Meet the Bradford teenager whose unique faith-based music has a global following

Yorkshire’s Ismail Hussain is amassing a huge international following for his ground-breaking style of music bringing together different cultures. Chris Burn reports.

Ismail Hussain has been singing since the age of 5.
Ismail Hussain has been singing since the age of 5.

He has over 50,000 followers on Facebook, more than 15,000 on YouTube and nearly 14,000 on Instagram at the age of just 18 but the unassuming Ismail Hussain is taking his growing success in his stride.

The teenager from Bradford may be young but his music career is already well-established – having started singing faith-inspired poetry and songs in local mosques at the age of five, releasing his first album when he was just 12 and touring the world at weekends while still at school.

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Hussain says that like his burgeoning career, his popularity on social media has not happened overnight.

“It is just something I have built up over the years from a very young age. I have been recording since I was seven or eight years old. As the years go by, the followers slowly started to build up – it started locally first and now it is people from all over the world.

“Singing has always been a passion. I won a vocal competition held in Bradford when I was 10 where there were about 30 to 40 other people taking part and then I did videos online which reached just over 500,000 people.”

Hussain, who performed solo as an acapella act in his early years, was booked to play show across the UK and Europe, as well as doing tours to Mauritius, South Africa, Pakistan and Kuwait among other places.

He says it took both sacrifices from his family and the understanding of his teachers at Dixons Kings Academy in Bradford to make it work.

His career has taken him around the world.

“The main person who helped me the most was my father who took me all over the country to many events. Sometimes I would be doing three or four performances a day in London, Manchester and Birmingham. My dad would drive me to all these events.

“The main international events started when I started secondary school. It was quite a big challenge touring and balancing that with my school work. I remember that once I had a European tour and on the Friday after school I would go straight to the airport and spend the weekend in a different country before flying back for school the next week. The school were very supportive and they gave me extra work to do on the plane.”

At the age of 12, Hussain released his first album in Urdu and Punjabi but has been increasingly singing Sufi poetry in his native English as part of an attempt to merge Eastern and Western sounds.

“It was just something I did as a hobby. But it did quite well – better then I really expected. I sold 1,000 CDs and had a tour in South Africa.

“From a young age my main focus was recording in Urdu and Punjabi. Over the years I have gained quite a large following. Now I’m recording in English. We want to use Eastern and Western influences. There are artists who are singing in a Western style and others in an Eastern style but no one else really mixing them both together.”

His most recent release earlier this year is a compilation of five faith-inspired collections of poetry.

“It all started through religion but it doesn’t just relate to Muslims or people of religion. I have had so many messages on social media from young kids who have said they have been suffering with their mental health and by listening to the music it has helped them. I want to be a role model and show that being hard working can bring amazing results.”

Like most musicians, Hussain’s work has been affected by Covid – along with a class he runs teaching talented local singers that has been put on hold. But the challenges of the past few months have not dimmed his ambitions for the future.

“After this pandemic I hope to join a band of live musicians from various ethnic backgrounds. My aim is to introduce a new genre of music to include people from different faiths and backgrounds and help more people understand the power of poetry. I don’t think many people understand the power poetry can have.”

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James Mitchinson