This is the story of a great British singer and lyricist who, for a certain period of his life, lived in Brazil (more specifically in Rio de Janeiro).
His real name is Steven Georgiou - the third child of a Greek father, Stavros Georgiou and a Swedish mother, Ingrid Wickman. He has an older sister, Anita, and brother, David. The family lived above Moulin Rouge, the restaurant that his parents operated on the north end of Shaftesbury Avenue, a short walk from Piccadilly Circus in the Soho theater district of London.
Georgiou began to perform his songs in coffee houses and pubs. At first he tried to form a band, but soon realized he preferred to perform solo. Thinking that his given name might not be memorable to prospective fans, he chose a stage name Cat Stevens, in part because a girlfriend said he had eyes like a cat, but mainly because he said, "I couldn't imagine anyone going to the record store and asking for 'that Steven Demetre Georgiou album'.
The first singles were hits. "I Love My Dog" charted at #28, and "Matthew and Son", the title song from his debut album, went to #2. "I'm Gonna Get Me a Gun" reached Britain's Top 10, and the album Matthew and Son itself began charting.
Stevens was living the fast-moving life of a pop star, and in early 1968 at the age of 19, he became very ill with tuberculosis and a collapsed lung.
He spent months recuperating in hospital and a year of convalescence. During this time Stevens began to question aspects of his life and spirituality. He later said, "to go from the show business environment and find you are in hospital, getting injections day in and day out, and people around you are dying, it certainly changes your perspective. I got down to thinking about myself. It seemed almost as if I had my eyes shut."
He took up meditation, yoga, and metaphysics; read about other religions; and became a vegetarian. As a result of his serious illness and long convalescence, and as a part of his spiritual awakening and questioning, he wrote as many as 40 songs, which were much more introspective than his previous work. Many of those songs would appear on his albums in years to come. Among them I´d like to mention: Father and son, Morning has broken, Where do the children play, Peace Train and Wild world:
Cat Stevens formally converted to the Islamic religion on 23 December, 1977, taking the name Yusuf Islam in 1978. Yusuf is the Arabic rendition of the name Joseph.
Following his conversion, Yusuf abandoned his career as a pop star. When he became a Muslim in 1977, he said, the Imam at the mosque was told that he was a pop star, and he told Yusuf that it was fine to continue as a musician, so long as the songs were morally acceptable.
In his first performance on the television show with Jools Holland, 27 years after leaving the "pop" music business, and in other interviews, he gave other reasons for leaving the pop stage. "A lot of people would have loved me to keep singing," he said. "You come to a point where you have sung, more or less ... your whole repertoire and you want to get down to the job of living. You know, up until that point, I hadn't had a life. I'd been searching, been on the road."
He continues to earn approximately $1.5 million a year from his Cat Stevens music. He decided to use his accumulated wealth and continuing earnings from his music career on philanthropic and educational causes in the Muslim community of London and elsewhere. In 1981, he founded the Islamia Primary School in Salusbury Road in the north London area of Kilburn and, soon after, founded several Muslim secondary schools and devoted his energy to providing an Islamic education to children and to donate the rest to charitable causes. He is the founder and chairman of the Small Kindness charity, which initially assisted famine victims in Africa and now supports thousands of orphans and families in the Balkans, Indonesia, and Iraq.
In 1985, Yusuf decided to return to the public spotlight for the first time since his religious conversion, at the historic Live Aid concert, concerned with the famine threatening Ethiopia.
On 21 September 2004, Yusuf was on a United Airlines flight from London to Washington, traveling to a meeting with singer Dolly Parton, who had recorded one of his songs "Peace Train" several years earlier and was planning to include another Cat Stevens song on an upcoming album. While the plane was in flight, the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System flagged his name as being on a no fly list. Customs agents alerted the United States Transportation Security Administration, which then diverted his flight to Bangor, Maine, where he was detained by agents from the Department of Homeland Security.
The following day, Yusuf was deported back to the United Kingdom. The Transportation Security Administration claimed there were "concerns of ties he may have to potential terrorist-related activities".
The US deportation provoked a small international controversy, and led British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to complain personally to US Secretary of State Colin Powell at the United Nations.
Yusuf believed his inclusion on the watch list may have simply been an error: a mistaken identification of him for a man with the same name, but different spelling. On 1 October 2004 Yusuf requested the removal of his name, "I remain bewildered by the decision of the US authorities to refuse me entry to the United States". According to a statement by Yusuf, the man on the list was named "Youssef Islam", indicating that Yusuf himself was not the suspected terrorism supporter.
Two years later, in December 2006, Yusuf was admitted without incident into the United States for several radio concert performances and interviews to promote his new record.
Yusuf gradually resumed his musical career in the 1990s. His initial recordings had not included any musical instruments other than percussion, and featured lyrics about Islamic themes. He invested in building his own recording studio which he named Mountain of Light Studios in the late 1990s.
These are some songs of his second phase as Yusuf Islam: Heaven/Where true love goes, Maybe there´s a world, In the end and The beloved:
Adapted by Milton França