Label Profile \\ Habibi Funk

Label Habibi Funk venture into largely uncharted territory, blowing the dust off pre-internet finds from 1970s and ‘80s across North Africa and the Middle East. From Algerian Acid to Lebanese synth, Habibi Funk have made a collector’s oddity into a genre unto itself. As the co-founder of parent label Jakarta Records, Jannis Stürtz has made this niche his own, most recently revealing Habibi Funk 007: An eclectic selection of music from the Arab world. 

Of the 16 tracks pressed on this album, we see 15 different artists; some a signature of Habibi Funk such as Fadoul and Al Massrieen, others such as Attarazat Addahabia introduce an unlikely take on Für Elise with a ruggedness of lo-fi rock and roll but still true to the enchantment of Morocco’s Gnawa music. Recorded via Boussiphone Studios, Casablanca, this wonderful fusion never saw release until now.

Berlin based, Habibi Funk’s emphasis on borderless music and malleable narratives is clearly demonstrated in this compilation, whereby isolated tracks like La Coladera feel more reminiscent of the energy of the Americas than anything imaginable from Algeria, dominated by a punchy brass overlay and a rhythm that’s easily picked up. Although we see a similar energy throughout the album, it is broken up with jazzy bossa-nova and notably the gentle, heartfelt, nostalgia-pop of Libyan-Egyptian singer Hamid El Shaeri.

Rather than trying to represent Arabic musical history in the 70s and 80s, Habibi Funk set out to highlight the versatility of the region at a time of almost purposeful narrow-mindedness, letting the music speak for itself. To mark the release of Habibi Funk 007, we get the low down on the story of Habibi Funk from Jannis Stürtz. 

\\ What’s the story behind the founding of Habibi Funk?

Whenever I travel and I know I will have some time on my hands. I usually try to find out what type of music the place I’m traveling to produced in the 1970s and 1980s. I did the same when I got to Morocco around 4 years ago and luckily I found some music which I really liked and not many people knew about, even in Morocco itself. I did a mix and the feedback was incredible. I had done an occasional mix before also with music I found in Thailand and India but never with the same feedback. I quickly realised that there is a huge disparity between the interest in music and it’s availability so the idea was born quite quickly to start working on reissues of said music. As I was already running a label, Jakarta Records, it may have come to me more naturally.

\\ How do you go about finding records to reissue?

Usually I travel a lot in the region. I’m in North Africa or the Middle East every other month and I always dedicate some of my time there to trying to learn more about the musical scenes of the past. I look for records and tapes, meet old musicians and this is how most projects we worked on were birthed. At the same time the internet is obviously a great source of information as is speaking to people with similar interests.

\\ Have you got a favourite record store at home in Germany or abroad?

I think my favourite record store must be Comptoir General in Casablanca. You don’t really find too many records there anymore that are for my personal interest, but the whole place is like a very tidy and organised time capsule. I don’t know any place that has a similar style or vibe. Definitively worth a visit.

\\ With the latest immigration crisis across much of the region, has your work taken on a greater role beyond the music?

Well, we are not an NGO but a music label. Having said that we do feel like it makes sense to occasionally use the reach we have for more then music. Be it the frequent T-shirt series we do whose profits get entirely donated or just for political statements in general. I feel if you are in the privileged position to be able to reach people it makes sense to use this platform here and there for causes and issues that strike you as important.

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Looking at the bigger frame we also try to provide a more nuanced perspective upon the culture of the Arab world, contrary to the very stereotypical narratives you find so commonly. At the same time I don’t wanna make what we do bigger then it actually is. We just add a little fragment to a much larger picture.

\\ What does the future have in store for Habibi Funk?

We’re working on a lot more musical releases. I think after the compilation which has just come out we have already five or six more releases scheduled and we keep stumbling over great music every other day so there is still plenty to share in the next few years. I’m super privileged to be able to do the work we do, especially because-and this is very important to me-there are a lot of people from the region itself that through our work connect with this part of their region’s musical heritage.

\\  How do audiences outside of North Africa and the middle East respond to your sets?

I don’t feel like there is a huge disparity in reaction no matter where I play. Often people are kinda surprised to hear these type of sounds from the Arab world but I get this reaction both in Berlin and Cairo when I play. Sure, some more known songs relate to an Arabic crowd differently because they connect to childhood memories but when it comes to the more obscure bands and releases the reaction of pleasant surprise is quite universal.

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EZH | James White