Being a 2017 release some might say we’re a little late to the party with this one, but this double LP compilation from Habibi Funk definitely deserves some analysis, if only for hedonistic reasons.
Habibi Funk started out about four years ago as a sublabel to the better known Jakarta Records. Established back in 2005 by long time school friends Jannis Stürtz and Malte Kraus, Jakarta was mainly focused on releasing music verging on the more “abstract” or complex confines on hip-hop, highly influenced by other traditionally “black” music genres such as jazz or soul (I actually didn’t know much about them until 2014 or so, after they put out some music from Lord Echo and the great Anderson Paak).
Stürtz’s work for his own Jakarta label and with German NGO “M.I.C.T.” (“Media In Cooperation And Transition”, the organization involved in the label’s Sawtuha album) allowed him to travel to a few places in North Africa such as Morocco or Tunisia. These trips allowed him to do a bit of vinyl research and crate-digging in search for those exotic -yet familiar- local sounds, and a selection of those golden finds eventually ended in some DJ-sets and Soundcloud-hosted mixtapes of him.
Much to Stürtz surprise these uploads sparked some unexpected -but quite welcome- interest on the net, which finally led to the idea of reissuing a few of those forgotten gems. But Jakarta was mainly about current sounds, so it was decided that a new label and name was needed, and thus Habibi Funk was born in mid-2015. With Jakarta being focused on hip-hop artists that often revisit traditional 60s-to-80s “black music” (under a more modern context), it was only natural for Habibi Funk to veer toward the arabic reinterpretation of this very same range of styles.
As with all reissue music it’s often easy to feel a bit of worry and unease -at least if you’re a little bit of a concerned westerner- while consuming and enjoying these cultural artifacts (an issue we already talked about in our review of Analog Africa’s “African Scream Contest Vol. 2”). A big chunk of the vinyl and digital re-releases that are available to us involve some fishy and unethical business practices -in much the same way as it might happen in other industries-, and as such it’s good to do some groundwork before spending your hard-earned bills on a piece of plastic -or a file-, just to make sure that you’re truly supporting the artists that made those otherworldly magical soundwaves possible.
Fortunately for us, Habibi Funk are very up-front about this, and they’ve made sure that each and every musician and right owner gets his fair share of the profits made -and for those sadly passed away it’s their own families that will benefit from those sales-. They even go as far as to specify which of the tracks are otherwise licensed from actual labels -Boussiphone in this case- and how the licensing contracts are purposefully limited so that the rights can go back to their original owners after some time. Last but not least they try to “educate” listeners in a way, stressing in the liner notes that this music is by no means representative of the region’s cultural heritage and folklore. Rather, as they themselves put it, it’s a westerner’s personal selection of Arab music, that is in itself highly influenced by European and American culture of the period. Reissue labels should take note; this is how things should be done, via laying down the terms in crystal clear form and leaving no loose ends.
Now that our mind is a little more relieved, we can finally put the needle on the record without feeling so guilty about it and let the grooves talk for themselves -after all life’s too short even in the first world-. The opening track, Fadoul’s “Bsslama Hbibti” already embodies the characteristic crossover of western and Afro/Arabic sound that the Berlin-based label is known for, with influences ranging from 70s James Brown -that funky drummer!- to early rock n roll à la Chuck Berry. Track two (Bob Destiny’s “Wang Dang”) shares a similar set of influences, and while the instrumental part is more 60s sounding -Hammond organs are to blame here-, once you hear those vocal wails you can easily spot the unmistakable influence of the aforementioned “Godfather of Soul”.
The third cut is certainly one of my favorites, an unorthodox groovy version of Für Elise by Attarazat Addahabia which, with all those child-like feminine chants, surprisingly sounds like more of an Indian Bollywood-like interpretation of the well-known classical piece (and if you thought Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven” was a bit too over the top this one might help you reconsider that statement!). Next is a cover of Nino Ferrer’s “Mirza” by Jalil Bennis Et Les Golden Hands, that puts an exotic and edgy “Chubby Checker-ish” twist touch on the Italo-French singer’s 1965 hit; followed by “Irkos Farfesh” -by Sharhabeel Ahmed-, with its cool blend of twist and 60s rock aesthetics -do I hear some Rubber Soul or early Zombies in there?- albeit with a more funky sound than the previous track (nice horns!).
