This sixth post will, for the time being, be my last one of the series “Africa Rocks The Seventies”. After travelling (virtually) through Africa and discovering many national music cultures and scenes, I have the feeling that North Africa and the Arabic world could be more addressed. The pre-eminent label for re-issuing Arabic funk, jazz and rock sounds from the 1970’s and 1980’s is the Berlin-based Habibi Funk. Its founder Jannis Stürtz first travelled to Morocco as tour manager (and label owner of Jakarta Records) in 2012 when he found a tiny shop full of rare, Arabic stock records. He started crate-digging and was especially intrigued by a band called Fadaul et les Privileges who covered James Brown in Arabic (cf. infra). Since that moment Stürtz started searching for records across the Arab Peninsula.
“Habibi Funk is dedicated to re-releasing a style of music that historically never existed as a musical genre. We use the term to describe a certain sound that we like from the countries of the Arab world.” – Habibi Funk
In December 2017, Habibi Funk released its first compilation (after six reissues of single artists) featuring fifteen different artists. Lauded by critics from Pitchfork to The Guardian to The Independent, Habibi Funk 007: An eclectic selection of music from the Arabic world covers multiple countries and genres. Even though the label’s name suggests, it’s not all about funk. Also soul, disco, pop, rock, and even zouk (a genre originated from the Caribbean) and Algerian coladera (originated from Cape Verde) are represented. The album is still available, buy it here.
“Despite the differences we think there is a musical connection between them. Essentially, we are interested in the musical endeavors, in which artists from the Arab world mixed local and regional influences with musical interests that came from outside of the region.” – Habibi Funk
With his personal curating, Stürtz hopes to break through the stereotypical conventions of the Arabic world and to offer a nuanced and musically diverse view of the region. All tracks, except a few, are licensed from the artist or his family. Habibi Funk’s ethical modus operandi includes splitting all profits equally with the artists and the inclusion of extensive booklets full of liner notes, photos and interviews, in short all the information that Stürtz was desperate to find.
Because of the eclectic nature of this album, I will just go through it and give you some background information for each track. Listen on Spotify (or on Youtube and Soundcloud if available). All songs are arranged chronologically so brace yourselves!
- Bsslama Hbibti – Fadoul (Morocco)
Album opener Fadoul already enjoys the privilege of having a release called “Al Zman Saib (Time Is Hard)” on Habibi Funk from 2015 with eight covers of James Brown, Free and other American classics. As mentioned earlier, this was the first Arab music that Stürtz came across during his time in North Africa. Fadoul was living in Paris when he mixed Arabic and western music influences in the early seventies. He continued making music until his death in 1991 in his hometown Casablanca. “Bsslama Hbiti” features “gritty drums, lashing guitar, and Fadoul’s near-manic pleas atop it all” and opens the compilation straight to the point. The energy is more deranged than Brown’s ever was. A heart-warming note is that thanks to Stürtz research, Fadoul’s family was able to hear Fadoul’s music after 30 years.
- Wang Dang – Bob Destiny (Algeria – US)
“Wang Dang” by the Afro-American shouter from New Orleans follows the funky line of “Bsslama Hbibti”. Bob Destiny made furore in multiple Hollywood and Broadway productions as singer/actor/dancer in the 1950’s. In 1969 he ends up in the national theatre of Algeria en performs on the Pan African Festival. A year later he records the single “Wang Dang”. His eclectic career takes him afterwards to Morocco, Spain and eventually France where he gets married, founds orchestras and bands, and continues to write music. Get to know everything about him on his site.
- Unkown – Attarazat Addahabia (Morocco)
Our eyebrows go up as we hear the melody of “Für Elise” in both the guitar and vocal line of this unknown track by Moroccan band Attarazat Addahabia. Despite the drossy backing vocals, unintelligible Arabic language and singer Farah Allah’s nonchalant singing style, we can’t stop ourselves humming this famous melody. There is not much we know about Attarazat Addahabia besides that they were a three-generation family band from Casablanca whose album never saw a release. But don’t worry; Habibi Funk is working on it.
