Various artists: Music From the Arab World, Part 2 review

Since 2015, Berlin-based label Habibi Funk has carved out a specific and increasingly popular niche by reissuing lesser-known records by artists from north Africa and the Middle East. Treading carefully around the colonial resonances of white-owned labels purporting to “discover” these acts, label founder Jannis Stürtz splits profits 50-50 between the label and the artists (or their estates).

The label released its first Eclectic Selection compilation in 2017 – one that featured everything from Fadoul’s Casablancan funk to Algerian Ahmed Malek’s expansive instrumentals. The cover of this second instalment encapsulates its culture-spanning ethos, depicting Malek at an ice-cream bar in Osaka in 1970 – a trip he later said came to inspire his own varied approach to genre. Malek is featured here again, his track Casbah providing a sprightly horn arrangement over a loose disco groove. Fadoul also reappears with the driving funk of Ahl Jedba, his throaty vocals displaying his contemporaneous kinship with James Brown’s own delivery.

But it’s the artists new to this series who lend it distinction. Libyan singer Ibrahim Hesnawi’s Tendme is a welcome example of Bob Marley’s lasting influence in the country, pairing the undulating rhythms of the Libyan folk style zimzamet with the call-and-response of Hesnawi’s bouncing reggae keys and guitar melody. Also joyful is the Bee Gees-referencing synth-funk of Najib Alhoush’s Ya Aen Daly and TB Funk’s raucous, Gap Band-style disco number Free Blow, a handclap-heavy composition recorded in 1980s Milan.

Much more than an anthropological curio or pastiche of “western” music, these tunes are a vital example of the cross-cultural musical identities that existed long before digital globalisation: a legacy of sonic migrations. This Eclectic Selection finds its appeal through variety – regardless of genre or period, these are all kinetic, intuitive sounds that could still happily populate dancefloors across the globe.

Recorded during Covid quarantine in Shanghai, sound artist Li Yilei’s OF is a beguiling mix of field recordings, ambient synths and string compositions inspired by Song dynasty art. Yoruban santeria group Okonkolo release their album Oru Cantando, featuring the powerhouse vocals of Amma McKen and Jadele McPherson against polyrhythmic bata drumming. Turkish singer Saadet Türköz collaborates with Swiss guitarist Beat Keller on We Are Strong – a pared-back selection of yearning folk music and textural jazz arrangements exploring Türköz’s Uyghur roots.

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