Friday, May 18, 2012

Guest Post | Will Oldham


Li'l Radood - "Unknown"

Another motion picture that I saw many times on the big screen when I was little is 'Harold and Maude'. Now I am thinking that 'Japón' is the same storyline, just less fun. In H&M, there’s all of this Cat Stevens music, and so began a long affection for Cat Stevens, and later for his new existence as Yusuf Islam, later for his recording artist embodiment Yusuf.

I learned at some point that there are some rules or beliefs among certain Muslims that music as many of us know it is not welcome; that something exists that resembles music, though, that features voices and drums. I think it was on the hotel clock radio in my room at the Tolarno in Melbourne that I first remember hearing this great noise.

I kept a-listening and a-listening whenever I had moments in my room. But when I would ask people about it, usually eyes glazed over and lips got sealed. My best guess is that Muslims may view these ventures as truly unmusical, or possibly embarrassing the way some of us hear devotional music from our own traditions, or maybe they just don’t want this infidel to lay his ears on it.

After 9/11, I went to visit some friends in Fez, in Morocco, and started asking around about where I could get cassettes of the drum/voice deal. No luck. In a small town in the south, a man (who may have been trying to get into my pants?) led me to a bookstore where I asked again about this. The shopkeeper tried to figure out what I wanted. American man, interested in Islam, via audio cassette. So he sold me a tape, and I took it to my room and pressed play… it was Cat Stevens.

It was actually Yusuf/Yusuf Islam, singing a selection of songs I had read about but never heard. 'A is For Allah' and others. Then there was something curiouser, which was a recording of Yusuf giving a speech in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation, speaking out in favor of Jihad.

Years later, Emmett Kelly suggested that we cover Yusuf’s 'One Day At a Time'. It was so exciting that the man had started making records again! This video here shows the voice/rhythm I’m trying to write about; it also shows the excitement we can share over the energy that those younger than us will continue to bring to the earth.

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Will Oldham will be writing from Louisville every Wednesday about loved and significant music.


  1. There is a movie by Mohsen Makhmalbaf you might like called The Silence - about a blind child and music. From memory (I've only seen it once at MIFF) it came out after Gabbeh and before Kandahar.
    It has a beautiful visual reference to the farsi woman poet and filmmaker Forugh Farrokhzad, who was also referenced in Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us.

  2. The kind of music you were looking for is called "Nasheed", and the best is from Syria.

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    (VIDEO) Text Your Ex Back?