More funk to come! Track number six (Belbao’s “Casablanca Shuffle”) takes that horn section to the next level for one of the finest booty-shaking tunes in the compilation. A cover in itself of Bob and Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle” -(in)famously covered by the Rolling Stones in the 80s- this one’s amazingly much truer in spirit to the original, yet interesting enough to keep both versions in your vinyl collection. The seventh track -Mallek Mohamed’s “Rouhi Ya Hafida”- is a lot more “tropical” sounding, with a highlife/afrobeat vibe similar to the style that we more closely associate with other reissue labels like Luaka Bop or Analog Africa -Onyeabor fans, look no further!-. And the eight cut keeps it exotic mixing the traditional sound of coladera (the Cape Verdian genre that the tune takes its name from) with some ultra-funky horns.
The next track in line is “Al Asafir”, a performance from Sudanese musician Kamal Keila that probably didn’t make it to the more recent “Muslims and Christians” double LP -Habibi Funk’s 8th release- but that certainly sounds like it’s from the very same radio sessions. In it you can hear reminiscences of our beloved Fela Kuti and some fresh guitar work that brings to mind Adrian Belew’s short lived stay with the Talking Heads in the late 70s. Track ten -mysteriously named “Tape 19.11”- is a tasty mix of Arab folk and western funk sounds. This instrumental exploration by Ahmed Malek is sure to charm a few snakes and even some humans!
Following that is Hamid El Shaeri’s “Ayonha”, a very nostalgic disco track, featuring synths and quite stylish electric pianos. While my head nods to the rhythm I fantasize about how it could’ve been sampled for a late 90s Roulé records release with just some 909 on top, but nah. It’s perfect as it is, delicious. Track twelve, also from Malek, is much less folky than the 10th cut and -as the name implies- it is more of a 70s bossa nova “elevator music” number, with a lot of jazzy hooks and skillful melodic runs.
The 13th cut –Samir & Abboud succintly named “Games”- starts off as a dub track but soon turns into some kind of weird The Police meets ELO amalgam -yes you read that right!-; while Al Massrieen’s “Sah” takes you back to the discotheque with a sound that border’s on Italo (if there ever was an Arab version of La Bionda, this has to be it!). Cool claps and synth stabs in there, plus the bonus slide guitar gives it a startling and quite spooky “b-movie”touch.
The penultimate song keeps things in the dance floor, with a late funk / early “four on the floor” disco vibe. If you like Billy Preston or The Brothers Johnson, Sadok and Garzia’s “Lala Tibki” was made for you: rhythm guitars don’t come much better than this! Closing this compilation is Dalton’s “Soul Brother”, a downtempo tune featuring a strange but beautiful mix of Jamaican sounds (with that Marley and the Wailers styled chorus) and“slow motion funk” verses that could well have been featured in a Marvin Gaye, Isaac Hayes or even Gil Scott-Heron release.
While full “one artist” releases and reissues from Habibi Funk are maybe more apt for collectors, we tend to prefer compilations like this one, given the fact that they’re so excellently curated and edited (you even get a cool booklet full of info on top of the 2 LPs!). The varied and eclectic mix of songs are probably better suited to open-minded DJs or music lovers that don’t care wether their purchase will increase in value, at least when compared to those specific “non comp” LPs. Definitely a must for the most adventurous funk and world music worshippers.
You can buy this vinyl here.
About the author: José -Pepe- Coca is a musician, producer and audio engineer from Zaragoza (Spain). He has a PhD in Art and teaches Sound Systems, Synthesis and Mastering courses at CPA Salduie and SEAS. He has also worked as a sound designer for companies such as Elektron, Befaco or HelloSamples.