- Mirza – Jalil Bennis Et Les Golden Hands (Morocco)
Morocco is well represented in this compilation with already a third Moroccan band Jalil Bennis Et Les Golden Hands. “Mirza” is a cover of French singer Nino Ferrer’s classic from 1966. This Arabic adaption from 1967 is more dynamical and nonchalant than the original and misses the electrical organ solo and brass arrangement which gave Ferrer’s version more body.
- Argos Farfish – Sharhabeel Ahmed (Sudan)
War, economic recession and the repressive, anti-art policies of the regime in Sudan are no reasons for Sharhabeel Ahmed (different spelling is possible) to lay down his guitar and oud. Now seventy, the bandleader and jazz pioneer still maintains the punishing schedule of composing and performing he had in the 1970’s. By then, tonal instruments had found their way into the Sudanese repertoire, which was traditionally distinguished by the pentatonic scale. “Argos Farfish” features garage-rock guitars, a drilled bass and a shrinking sax line that goes in dialogue with Ahmed’s vocals.
- Casablanca Shuffle – Belbao (Morocco)
Barely anything is known about singer Belbao (or Bill Boo) who fuses funk and soul. Discogs mentions an EP called “Mine Baadek” (date unknown), which doesn’t feature this track “Casablanca Shuffle” that Schürtz found on a test pressing. The playful brass arrangement, percussive guitar, and high pitches don’t give the song much originality and also the recording quality disappoints.
- Rouhi Ya Hafida – Mallek Mohamed (Algeria)
Our next guest is Mallek Mohamed, an Algerian musician who moved to Paris in his twenties. “Rouhi Ya Hafida” provides “a tumbling disco beat and needling reeds” and is a poetic song about the loss of love. The bass line throughout the song, the conga percussion and the clarinet’s (?) short solo in the second half make this one of the compilation’s most refreshing songs. Originally released on the French label “Antilles Musique Diffusion”, this single is an excellent example of Arabic Zouk. Mohamed is still writing and performing in France.
- La Coladera – Freh Khodja (Algeria)
If you’re still reading this blog from your seat, it’s time to get up end start dancing on “La Coladera”. Algerian singer Freh Khodja was labelled as the first Arabic reggae singer in the 1980’s. For this track (date unknown) however, he adopts the genre of the Cape Verdean Creole coladeira. We hear the typical clarinet, trumpet, and guïro, but also a western drum kit and electric guitar. This song is actually a fusion between coladeira and zouk called cola-zouk and has references to the Compas dance style.
- Al Asafir – Kamal Keila (Sudan)
“Kamal Keila is a Sudanese singer active since the late 1960’s. He incorporated a wide range of influences from afro-beat to funk to his often political songs. He recorded both in Arabic and English.” introdues Stürtz. He is now one of the artists signed by Habibi Funk and an album will be reissued later this year. “Al Asafir” is a funky recording wherein Keila’s lead melody is shared with the trumpet player, both carried by a repetitive guitar riff and drums. The short guitar solo, on the other hand, can’t recover this monotone track.
10. Tape 19.11 – Ahmed Malek (Algeria)
The only artist who has two songs on this compilation is the Algerian composer Ahmed Malek. After writing lots of music for films, TV shows, and documentaries (see number 12), Malek discovered synthesizers and electronic music in the 1980’s, when he was already in his fifties. None of his experiments with sounds was ever released but Habibi Funk reissued some master tapes (after finding Malek’s family) and with the assistance of producer Flako “Habibi Funk 005: Ahmed Malek & Flako – The Electronic Tapes” was born. “Tape 19.11” or track 11 was not on that reissue but is now integrated into this compilation. Less electronically than expected, the song consists of layers of acoustic and electric guitars, flute, piano, electric organ, drums, and bass. The lack of vocals and repetition of one motif (played by flute) provide “Tape 19.11” its experimental and hypnotic character.
