Album Review: The Centre by Sami Yusuf

album cover the centreU.K. based Sami Yusuf has gradually reinvented himself as a solely Islamic pop musician (once named “the king of Islamic pop”) to a singer-songwriter who embraces a more secular approach, though bent on spirituality. His new style, “spiritique,” is in full effect on “The Centre.” “Spiritique” is supposed to be a genre of music based on spirituality and modern western composing. In regards to the songs on “The Centre,” the music is a pleasant blend of traditional music from the Middle East and U.K. pop sensibilities. The best remark I can give about this album is that it is slowly infectious—it is difficult to get tired of and one seems to return to it often.

Maybe the album’s infectious nature stems from its well-balanced, enticing sound, its positive vibe, and its meaningful lyrics. From the start with the song “Pearl,” the album is deep, emotional, and sincere. From the first song, we hear the interwoven styles of traditional and modern music, which seems seamless. It is as if it is natural to play traditional middle eastern music alongside western composing and vocals. From the first song, Yusuf’s voice delivery is about half western, half middle eastern. It is difficult to achieve this mix of styles without being corny, and Yusuf has seemed to have done that.

The second song, “Fire,” turns up the energy a bit and provides a world music atmosphere. The lyrics are particularly meaningful and potent, written in a simple style but are highly effective. A listener almost automatically wants to join in and sing, as it seems like a worldwide anthem for friendship and togetherness.

With “Go,” it is close to being entirely western in its sound, though after the first time the lilting chorus comes around, we hear hints of Persian-like notes from Yusuf’s vocals and the backing instruments. The structure of the song impressed me the most, changing its melody with great aesthetic ease.

But “Khorason” starts immediately with middle-eastern instruments and sounds like a meditative invocation by the singer. Yusuf’s emotions pour out in this particular song, and it’s a break from the last two energetic songs.

“Prism” is astonishing. From a foot-tapping beat from the start that is distinctly middle eastern, and Yusuf’s vocals that are tuned to a more traditional style of singing, the song begins in what seems to be a song from his homeland of Azerbaijan. But when the chorus comes, it is western in all its facets.

“Circle” starts with emotive guitar sounds and a chorus of vocals. Yusuf seems to enjoy baring things down and revealing only the sharp emotion with which he sings. In the background are touches of middle-eastern drums, but the song is stark in its simplicity.

A darker and melancholic approach enters with “You.” Most likely my favorite song on the album, it mixes electronic bass, middle-eastern instruments, and a western-style chorus. The lyrics and the ensuing melody is highly touching and ballad-like. Most of the songs on the album are secular, but “You” is more open in its theism.

The song named after the album, “The Centre,” starts with western-style vocals, middle-eastern drums, and a hint of a synthesizer. It seems the focus is on the lyrics, which are apparently related to Sufism. The song has a cordial mix of sound with guitar joining in the chorus and a middle-eastern choir joining after the first turn of the chorus.

“Lament” is a song completely sung in Arabic with no touch of western influence in either Yusuf’s voice or instrumentation. The emotion is so sincere, though, that even listeners who do not know Arabic will connect with it.

Back to English lyrics in “The Key,” a middle-eastern melody carries over from “Lament.” The lyrics are poetic and sung with a great flight of notes.

“Jaaneh Jaanaan” continues the traditional middle-eastern vibe from the last songs. It appears that Yusuf planned that the first half of the album would be more leaning towards the West and the last half of the album would lean towards the East. With that being said, the sung has a melancholic yet uplifting tone, being addicting in melody. The choir intervals are a pleasant touch.

The last song on the album, besides the bonus track of “Khorason” in Arabic not English, is “Sari Gelin.” It is a charming folk song sung softly with nuances. Yusuf’s voice is in the fore, but middle-eastern drums, guitar, a choir and santoor can be heard in the background.

Yusuf has, for the entirety of his career, been excellent at composing melodious songs with meaning. I would say this is Yusuf’s most emotional and sincere effort thus far, though.

Rating: 10/10.

5/5

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