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DVD Review: Yusuf’s Cafe

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As a long time fan of Yusuf Islam's previous work as Cat Stevens, I'd always wondered what he was up to these days. After experiencing that famous religious epiphany, would his musical sensibilities be any different since his recent return to music? Yusuf's Café provides a glimpse into his current activities and also reflects on his long and varied history in the music business.

The DVD is chock full of features, from performances to music videos to interviews. The disc is split into three segments. "Live Session" consists of footage from his first full live performance in 28 years, recorded at London's Porchester Hall. "Storytime: A Few Good Songs" is a BBC production that looks at Islam's life and music, past and present. "Side Orders" contains both a short film about his latest record, An Other Cup, and several music videos.

Aside from the fact that he now sports a long salt-and-pepper beard, Islam seems to be the same peaceful soul whose music I fell in love with years ago. At Porchester Hall, he performs old classics such as "Peace Train" and "Wild World" as well as songs from his new album. The setting is intimate, the audience seated around candle-lit tables amidst eastern-inspired décor. Flanked by a small band is Islam, dressed simply and looking genuinely happy to be sharing his music with the crowd. His voice retains the soothing, easy vibrato for which he is known, and his message still encourages a simple, gentle existence. Islam ends the lengthy set with the following wishes for his audience: "God bless. Now, let's get on the peace train."

It's easy to see the serene joy on his face as he later performs barefoot on an overstuffed couch, eyes closed, strumming his guitar and keeping time with his big toe. These couch performances, part of the "Side Orders" portion of the video, are my favorites on Yusuf's Café. Here he seems so at home with the music, it's difficult to imagine him away from it.

Another special feature is the One More Cup short film, in which Islam talks about his life in music, from his early career to his exodus from the business in 1979 to his recent return. I must admit I had heard a lot of strange rumors about Islam's religious life. I never was quite sure what to make of them. It's nice to hear him speak for himself on his religion and on the impact it's had on his music.

The art for this disc is beautiful. Designed as a "menu" for the fictional Yusuf's Café, it features photographs of Islam as well as richly-colored Turkish illustrations. There also is a fold-out illustration done in the same style, depicting a group of people sipping from delicate cups. In one of his interviews, Islam speaks about how the images inspired him as he worked on his latest album.

Yusuf's Café is a fascinating look at the life of a man who has undergone many transformations. It will appeal to old Cat Stevens fans and new Yusuf Islam fans alike.

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