In less than two years, Habibi Funk stood out among the many specialized labels in reissues, publishing some unknown but fabulous pearls. Both Ahmed Malek and Fadoul LP’s have become classics in any collection. It is time to tell the story of the mind behind all this work: the Berliner DJ Jannis Stüerz.
When did you start digging records?
Well I guess it depends where you draw the line between « digging » and just buying records. Either way when I was 15 I did a 3 weeks school internship at a Cologne based record store called Groove Attack. I guess this was the key moment for me to get into buying vinyl records. In my early 20’s I used to travel a lot and even back then I always had an interest in exploring the 1970’s music scene of the countries I travelled to, be it India, Indonesia or Thailand. I guess my digging focus was always pretty international.
What LP’s did you buy at first? Do you still listen to them?
The first vinyl album I ever bought was ‘Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Blackstar’. I haven’t listened to it for a while but I’m sure I would still like it. Kinda classic album.
Do you have a particular style or favourite period?
No, not really. My taste is pretty versatile so I can’t really single out a style and/or period. I like 1960’s-1980’s stuff but at the same time I listen to a broad selection of contemporary stuff. I can easily go from some obscure arabic funk to Kaytranada within 5 minutes.
Are you still digging, buying vinyl, visiting record shops?
More then ever I would say, but pretty much only in North Africa and the Middle East. I’m pretty focused on Arabic music these days which I don’t really find in Europe with the expiation of Paris maybe. At the same time this is what I’m trying to focus on when it comes to buying records with the expiation of a new release here and there that I like.
What was your first release on Habibi Records?
Dalton. It’s a Tunisian band that played a mixture of soul and funk and unfortunately only released one 7”. The A-side is a kind of funky Arabic language sung track while the flip side is an english lyrics modern soul kinda track. Both very different but equally great. One of the nicest 45’s ever from the region for my taste. The first reissue we started working on was the Fadoul LP but finding the family took really quite a bit while finding the band leader of Dalton took literally 5 minutes as I managed to find him thru his name being added to the Facebook search.
Soul Brother by Dalton
Why did you choose this name: Habibi Records?
After I started buying Arabic records around 3 years ago I put some of the music together in mixes. At some point blogs started to pick it up and a dutch blog called moovmt.com used this term. We liked it and thought it was kinda catchy and used it in press releases and whatnot. Back then there was not a label but a lot of people seemed to relate to it so we just ended up using it when we started the label.
What could be your editorial/esthetic line?
Well Habibi Funk is an artificial genre that historically never existed but at the same time it’s what our editorial decisions are based upon. Basically we’re looking for Arabic music that fused local influences with other influences coming from abroad, be it Funk, Jazz, Coladera or old school Hip Hop. In the end it’s the same formula we have been using for Jakarta Records since 10 years. We release the music we like. Sounds cheesy but it’s pretty much what all our editorial decisions are based upon.
Did you have any references labels for reissues?
Hmm, I guess we like the labels in that field that everyone liked. Analog Africa, Awesome Tapes From Africa, Numero Group…… But we didn’t really look at either one of them as a blueprint for our label. We are new to doing reissues but we took a lot of the experiences we made by running Jakarta Records. One thing that was important to us was to give as much context as possible with each release. Liner notes, photos, whatever we can find and what makes sense, something that most of the aforementioned labels are really good at too.
How do you work with Jakarta? How could it helps you for these projects, pretty much obscure?
The fact that we run Jakarta since 10 years helps a lot. We know where to manufacture, we know how distribution works, we already got PR contacts. It basically means we already have a set up we can work with and that has been working for some years now. I can imagine starting a reissue label from scratch and having to learn all of these things while doing all of the research needed for reissues is quite a challenging task.
Bringing much editorial care information for each project, is it one way to stand out from a lot of reissues? And how much time is needed to prepare each record?
I think a lot of label do a great job at this too. Basically we want to create products that we could also like to buy as a consumer and additional content that goes beyond the music is a key essential. Obviously this requires quite some work. Putting out a Habibi Funk record definitively takes a lot longer then a Jakarta release, the key aspect most of the time though is how long it takes us to find the artist behind the music. But obviously it doesn’t stop there. Finding some photos for the Fadoul reissue took us like 6 month too but this was an extreme case, often it all becomes more easy once we manage to find the artist.
Bob by Fadoul
The Fadoul LP is in the raw funk style as the 45’s of Dalton more in a modern soul style. Do you think those musics tell a part of the history of these countries, often unknown?
A lot of the bands that catch our interest are even in their home countries nearly forgotten about. That’s definitively the case for the two you mentioned, so yes, it definitively tells a part of the musical history. Luckily quite a large percentage of our following and media coverage comes from the region so it’s nice to know that we play a little part in getting the young generation there to be interested in diggin’, old music and whatnot.
And do you think that those productions are still very «modern»?
I don’t know wether they sound very modern, I never thought of either one of them through that angle. We have another release coming up by a group from Egypt called Al-Massrieen. These guys sound really modern to me. Some of the productions have kind of a beat production feel despite the fact they’re from the late 1970’s.
It seems there’s a new trend for oriental music (think project like french Acid Arab), do you feel this trend?
Yeah. I think in general there is always a desire to listen to new stuff and this triggers people searching for sounds they’re not familiar with. At the same time a lot of the interesting musical releases of the last 50 years have gotten a fair share of attention and currently a lot of the music from the Arabic world is getting some hype be it in it’s original form or as a source for samples the way Acid Arab uses them.
By publishing this type of LP, is it a way of fighting against the post-colonial prejudices of world music?
