By Yaqub Bell & Alveena Salim
The Revival team had exclusive backstage passes at the swanky Excel Centre in London at the Global Peace and Unity Event in November 2007. We met up, collected our passes, went backstage and decided against sampling the tasty strawberry’s dipped in the chocolate fountain in case we smeared chocolate all over our tops and looked like fools when interviewing the performers.
After the short but sweet press conference the organisers arranged some interviews for The Revival. We interviewed a number of performers including the US based Nasheed group Seven8Six. The talented singing group consists of Shahaab Quraishi, Omar Razzacki, Zafar Razzacki, Muhammad Saadullah (Saad), and Muhammad Saeedullah (Saeed).
As Seven8Six, in the couple of years that they've been around, they have taken the U.S. Islamic music industry by storm, famous for their RnB tracks, moving lyrics, pin up image and screaming fans. Some of their most popular Nasheeds include ‘Heaven’s Keys', which is an incredibly profound track, and 'Palestine', which taps into the sentiments of Muslims around the world. However, along with fanatic fans Seven8Six also have their fair share of critics…
Q. Your work has been criticized for being too similar to pop music. How do you justify the permissibility of what you do?
Seven8Six: We like to cater to all Muslims so that they can benefit from what we do. We don’t use music in our CD’s or on stage, we just use percussions and vocals and most people do accept that, but we understand that there are differences in opinion on this issue.
It’s a very controversial issue, if people want to listen to it they can Inshallah benefit from it and if they have an issue with it they can find something that pleases them as well.
Also just to clarify when we say percussion, majority of the scholars agree that it’s anything that you can bang on and get a sound, such as drums, bells and pots so all items are considered.
Q. Why do you think that music that glamorises drugs and violence appeals to Muslim youth?
Seven8Six: Music unfortunately happens to be the bad bone of society today. And what happens a lot of the time is that, kids are looking for something to look up to. Now if there aren’t the right people there at the right time to take advantage of that, they will obviously turn to what is ‘cool’ and that won’t always be a Muslim role model. It’ll be 50cent or someone else.
It all boils down to what Muslims want their identity to be. Muslims will want to turn to what is cool and popular, coz everyone is doing it. And Muslim youth in particular get a lot of mixed signals. They turn on the TV and they get one set of signals from popular culture, that’s telling them it’s cool to be a gangster, but at home Mum and Dad may be teaching them a different message and at the mosque they will be getting a different message, but they want to do what their friends are doing. It’s tough for kids out there. That’s why when we write our music we address issues that we went through and know that kids are going through today.
I think media is very pervasive in today’s culture. The Muslim world is just starting to take advantage of how we spread our message – through television, internet or the radio. For decades now we’ve seen channels such as MTV and VH1 but only now we’re getting channels like Islam Channel, so I think as soon as media starts to take our messages and put them in a form that Muslim children can relate to, then Inshallah they will start to turn away from these negative images.
Q. What advice do you have for young Muslims who may wish to follow in your footsteps, however their parents do not see music as an acceptable career path for them?
Seven8Six: Having a solid base and being well rounded is incredibly important. Our parents come from different cultures and different times and we live in a different culture and time. It’s on our shoulders to understand the balance between what is theirs and what is ours. It’s good to be a professional, but they need to understand what they get out of those kinds of jobs and what we’re trying to do.
Someone asked me recently why hadn’t I gone into Medicine. In Medicine doctors try to administer drugs, do surgeries and heal bodies; however who’s going to heal your soul? We all have to find ways in which we can affect society in a positive way. And everyone can’t do it through Medicine or Law or Engineering, we have to find ways that we can do Dawah in different forms and different ways.
I think Alhumdillah us and what the rest of the artists do is good, and I think if kids are interested in doing this we’ll support it 110% but secular education is important too. But you gotta have a good balance of both.
But to those kids who are trying to do this, don’t follow in anyone’s footsteps. Pave your own way. Don’t say you want to do it like this group or that group. Do your own thing, if it happens to be similar then that’s great. And don’t do it for any other reason except for the sake of Allah, coz lots of times people get caught up and think ‘oh wouldn’t it be cool to have people take your picture and be a celebrity’ and that tends to be appealing to people. You need to make sure that if you do it, do it for the right reason Inshallah.
Q. You have a large fan base. However, your female fans have been criticised for un-Islamic behaviour at your concerts. Do you encourage such behaviour?
Seven8Six: We don’t try to promote ourselves to a specific target audience, we’re just trying to spread the word of Allah. Unfortunately it’s human nature to fall prey to gossip and exaggerations, but a lot of the stories people hear of people going wild in our concerts, are just not true.
Q. So Muslim girls don’t take their Hijaab off and fling them on stage?
Seven8Six: No way. Hijaabs have never flown of anyone heads in any of our shows. We try to act as respectful as we possibly can on and off stage, and everyone that we’ve encountered has shown the proper Adab and Inshallah it should stay this way.
Seven8Six are obviously guys who are comfortable with their Islamic and Western identities and utilise both cultural influences in their songs. They’re all well educated and are good role models for the Muslim youth. They strive to bring a positive and uplifting message to their listeners, and are providing people from all walks of life and all ages with an alternative to some of the less positive choices in today's mainstream music scene.
To find out more about Seven8Six check out their website: http://www.seven8six.net/index1.html