is finished / with his music he's in love and he's insane / ‘Outstretch your mind’ is his final message / This is the only sanctuary to remain.” What in God's name does that mean? Who is the "jovial conductor?" I think Dawud left that question for each listener to answer for himself or herself. That it is the hallmark of a truly gifted songwriter.
I always thought that Dawud Wharnsby had not used any musical instruments out of religious piety, and he only changed with time and reflection. I even thought the terrorist attacks of 9/11 helped accelerate his change of heart about musical instruments. But when I interviewed him for Illume Magazine in 2007, I learned what the truth was: "My views on music have never really changed ... When I began to write children's songs inspired by Qur'an, I recorded them all with guitar, and you can easily see they were inspired by my Celtic background ... I chose to release the songs without guitar as a way of ensuring my diverse audience would be comfortable with the material.