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South African launches religious CD

After his Haj pilgrimage, a South African businessman of Gujarati origin released a music CD of Islamic hymns.

india Updated: Jan 19, 2006 11:24 IST

A South African businessman was so inspired by his Haj pilgrimage to Makkah in Saudi Arabia that he has brought out a CD of Islamic hymns he has composed and sung.

Zain Bhika, who originally hails from Gujarat in India, got the idea for his CD, "Mountains of Makkah", during his own Haj pilgrimage two years ago.

"When my wife and I were going through the Haj ritual of pelting the Shaytaan (Devil - with pebbles) symbolically, we were going through the huge air-conditioned tunnels in Makkah and we had this exhilarating feeling of liberation and having broken the shackles of not listening to the Devil any more."

Bhika heads a leading private pharmaceutical company in South Africa, Be-Tabs, founded by his father Rashid Bhika nearly three decades ago.

He uses his spare time to record Islamic hymns, with a particular passion for getting the message across to children.

Inspired by Britain-based singer Yusuf Islam, once known as pop singer Cat Stevens, there is a distinct American twang to some of Bhika's singing. But he said this was more because of the popularity of his music in the international market.

"My biggest markets are in the US, Britain, Malaysia, where they find (this accent) a lot more acceptable. But it is not done deliberately. As long as I can remember I always used to copy modern singers and adopted their way of singing."

The pronounced nasal twang in songs such as "Oh Shaytaan, I'm Gonna Throw You Down" among others sound like they have been sung by an American Gospel singer from America's deep south.

"That type of Blues singing suited the lyrics I thought up, designed for children, and it is in fact the most popular song among children."

While most other South African Indian singers of Islamic songs in praise of Allah and the Prophet Mohammed, even in English, would prefer setting the lyrics to popular Indian film tunes, Bhika composes his own tunes.

In keeping with the differences in opinion among Muslims, there are two versions of all the songs on the CD, one with music and one without.

"Because of the differences in opinion, some countries don't take my CDs if they don't have any instrumental backing while in other countries people are a lot more conservative.

"Irrespective of what I personally believe, I try to be as inclusive as possible so that everybody can enjoy it. In this case, we included both versions on the same CD to make the logistics easier for distributors."

But while his role model, Yusuf Islam, is now embracing more music in his Islamic songs, Bhika is not yet ready to go the whole hog. He uses just some percussion instruments like drums for his songs.

For Bhika, his music is a labour of love and he has no interest in becoming a professional singer even though many people think it is his full-time job.

Any profits he makes from sales of his CD will be ploughed back into nurturing singing talent, especially Islamic songs in the indigenous Zulu language, using studios that have been set up at Bhika's residence here.

First Published: Jan 19, 2006 11:24 IST