Islamic singer and songwriter, Zain Bhikha needs no introduction as his inspiring lyrics and harmonies placidly drift through our stereo speakers and his unmistakable, reposeful voice usher us even closer to a beautiful religion that is so misrepresented in the media. You may know him as an artistic trailblazer of our time, however, we raise the curtain and shine a spotlight on the humanitarian side of this incredible voice artist.
The Pretoria-born virtuoso began pursuing vocal euphonies from the age of two, an inherent gift that took him 18 more years to share with the world. After the tragic and sudden passing away of a close friend in 1994, Zain began to question the purpose of life and was reminded of its impermanence. A simple, yet sincerely recorded melody procured him the winning title of a singing competition held on Radio 702 in the same year. This impressive achievement marked the starting point of his artistic career, which has spanned over two decades.
Zain decided that if he were to engage in the profession of vocal arts, he would write and sing songs that were meaningful, motivated only by the love and glory of Allah. Zain warmly acknowledges the inspiriting encouragement he’s always received from his parents. They nurtured his creative aptitude from a young age, and supported his poetry writing and drama classes in school. He regards his profession as self-expression and is completely unfazed and not driven by the idea of fame. Starting out, Zain mentions that he had “zero expectations” and since then, every professional and artistic milestone he’s reached has been beyond anything he could ever have imagined.
The opportunity to travel around the world and meet incredible artists like Yusuf Islam and Dawud Wharnsby, unlatched his understanding of what it truly means to be Muslim. It taught him to make the most of life before returning to our Creator, by being the best we can be and striving for social justice. He says that as Muslims, it’s our responsibility to give to those who don’t have anything, to take care of the poor, to smile at each other and “to make things better while you are here.”
Zain says that he has benefitted most from his songs, as they’ve allowed him to become a better person. “My music mirrors my life experiences,” Mr. Bhikha says about his inspiration behind writing the incredible verses we have become so familiar with. He regards his children and their life phases as a great contributing factor to his lyrical work. His advice to aspirant youth is to pursue their artistic passion as a hobby and not as a full-time job, as the combination of faith and creativity can lean on precarious turf. Zain’s eldest son, Rashid has followed in his father’s accomplished footsteps having released his debut album, ‘Degrees of Separation’ last December.
One of Zain’s career highlights was a trip to London in 1999 where he met and recorded a song with Yusuf Islam, who remains as his mentor and source of inspiration. This introduced Zain’s gifted vocals to an international audience. While he may have fans as far as Australia and USA, Zain’s heart and roots are proudly engrained in South Africa and the rest of our beautiful continent. In fact, one of his favourite shows was a performance in the Ivory Coast. He cites traditional African acoustics as a considerable influence on his own unique musical style as it draws similarities to the use of drums in Islamic harmonies.
Zain has found that music and lyrics are a powerful unifier, it brings us closer together as Muslims around the world. He feels blessed that so many people resonate with his music, especially young children, who can often be heard singing along to his lyrics. Zain has a worldwide following of all ages yet he remains extremely humble. “We don’t earn our talents, Allah gives it to us,” he says.
The father-of-four runs an NPO called Zain Bhikha Studios, where all proceeds from his album sales are donated to worthy charities. Zain also aids healthcare projects and supports two clinics in Cape Town. He works with Islamic Relief South Africa regularly, assisting with their orphan sponsorship programme and water provision for drought-stricken countries in Africa. Zain lends his dulcet tones to songs in aid of crisis fundraising – the most recent being for the plight of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. “If we do small things consistently, we can make a difference,” he adds. Zain is also fond of doing shows and workshops at schools, both to inspire children and to learn from them. All funds raised at these events are distributed to charitable causes.
Amidst the wars, oppression, racism and Islamophobia, Zain advises us to stay positive and remember the positivity held by our beloved Prophet Muhammed (PBUH), who always had tawakkul (trust in God) and relied on Allah through good and bad times.
His most rewarding experience was working with The Leadership College in Manenberg, Cape Town, where he helped produce a theatrical performance called ‘An Orphan’s Tale’. The spiritually uplifting play featured children from the college, some of whom never acted or sang before. They performed sold-out shows to raving audiences for two years. Zain was emotionally fulfilled seeing these young kids deliver the heartfelt message of the play so beautifully.
“We need strong role models, especially women.” Zain expresses what so many of us are thinking, stating that women are the drivers of our communities and homes, and the first teachers to our children yet they are often marginalised.
Zain says we need an initiative like ‘Proudly Muslims of South Africa’ in order to spread the message and gift of Islam to broader communities and show them the social justices that our religion brings. He expresses that we need to be inclusive of all communities – local and immigrants – if we’d like to continually enjoy the freedom to practice our religion here in South Africa. He adds: “We can create a mass amount of social change.”
Zain appeals to the youth to overcome the challenges they face with regards to self-esteem and believing in themselves: “No matter our flaws or self-proclaimed deficiencies, Allah loves us just the way we are.” He goes on to say that social media can also have a negative impact on young people because they compare their own lives to a digital ‘highlight reel’ of others, which leaves them feeling defeated and inadequate. Zain says it’s important to reach out to them through different initiatives like sports, music or drama. He intends to further his philanthropic work in this manner.
The esteemed recording artist runs a creative workshop called ACE – The Art of Creative Expression – where he motivates the youth at different schools. He advises us to do small things in our own capacity and mentions that money isn’t a requisite for helping others. Giving up our precious time to volunteer at an old age home or orphanage provides one with inner peace and contentment.
His greatest life lesson: “Be true to yourself and keep the intention of whatever you’re doing real.” Zain relates that life is temporary and loss is inevitable, however the only constant is our Creator and returning to him. “We need to prepare to meet our Creator in the best of ways.”
His life motto: “Making the most of every moment and taking the most from every person you meet.” Many of his life philosophies are symbolically embedded in his song lyrics but one that encapsulates his last album, The Passing Traveller is: “Live life as a traveller – be simple, be humble and be kind.”
Zain would like society to remember him as someone who told good stories, wrote about hope and positivity, and brought smiles to children. He wishes for people to continue listening to his songs and use them as an inspiration to find their way back to the Creator.
Zain Bhikha is the living embodiment of every soulful word he’s lyricised and every beautiful melody that he’s played. He perfectly defines what it means to be a ‘Proudly South African Muslim’ and is an exemplary ambassador of who we are on a local and international stage. He brings joy and upliftment to thousands through the power of his words and music. We wish him every success in continuing his artistic and philanthropic pursuits.