Friend’s death in­spired singer and peace idol

Sunday Tribune - - HERALD - DOREEN PREMDEV

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.

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