Friend’s death inspired singer and peace idol
INTERNATIONALLYACCLAIMED singer and songwriter Zain Bhikha discovered his inspiring talent during a tragic incident that cost the life of his best friend.
Bhikha said he owed his “creative awakening” to his childhood friend, Mubeen Rasool – who was murdered at the age of 18. It was from this tragedy Bhikha that found his singing voice.
Growing up in Laudium, Pretoria, he attended
Laudium Heights Primary and Himalaya Secondary School – where he met Rasool.
“I have some of my best childhood memories from my time at school,” said Bhikha.
“I met my best friend Mubeen Rasool on the first day of Grade R in 1979. We grew up together and he was the brother I never had.
“Mubeen proved pivotal in my spiritual and creative awakening, he was killed in a senseless shooting.”
Bhikha, 43, said he had a carefree childhood with his three sisters and parents Rashid and Mariam Bhikha.
He was an avid soccer player, and he loved singing.
“Both my parents enjoyed the arts,” said Bhikha. “We were exposed to literature, poetry, musicals, theatre and song from a young age and about his path as a Muslim. Supported by his parents, who saw this as a healthy outlet for him, he recorded his first album in one night. It was done on an a cappella cassette and titled A Way of Life. It featured the first two songs he ever wrote, Give Thanks to Allah and I Remember your Smile – a tribute to Rasool.
He achieved all this while he completed a business degree and working in his father’s pharmaceutical manufacturing business, Be-tabs Pharmaceuticals.
Almost 25 years later, with more than 100 songs and 16 albums to his name – he said he was grateful to God for his talent and to be able to travel the world inspiring people.
He now lives in Parkview, Johannesburg, with his wife Zaheera, 38, who he said was his best friend and strongest supporter, and sons Rashid Ahmed, 25, Muhammad, 16, Yusuf, 13, and Zayaan, 10.
Bhikha said he always wanted to become a singer – even though he was shy and an introvert at heart, he dreamt of performing on stage. But it was inevitable that he would end up in business – his day job that pays the bills, while singing feeds his soul.
“My full-time job is a far cry from my music career.
“I work with my dad in a wonderful family business, Tibb Health Sciences, which he started in 1997,” he said.
“My father is a pharmacist and a visionary in his field.
“He found his true passion in complementary medicine and is now a Professor of Unani Tibb Medicine – having written many books and developed courses for universities around the world.
“Tibb is a complementary system of healing based on the teachings of Greek and Arab philosophers such as Hippocrates and Avicenna. I am responsible for managing the Tibb product range, which has been well received.
“My family’s vision has always been to change people’s lives and one of the main focuses of the brand is to provide effective, affordable health care. We have partnered with many NGOS to achieve that goal.”
Bhikha said his music was “an outlet for my inspiration and my life’s calling”.
Next year marks his 25th anniversary in the music industry. His songs have reflected his journey, ranging from spiritual Islamic songs to songs about humanity and positive social change.
He writes his own songs that reflect his thoughts and experiences. He said the creative side to his songs usually comprised large choirs, harmonies and the strong use of hand percussion such as the Arabic daff and the African djembe.
Bhikha is one of the pioneers in this Islamic music genre, and was one of the first Muslim artists worldwide to sing in English from the early 1990s.
“Globally I would be termed a ‘nasheed’ artist – someone who sings about the Islamic faith in Arabic or Urdu,” said Bhikha. “But my songs are primarily in English with contemporary melodies and production.
“I prefer to see myself as someone who gives hope and instils God-consciousness through song, inclusive of all people of all faiths.
“It has afforded me the opportunity to become an ambassador for peace throughout the world and be featured at global peace and unity concerts in London, Sydney, New York, India, West Africa and the Middle East.
“In South Africa, I perform at humanitarian events, schools and on TV shows.”
Bhikha was discovered by legendary British singersongwriter and multiinstrumentalist Yusuf Islam, known by his former stage name, Cat Stevens.
Under his mentorship and label, Bhikha reached a global audience and furthered his knowledge of songwriting and production.
In 2005, he started Zain Bhikha Studios, where all proceeds from his album sales and concerts are given to charity.
Bhikha said he had had the “honour” to work with Islam, Canadian singer-songwriter Dawud Wharnsby, American musician Omar Regan – who has collaborated with him on many of his recent shows and videos – and Khalid Belrhouzi from France.
American rapper and songwriter Khalil Ismail, upcoming hip hop artist Alkebulaun and Taariq Malinga, a young South African artist, are other artists he has worked with.
Bhikha does regular tours to the UK and Australia and is looking forward to his first concert in Nigeria in August.
“My latest album, Cotton Candy Sky, was released last month. It has taken me on an exciting journey that has been deeply fulfilling,” he said.
“The album has been two years in the making, with many of the songs dedicated to children. It’s meant to teach them about their faith in a way that resonates with them.
“What I love about this album is that there are deeper meanings to the songs that I am sure will appeal to adults as well, and a track Get up Again!, one of my favourites.
“Coinciding with the release of this album is our first songbook – an illustrated lyric book to accompany my most popular song, Allah Made Everything – which has had 11 million hits on Youtube.”
This book forms the beginning of a new children’s songbook series, with another five planned before the launch of his 25th anniversary commemoration albums.
Bhikha is also the ambassador for Ibraheem
Toy House, an award-winning online toy store in the UK – the first online Islamic toy store for Muslim children, known for its educational and interactive toys.
He has featured for 10 consecutive years in the publication Top 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World. He has received nominations for best spiritual artist and remains on the top 10 Nasheed artist listing since the early 2000s.
He has been asked to represent South Africa as a cultural peace ambassador at two international peace conferences, and invited by the royal family of Dubai as part of a group of Islamic academics and artists working for global unity in 2009.
Bhikha said of all his achievements, he would like to be remembered as “someone who tried his best to make this world better a better place”.
Zain performs one of his musical pieces.
In the creative process… Zain pens a song.