11. Ayonha – Hamid El Shaeri (Libya – Egypt)
Libyan-born Hamid El Shaeri delivers with “Ayonha” one of the most arresting tracks, featuring “buoyant drum machines, jangly guitars and tickly synths”. And mind his soft, airy voice that carries you away and enhances the atmosphere. It’s a very radio-like and easy feel song. El Shaeri was praised as the representative of (westernized) Arabic pop and is resident in Cairo, Egypt where he’s still active.
“Egypt, a pop cultural mecca for the Arab world in the ’70s, is by far Stürtz’s favourite country to find records”. – The Vinyl Factory
12. Bossa – Ahmed Malek (Algeria)
Our second encounter with Malek is more in line with “Habibi Funk 003: Ahmed Malek – Musique Originale the Films” from 2016. Stürtz fell in love immediately when he first laid his hands on a copy of Malek’s film music.
“It manages to create this very special mood: melancholic and reflective, emotional and touching, but never depressing. Even without having seen any of the pictures created for this, it immediately brings visuals to one’s imagination.” – Stürtz
‘Easy listening’ is the only description popping into my head while listening to “Bossa”. Some reed instrument (possibly the Arabic traverse flute, the ney) takes on the relaxing melody in the first part with an accompaniment of dreamy bell synths, jazzy guitar chords and a modest drum. Then a saxophone and later an electric guitar improvise over the previous melody. If this song was played in my elevator, I would go to the top floor (and I only live on the first floor).
13. Games – Samir & Abboud (Lebanon)
Originally released in 1983, the funky “Games” draws on the great bands/stars from the eighties such as Prince, Eurythmics and even Talking Heads. The English lyrics about a woman provocating and playing games with a man are quite superficial and the song, in general, misses some originality and creativity.
14. Sah – Al Massrieen (Egypt)
Al Massrieen, however, succeeds in entering “the cosmic end of the disco spectrum” with their dance beat, female backing vocals and both the slide and fuzz guitar. Started in the late seventies, this Egyptian band only released their music on cassette tapes but Habibi Funk reissued some of their music last year on “Habibi Funk 006: Modern Music”.
15. Lala Tibki – Gharbi Sadok & Georges Garzia (Tunisia)
“Lala Tibki” is less convincing. The synth strings, cowbells, rubber bass and again female backing vocals miss their effect, although it reminds me, for some unexplainable reason, to the great The Psychedelic Furs. Don’t ask me why.
16. Soul Brother – Dalton (Tunisia)
With the Tunisian band Dalton we end this blog in absolute style. Formed in 1968, the quintet had regular gigs in touristic beach hotels in Tunis and recorded one single called “Alech” in 1972. The latter features on “Habibi Funk 001: Dalton”. The laidback “Soul Brother” on the other hand “embraces the likes of Tim Maia and the Doobie Brothers”. Sounding very American with nice vocal harmonies suggesting a musical brotherhood that transcends (national) boundaries. Isn’t that a nice way of ending this must-have compilation?
I’ll let the music speak for itself and use this ‘outro’-section to thank you for reading and following my blogs. It’s been an adventure and hopefully I’ll be back soon with another blog, with other subjects, with other music genres, with other pioneers in rediscovering ‘foreign’ music, who knows. Till then!
- Habibi Funk recently (still on ‘till mid-May) organized their first exhibition on the sounds of the Arabic World in Dubai. Read all about it here.
- A blog about Sharhabeel Ahmed.
- The Vinyl Factory’s article about Jannis Stürtz
- Follow Habibi Funk on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Soundcloud.
- Don’t forget to listen the “Africa Rocks The Seventies”“Africa Rocks The Seventies” Spotify-playlist.
Feel free to contact me if you have any suggestions, questions or comments.