He's one of North America's premiere Muslim musicians. After numerous recordings, the talented Canadian just keeps getting better. This latest effort is his best yet. It features eight new songs woven around short meditations highlighting tenets of Islam. In keeping with Muslim sensibilities, the instrumentation is sparse and limited to percussion.
But listeners won't give that a thought because it's Mr. Ali's vocals and the silky a cappella harmonies that drive this recording. He sings with utter clarity - in the rare, unfettered way that defined Karen Carpenter. But his tones are more Peter, Paul and Mary, and his melodies a unique incarnation of Muslim folk pop.
Every song is catchy and singable, which is precisely his aim. Mr. Ali knows that music is an effective way to teach Islam. In "The People of the Boxes," he decries materialism as a fruitless pursuit. "The Crazy Spots I've Prayed" is a lighthearted tale about the places he's stopped to fulfill the Muslim requirement to pray five times a day. This includes icy meadows, which he calls "a very cool place for prayer."
The most provocative song, "Don't Talk About Muhammad," draws on a story from the life of the Muslim prophet that Mr. Ali finds applicable today. He wrote the song as a wakeup call to Muslims in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He says Muslims need to be proactive in clearing up any confusion non-Muslims have about Islam.
The melodies are simple and the message clear - a sign of Mr. Ali's creativity and musical skill. Count him among the very best artists writing and singing religious music today. And be grateful that he's still young, with many songs ahead of him. S.H.A.
This article was originally published in the Dallas Morning News on March 15, 2003. It has been reproduced here with permission.