September saw the release of the long-awaited debut album from Canada based singer, songwriter, composer and producer Ilyas Mao. Having released his first songs on YouTube nearly 2 years ago including music produced for the Bonaa Mohammad directed Motion picture “Tug of War”, Ilyas Mao has gradually grown his fanbase having performed across the world including tours of Australia, America and the United Kingdom.
Some of the key things to note about Mao’s debut is that there were no instruments used in the production of the album however, it doesn’t take away from the quality and musicality within each track. The songs have been meticulously put together by Mao who, by his own admission, was a producer years before he was even aware of his own singing ability. Personally, as someone who has always been a big music fan and ardently searched for more halal alternatives only to be left disappointed with the lack of range and choice in the nasheed/faith inspired industry, this album was a pleasant surprise. On many occasions nasheed artists have come across very “samey” with regards to style and construction of songs as well as the subject matter, often appealing to younger children than a more mature audience.
Here we see Ilyas Mao focusing on his Muslim identity but exploring a variety of subjects through that lens. Whether its subjects that are commonly found in “Muslim music” such as thanking God in the aptly titled songs “I’m Blessed” and “Wonders,” featuring the talented Arabic singer Castillo Nasheeds. Or travelling the path less travelled (as far as faith inspired music is concerned) with the politically charged masterpiece “Rise Up” featuring veteran poet Muslim Belal or “Sinners Paradise” where Ilyas takes an introspective turn and poetically contemplates his own fate with lyrics like “They say this world is a paradise for a sinner but is there a paradise for a sinner like me.”
Another point to note is that this is a completely independent release and Ilyas Mao is not signed to any record labels and almost the entirety of the album was produced and recorded in his home studio. There’s a growing trend of more and more independent artists creating and releasing new material all the time and if this album is anything to go by then the sheer quality and variety of this 12 track project can serve as an inspiration to the new generation of faith-inspired artists.
There are a couple of tracks that come across a little old school in its style but those tracks are Ilyas Mao’s earliest efforts which made it on to the album. Overall this is a brilliantly produced and well-rounded record with great replay value. Some of the standout tracks on the album are “He don’t love you”, “Wonders”, “Life of this World,” and “Rise up.”
If this debut effort is anything to go by then Ilyas Mao is an artist who is out to take faith inspired music in a fresh direction and I for one will be eagerly anticipating future releases from this young talent. Ilyas Mao’s debut album “Maktoob” is available in all digital stores now.
Check out Ilyas’ YouTube channel here.
by Mohammad Khan