When I first stumbled across Raef on YouTube, I was utterly astonished. In awe, I mean, amazed at such unique vocals and rhythm. Similar to many of you, It’s Jumuah was the first song I heard, leaving me with such a huge grin on my face! A remake of Rebecca Black’s Friday, Raef’s Islamic cover version has reached over 1,300,00 views. And I already knew half the lyrics because I kept the song on repeat for a good time. The one thing that entices me to Raef’ YouTube channel is the pure creativeness and individualism he holds high. Covering the most famous of songs, from Micheal Jackson’s Man In the Mirror to the more modern With You by Chris Brown, there is literally nothing that Raef cannot remake. With only a guitar, kajon and sometimes piano/percussion (and a mushroom), Raef’s voice is natural and uplifting. After seeing Raef on tour up and down the UK, my love for his passionate art reignited. I caught up with the artist himself, unearthing the fun man beneath Awakening Records and the reasoning behind songs. Assalamu Alaikum Raef, how’s life? Wa alaikum us salam – life is awesome. Where are you based at the moment and what are you up to? I live in the Washington DC are – capitol of the United States of America. At the moment I’m anxiously waiting for winter to end so I can enjoy the outdoors more 🙂 Tell us a little bit about yourself, personally. Born in Washington DC, and raised in the lovely state of Maryland (north of DC). I’ve always enjoyed Real-time-strategy computer games (like Warcraft, Starcraft Age of Empires etc). I love the outdoors – and when the weather is nice, I kayak, fish, bike, and run. I worked as a software developer for sometime and am currently a high school teacher in the Maryland Public School system. I LOVE reading history books. Has music always been a passion of yours? Or did it start to grow suddenly from an experience or motivation? I’ve always loved music. I began to song-write later in my life and performing live is something that I’ve come to really enjoy. What do you aim to achieve through your music? Any messages, if any? I pray that my music brings happiness, inspiration, and motivation to as many people as possible. Music is a great communicator and songwriting is how I express myself. Your cover of Rabecca Black’s song ‘Friday’ has hit 1 million views and counting! Masha’Allah, were you expecting that? How does it make you feel? Wasn’t expecting it, but not really surprised either. The melody is catchy and the lyrics (written by my friend Faisal) are simple and very accessible. Alhamdulilah I’m thankful it has reached so many people 🙂 Where did you learn to play instruments, particularly the guitar? YouTube! I bought a guitar, went online and searched “Guitar lessons” – I spent months struggling up the learning curve until I taught myself the basics. I wrote songs around the little that I knew as I slowly built my skill-set. I’m still learning and still growing…they’ll never end inshallah. What’s it like working with one of the most successful modern Islamic music record companies, Awakening Recrds? It looks like fun hanging out with the rest of the singers too! Alhamdulillah it’s a great blessing. At times, I don’t really feel like I’m working at all – the creative process can be really exciting. It’s wonderful to have a group of sincere, open-minded friends to support and critique my music with the right mindset. Hanging out is fun, but there is also a lot of hard work that goes into producing quality music and putting on a great show. What has been your highlights during the Poetic Vision Tour? The thing I love best about the Poetic Vision Tour is the process of travelling to remote towns in the United States and sharing our music with intimate crowds. It’s really cool to see how each community weaves Islam and art into their own distinct culture. America is so vast and so diverse – and you can only really experience that when you travel. Many of our trips involve 5-6 hours of driving… and during that time, I’ve made life-long friends along the way.
Can you give us some insights as to what to expect from your debut album? Sure! I’ve been touring and performing for years… without an album- so I’m excited to finally share my work with a wider audience. I ask Allah to put His blessing in the efforts put forth. Inshallah my first album will be made up of songs that are fun, hopeful, uplifting, and inspiring…some of the songs I wrote recently, but others I wrote years ago. Do you ever write your own lyrics? If so, what do you like to write about? Yes, I do. Like everyone else, i’ve been thru bumps, lumps, twists and turns in this journey we call life….writing and singing is how I express myself. I draw inspiration and meaning from my faith and it’s often reflected in my songs. The youth in the UK are very inspired by your work, what’s the response been about your success with your friends and family in DC and Maryland? My family is awesome. They’ve been very supportive alhamdulillah 🙂 What would be your advice to today’s youth trying to balance 21st century modernism and Islam? I would say that Islam is timeless. Islam does not teach any specific culture nor is it a rigid system of life. Our deen never came to force anyone into anything and is open to people of all walks of life – regardless of time, space, religiosity, backgrounds etc. When Islam left Arabia, it didn’t force or push people into “Arab-culture” . This is evident in countries like Malaysia, Pakistan, Nigeria etc. The Muslims of those lands didn’t wipe their culture clean and adopt “Arab-culture”. Instead, when they embraced Islam it encouraged them to further develop their own culture in the light of Islam. Do you think that challenges of being a young Muslim can be solved through music? Not directly, no. Music and art plays an important role in communicating messages and moving hearts. If young people are to take their lives seriously, they need to continue their journey towards Allah by drawing nearer to Him and finding out how they can benefit the society they live in. When young people find purpose in their lives and give back to the community they are a part of, you will find many of the challenges they face begin to disappear. Many of the problems we encounter are created because we do not know the true value of time. We need to live to serve others, as our prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did. May God guide us all! [Amen to that!] Any big plans or goals for the future? Right now, my focus is on my debut album. By this point, as I’m sure you’d agree, I felt such a warm sense of passion and humbless from this artist. Despite the millions of people across the globe inspired by his work, Raef keeps a chill mood, reflecting upon his work in Islam and happiness it brings to youngsters. Just for fun, here are some quick-fire questions from fans at the time of the interview: A musician that inspires you? Even though most of her music was written before I was born, Joni Mitchell’s work has really inspired me. I love her style of writing and the simple guitar chord progression she uses. A book you’re reading at the moment? “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn 3 objects close to you right now? My mouse, A bag of dark-chocolate mint M&Ms, and a Glue bottle Top 3 songs on your iPod’s 25 Most Played Playlist? 1) “Can’t Go Back Now” by The Weepies 2) “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell 3) “My Life Would Suck Without You” by Kelly Clarkson Favourite biscuit? I’m American, I don’t believe in biscuits 😛 I love me a good Twix chocolare bar though 🙂 What do you like having for Sahoor during the month of Ramadan? Toasted bagel with cream-cheese, hard-boiled eggs with salt/pepper, and glass of skim milk 🙂 Do you have any shout-outs or messages for the fans?
Sure! I’d like to ask for their sincere duaa and prayers. I’d also like to thank them for lending me their ears – I feel really blessed and quite lucky to even have an audience at all. Alhamdulilah for everything. Finally, I would encourage any young person reading this to find passion in what they do – and to work hard to achieve whatever goals they’ve set…and in that process, humble yourself by seeking the advice of those with experience and age.
So, who is also inspired by Raef’s and the spirituality he brings into main stream music? I truly am. Check out his cover song here and follow him on twitter @RaefMusic. From everyone here at Hijablicious, we wish the best of success for Raef’s future and everybody at Awakening Records. We also hope that you youngsters pluck up the courage to turn your talents into a real success! H x
Humaira is a full-time student, part-time photographer, regular writer and all round happy soul. She likes to live life to the full and works on various other projects including running her own blog and contributing to other publications. She will be bringing us the latest from the world of fashion and style, particularly under the new revolution of Islamic influence on 21st century vogue. Stay tuned to read all her articles!View all Humaira Ashraf posts.