Our first and major contact with Libyan music began five-or-so years ago, when we were invited to visit an abandoned tape factory in Tunisia. We have talked about this influential visit more at length for the Free Music release (Habibi021), if you’re interested. Anyhow, the place was astonishing. It had a room full of unused - but already printed - inlay cards for tapes and three large rooms spreading over two floors of unsold stock. A rough guess would be more than 100,000 copies already dubbed with music, many of which were produced for the Libyan market. On top of this the owner, Hechmi, also told us of another 200,000 blank tapes held in a separate unit.
Much of the music we found there was clearly influenced by Jamaican music, and we soon realized how popular Reggae music had been in Libya since the 1970’s. Reggae in Libya has dominated the charts since its arrival in the 1970’s and flourished with some of the pioneers of Libyan reggae such as Ibrahim Hesnawi, Najib Alhoush and The White Birds Band. Composers like Ahmed Fakroun and Nasser Mizdawi also played around with the genre, although they did not dedicate their sound to it. When we started researching into more contemporary recordings, we quickly came upon Ahmed Ben Ali (37k Spotify Monthly Listeners).
Ben Ali is a Libyan singer and producer, whose YouTube channel at the time contained four songs (we later learned they had been uploaded more than ten years prior). Despite the fact that these songs seem to be pretty popular, the channel became inactive a few months after its launch. In the comment section you could read appreciative feedback, not only from Libyans but also people from all over the world who seem to share a common passion for Ben Ali’s sound. Generally speaking, there is not really a blueprint on how to find the musicians with whom we would like to re-release music. In this case, we did consider visiting Libya, but in the end, it turned out not to be possible for a number of reasons. We focused our efforts on online research, and eventually we were able to connect with Ahmed by phone. Our work with Ahmed started with a 12-inch released with “Subhana” on the A-side and “Damek Majeb” on the B-side (track 4 on this release), which at the time were among the only songs we knew of Ahmed (Habibi012).
After the release, he sent us some more songs, which we loved just as much. Soon after, the idea was born to follow up with a full-length release which Ahmed was happy to commit to. In early 2023, we met in person in Cairo to share a few more stories and to take some photos for the release, which you can find throughout the booklet accompanying the LP and CD. The lead-off single is the stellar rhythms of “Yarait” out May 5th along with LP pre-order to capitalize on Bandcamp Friday. Ahmed creates a singular sound that’s inspired as much by the Jamaican sonics as it is by Libyan folkloric styles, and the rap-refrain will have you singing along by the songs end, a perfect track for the warmer spring/summer days. Second single, out May 19th is the upbeat slammer “Aziz O Adda.”
It’s hard not to feel happy when the horn refrain comes in, followed by the anthemic vocals that make you want to dance out into the street, a dancefloor sureshot for any party, especially the tropical outdoor variety. Third single is “Ya Ta’ebha,” out June 2nd, a bass-heavy reggae slammer if there ever was one – with stabbing pianos and synths, deep bass, and a hiphop influenced head-nodding percussive rhythm, rounded out with a stunning guitar solo – the track will surely be on loop as you bounce down the block.
Album focus track “Ghali” is another standout reggae-infused tune, with vocoder, anthemic vocals, and synthetic brass, a perfect sonic showcase of the immense creative force that is Ben Ali. At his home studio, Ahmed operates as sound technician and producer, recording the music in addition to writing the lyrics – a one-man musical squad. Contextualizing his own style, Ben Ali points out that, “The Libyan folkloric rhythm is very similar to the reggae rhythm. So, if Libyan people listen to reggae, it’s easy for them to relate because it sounds familiar. This is the main reason why reggae became so popular here. [...] We played the reggae Libyan style, it’s not the same as in Jamaica. We added our oriental notes to it and if you mix both it becomes something great.” With a bit of laughter, he adds that “...to me it’s still original reggae, it’s the Libyan style, not some bullshit.” As always, both vinyl and CD come with an extensive booklet featuring background on Ahmed, including unseen photos, scans and more.