Islamic Relief’s Annual Evening of Inspiration is back to mark their 15th year anniversary in South Africa, The line-up of artists include Islamic Relief’s ambassador and world-renowned nasheed artist, Zain Bhikha, who is also celebrating a phenomenal 25 years in the Islamic nasheed industry. He will be joined by comedians Omar Regan (USA) and Ali Official (UK). An exciting new part of the show will be the play production, “Story Time with Zain Bhikha” which promises to entertain and bring color to the sets, as Zain and crew perform hit songs, like, “Allah Made Everything”. The Durban leg of the show takes place on 13 October at 1.30pm at the Crescent Hall. Tickets are R150 and can be purchased via computicket. Tabloid Newspapers spoke to Zain Bhikha about his career in the music industry thus far.

Tabloid Newspapers (TN): How did your journey in the music industry begin?
Zain Bhikha (ZB):  I have always enjoyed singing, ever since I was very young. I would listen to songs on the radio and practice as much as I could to sound just as good. In 1994, exactly 25 years ago, I entered a singing competition on Radio 702, the country was changing at the time and we just had our very first democratic elections. To my surprise, I won the competition, out of thousands of entries. That same year was also quite turbulent for me because of I lost my best friend, who was shot and killed in Johannesburg. Both those events happening at the same time, allowed me to try to use my talent for something greater. I compiled a few simple songs inspired by my faith and released a cassette entitled ‘A Way Of Life’. This was the beginning of it all and it was among the first selection of songs about Islam in English from around the world, which brought me among a few select pioneers in this genre.Today, all these years later, I have released over 150 songs over many albums, travelled the globe and performed in many countries. I feel truly blessed to have been given so many amazing opportunities.

TN: What do you most enjoy about being in this line of work?
ZB: I get to live a dream, where I use my creativity to write songs and produce videos, that will inspire others around the world. I absolutely love it, especially when I get an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. I believe that music can bring about social change and make the world better. I feel blessed to make songs that inspire the remembrance of God, and there’s nothing better than that. I also get to meet incredible people, who inspire me in so many ways.

TN: What are some of the challenges that come with doing your job?
ZB: The main challenges I face is to constantly strive for innovation and enhancing creativity. This takes hard work and lots of sacrifice but I find it greatly rewarding.

TN: What is the creative process you follow when writing a song?
ZB:  I write my songs based on personal experiences and from inspiration all around me. Many songs have come from deeply spiritual experiences like going for Hajj and Umrah, or working with people in difficult social circumstances. I also draw a lot of inspiration from my own children and that’s why a lot of my songs are popular with the young ones.
Once I have an idea, I try to run with it by writing and rewriting it to try and make it better. I also record a lot of demos at home. It also helps working with good producers, to bring the songs to life.

TN: Can you remember the first song you wrote, what was it about?
ZB: A song called ‘Give thanks to Allah’, it had very simple lyrics and melody, but was profound in meaning. I think to take a personal struggle and move beyond acceptance to an emotion of gratitude, is a part of spiritual growth. It is also a great reminder that Allah is always in control of all things.
TN: What is one of your favourite albums that you have recorded?
ZB: Each album represents a different time in my life as well as different emotions and life experiences. I love the fact that my discography is actually also my life’s journey so far. This is so important to me as a singer and songwriter. Among all the albums, Mountains of Makkah, The Passing Traveller and Cotton Candy Sky are my absolute favourites.
TN: Who gave you the encouragement to keep songwriting in the beginning of your career?
ZB:  Definitely my parents. They were always exceptionally supportive, which was very uncommon at the time and encouraged me to take my creativity further by singing and releasing songs. They remain my biggest supporters.

TN: How has your family supported you through your career?
ZB: In addition to my parents, I have to mention the great sacrifices and love shown to me by my wife Zaheera and my children.
With all the late hours, hard work, dedication and travel commitments, they’ve all had to make great sacrifices to allow me to live my dream and for this I am hugely grateful.
As well as my sisters who have always given me great encouragement, by helping me write and produce the songs and manage my studio.

TN: What inspires you?
ZB: Life. Being acutely aware of life’s great lessons and trying to harness these thoughts and emotions into creative processes, will lead to something inspiring. We don’t earn our talents, we are given them by Allah, it’s up to us to use them and always do our best. We can’t therefore take credit for anything, we just have to be very grateful.

TN: Famous stars that you have met?
ZB:The most inspirational people I have met are generally not because they are famous, but make the world a better place because of the work they are doing to bring about social change.Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) and definitely my friend and fellow singer-songwriter Dawud Wharnsby would top the list. I also have met Nelson Mandela one time which was a complete fluke, but inspiring nonetheless.

TN: Favourite film?
ZB:  I have too many I must admit, anything that is deeply moving and has a good, strong message. I love ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Trilogy, and my favorite superhero ever since I was a a child, has to be Batman.

TN: Are you a fan of any sports team?
ZB: Yes, I love soccer, I’ve supported Manchester United all my life. I also enjoy watching Real Madrid in Spain.
TN: Favourite quote?
ZB: ‘What hit could never have missed, and what missed could never have hit. The pens have lifted and ink is dry’ ‘So take the best of every moment and take the best of every man’

TN: What advice can you give to someone who would also like to get into the music industry?
ZB: I would advise them to do it because you love it, never for any other reason. This requires constant checking and purification of intentions. Write from the heart and always do your best.