The post colonial aspect is definitively something we’re trying to keep in mind when dealing with our releases. We’re trying to make sure to make deals with the artists and/or families that are very fair (we split all profits 50/50 after paying an advance) but it’s also relevant for our communication, e.g. we’re trying to have the posts we consider important on our social media channels in arabic too. In general I think it helps being conscious and aware of the fact that a european label dealing with Arabic musicians entails some special requirements and perceptions. That doesn’t mean that occasionally we also end up in these type of discussions. Funny enough usually people critical about what we do are white europeans, I rarely have heard something of this nature from people I meet in the region.
You are working on a second volume dedicated to Fadoul … This time, over 80’s… Still very surprising? What sounds we will have the pleasure to discover ?
We did a lot of research for Fadoul. He’s kind of a ghost. He lived in various places, changed his band set up very frequently so nobody seems to have a lot of informations. We’re always just gathering bits and pieces. But everyone seemed to agree that he didn’t make music in the 1980s until earlier this year Tony Day, a moroccan singer and friend of his mentioned him trying out rap music. Two month later an algerian collector offered us to buy a Fadoul tape from the 1980’s. Let’s say he changed his sound a lot, trying out dub and early forms of rap. Quite an astonishing find.
La Ville Part 2
An unreleased experimental tape
Ahmed Malek is a real discovery for many. How did you «meet» this composer? What touched you in his music?
Mr. Malek passed more then 10 years ago so unfortunately I did never meet him in person. At some point somehow I learned about the music and liked it instantly. It’s jazzy and funky but at the same time has this specific type of melancholia that you have in a lot of Algerian music. I asked some people about his family but nothing really came out of it. Last year in winter I played a DJ gig in Beirut and I spoke to a friend of mine about the music and she offered to ask her one friend from Algeria. A couple of weeks later she called me and it turned out that her algerian’s friends family was the neighbor of Mr. Malek’s daughter. After I told the story of finding her to his daughter she said she was certain that her father made it happen from heaven which given the odds of something like this happening sounds like a legit answer.
You work closely with his family, in fact his daughter. What was her reaction to your idea to reissue the works of his father?
She was very happy to hear someone from outside of Algeria was interested in her fathers music and she supported us a lot with everything we needed. She said she’s sure her father would have loved to see the release we did and that he would have been very happy about it.
You have a new project on Ahmed Malek, scheduled for December. A treasure chest opened by his daughter… Can you tell us more?
We visited Henia, one of the two daughters of Ahmed Malek, in Algeria in spring. We had already finished preparing the release and she had sent us a lot of great material but only when we meet in Algier she mentioned those big old tapes that were collecting dust and that surely nobody could use anymore. It was maybe 30-35 master tapes, mostly unreleased music. We will make at least 2 more albums from them. One will be in a similar vein as our first reissue but a bit broader when it comes to sounds and styles and to our surprise Mr. Malek played a lot with synth and early electronics. Three hours of the material was of that nature. Avantgarde electronics, ambient sounds. This album will drop in winter. It was coproduced by german producer Flako who has a passion for this type of sound and managed to break down the raw material that often felt more like ideas / jams to something that works as an album without changing the essence of the material.
Have you received many negative answers on some of the LP’s, artists, unreleased tapes, you were trying to reissue?
So far only for a beautiful lebanese release. But I’m not gonna put the name out because I wanna take another shot at it further down the line!
Ebda Mn Gded by Al Massrieen
Nowadays, there are many LP labels who follow this model, I mean more quality even if it’s more expensive… but in same time, there are also another «new» LP market, with major companies come-back and other labels, who prefer to sell cheaper. Is it the (re)creation of two camps for the LP?
I don’t know. I mean I understand that some releases cost more. Be it because of extensive liner notes, paste on cover, gatefold or whatever. But if a new LP costs 40 euros I just don’t get it. It kind of feels like a desperate attempt in squeezing every last euro out of the booming vinyl market. I feel like the labels that do this will be the first to stop manufacturing vinyl again once the bubble bursts.
There are more and more reissues of old LP’s, and more and more record labels (major or indie) now release their new artists on LP, or EP. Do you think that the LP reissue market could ever reach saturation point?
I think the current vinyl hype is pretty close to it’s peak. I don’t think people in general will stop buying vinyl but I don’t think the current hype with new labels, new record stores, vinyl being a lifestyle accesory will last for much longer. Right now it’s « cool » to buy records, go digging and whatnot which is really great. But as usual with trends a certain part of the people now interested in it will move on to new hobbies. At the same time I see a new generation of young people in the Arabic world getting into all of that right now. I spend a lot of time traveling in the area and I can really feel the change. Three years ago all locals vinyl collectors were old man and lately there is a new generation of young girls and guys who start getting into it which is really nice to see. On the trips this year I get messages on Facebook and I go digging with people I never met. This is something that didn’t happen when I started doing it.
What are your other next releases?
We have a couple of reissues lined up and licensed for the next year or so. The early material of the Golden Hands from Morocco, Sharhabeel Ahmed from Sudan, Al Massrieen from Egypt, two more albums at least by Ahmed Malek, another one by Fadoul, Carthago which will drop next and we’re also working on a compilation. We’re also working on a couple of other releases where we have not signed agreements yet but we definitively already have the next 10 releases planned.
What is the LP you dream of reissuing?
Maybe not a dream LP but the one I mentioned as the one where we got turned down is definitely high on the list ! For now I have to keep the name to myself not to bring too much attention to it. Hahaha…
Check his Top5 here