Dusty vinyl records, stored in the back rooms of Moroccan junk shops or amidst the antique tchotchkes of Algerian street markets, are the object of Jannis Stürtz’s desire.
The Berlin DJ and founder of Habibi Funk Records and Jakarta Records is an expert in re-discovering the hidden gems and holy grails of 70s Arab music and re-releasing them for the world to hear. When looking for Arab music, Jannis focuses on a very specific niche sound. A sound that has been created in the Arab world by Arab musicians, and that connects the local musical traditions with non-arabic influences. “These are often the more classic Western stuff like funk, jazz, and psychedelic rock. I really like that this kind of Arabic music has gone largely undocumented in the digital world,” he explains. But re-releasing these obscure pieces isn’t necessarily a simple task.
Take, for example, Jannis’ discovery of Moroccan funk artist Fadoul, who covered James Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” Walking through the streets of Casablanca some years ago, he passed an electronics repair shop and could just barely see stacks of records peeking out behind all the disused electronics.
Dalton – Alech (Habibi 001)
Carthago – Alech (Future Habibi Funk release)
Ahmed Malek – Silence des Cedres (Habibi 003)
Fadaul – Sid Redad (Habibi 002)
Ahmed Malek – Unknown Title (Future Habibi Funk release)
Golden Hands – Fat Al Miaad (Future Habibi Funk release)
Al Massrieen – Asf Geeda (Future Habibi Funk release)
Dalton – Soul Brother (Habibi 001)
Being a record junkie, he stopped in to see what they had, and it was there that he first encountered a Fadoul record: “I knew this would be something special because it credited James Brown for the composition—this record was the gamechanger for me. He sings about drugs, getting high, and trying to not get high—which was not really a common topic to sing about in the 1970s in the Arab world. At the same time, if you listen to Fadoul and don’t speak Arabic, you get what he’s singing about.”
What ensued was a two-year-long search to find Fadoul’s family so that Jannis could secure the rights and share his music with the world. Going back and forth between Berlin and Casablanca, he was finally able to locate Fadoul’s family and get their blessing.
“I don’t speak Arabic! So I always keep one record with me when I go out to show to people.”
Foregoing the dodgy operations of other cross-cultural re-issue labels that don’t clear the rights to their music, Jannis goes through the painstaking process of ensuring the money makes it back to the right people. “If I were to release bootleg records, there would be literally no risk to it. Someone in Morocco wouldn’t sue me.”
Jannis has traveled around almost all of North Africa and the Middle East (where the security situation allows), and always has his ears open for new music. “I don’t speak Arabic! So I always keep one record with me when I go out to show to people. A lot of people don’t understand what vinyl is – the average working class person would likely have had a radio instead.”
Jannis’ music creates a small bridge between Western and Arab cultures – but also allows for younger generations within the Arab world to discover the rich histories of music from their region. Previously unheard for decades, the music of Fadoul and the Algerian composer Ahmed Malek are now available online and there are many more hidden music gems to come.
This article also appeared in Companion #8, a publication by Freunde von Freunden and 25hours Hotels that profiles the people who shape our cities. Want to get to know Companion Magazine better? Pick up a copy at any 25hours Hotels or explore previous issues here.